Matt Hussman is the executive director of the Clarendon Alliance, the organization that is charged with improving “the health and vitality of the Clarendon corridor.”
The alliance is a booster for local businesses and helps to put on the annual Clarendon Day festival and a number of other events.
In this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we asked Matt about the current state of Clarendon, about turnover among restaurants and retailers, and about the future of the neighborhood — including development projects in various states of planning or construction.
This week brought the sad news that long-time local outdoor retailer Casual Adventure is closing up shop.
The owners wrote that it’s “no secret that the old retail model no longer works” at a time when online retailers keep gaining market share.
You know things are topsy-turvy when Bethesda residents are petitioning against the closure of a large chain bookstore — which 20 years ago would have been criticized for running independent bookstores out of business.
“Shop local” has been a popular rallying cry recently for those who value the community-enhancing power of local businesses, but it’s hard to deny that there are a ton of empty Amazon boxes sitting curbside on recycling day. “Shop local” is nice in theory, but the convenience and low prices online often win out when it’s time to actually make a purchase.
In today’s poll, we wanted to find out where Arlingtonians stand on this.
Think of a category of something you want to buy — outdoor goods, books, pet supplies, etc. What are you most likely to do: specifically seek out a local bricks-and-mortar retail store to buy the product, or just buy it online from Amazon or another site?
Heaps of new customers have been saying g’day to Oz restaurant in Clarendon over the past year, its owners say.
Contrary to its portrayal on the new Real Housewives of Potomac season — a teaser video showed proprietors Ashley and Michael Darby arguing about it “not doing well” — Oz (2950 Clarendon Blvd) is currently a profitable business, according to Mr. Darby.
The argument happened in real life on June 22, 2016. Since then, Oz’s brunch business has boomed and helped reverse its fortunes. And a revamped food menu has been greeted with generally positive customer reviews.
That’s a welcome change from when the Washington Post panned Oz’s Australian cuisine as “bland,” shortly after it opened in September 2015, and locals took note of the empty tables one could see inside around dinnertime.
Darby, the Australian-born cofounder of D.C. developer Monumental Realty, admits that things were “not up to scratch” when Oz opened, but said issues with the service and the food have since been corrected. What viewers see at the beginning of “RHOP” season two is part of the restaurant’s “rebuilding” stage.
“We made a significant change that has brought about the success we’re having now,” Darby said. “Over the course of the show, you will find that the restaurant turns that corner and becomes the busy restaurant we have today.”
The other half of the power couple, Ashley Darby — a former Miss District of Columbia who is active in the restaurant’s day-to-day management in between her Instagram-chronicled globetrotting — echoed Michael’s words.
“America witnessed my candid reaction to the growing pains we were experiencing at Oz during the RHOP premiere, filmed last year,” she said. “It has taken some time to find our groove in the trendy Clarendon neighborhood, but we’re really getting into the swing of it. Our weekends are so busy I barely get time to sit down.”
Oz’s $35 bottomless brunch — with unlimited food, penny mimosas, 50 cent beers and $2 bloody marys — has packed them in, according to Michael Darby. Some 500 customers a day visit Oz on the weekends, he said. And the restaurant has high hopes for increasing its weekday bar business and becoming more of a nighttime going-out destination on weekends.
“This is a very fun bar, we have that Australian attitude,” Darby said. Oz is proud of its craft cocktail menu and Australian wine selection; it now brings in a DJ on Saturday nights and, yes, you can order didgeridoo shots, if so inclined.
Darby credits the chef they brought on after the “mediocre” opening for being a big part of Oz’s transformation. Chef Brad Feickert, a tattooed Northern Virginia native who worked for celebrity chefs and also spent time at restaurants in Australia, has created an Australian-influenced menu adjusted for American palates.
“The quality of the food improved significantly when he came in,” Darby said. “The chef is just a good chef, that’s what it comes down to.”
The menu, which is ever evolving, includes both Australian and American staples, along with culinary mashups and exotic meats, including kangaroo, camel and ostrich. (It’s not exotic, but Darby recommends the Australian lamb.)
Just don’t confuse Oz with that well-known “Australian” restaurant chain — needless to say, there are no bloomin’ onions on the menu.
“We’re not Outback Steakhouse in any way,” Darby said. Outback is “not even an Australian product.”
The store, at 3451 Washington Blvd, made the announcement this morning. The owners “received a reasonable offer for the sale of our building” and took it, they said.
E-commerce has made the bricks-and-mortar retail business increasingly difficult. “It’s no secret that the old retail model no longer works,” said Eric Stern, whose family has owned the store for 61 years.
Casual Adventure will be closed Monday and Tuesday and will reopen Wednesday to kick of its “End of an Era Sale,” featuring up to 50 percent off any remaining outdoor, tactical and sporting goods in stock. An exact closing date has not been announced.
The business may be revived, however, in a modified form later this year.
The family “has plans to reopen elsewhere in Northern Virginia in late summer or early fall, with a focus on corporate, league, military and government sales,” Arlington Magazine reported. A company rep wouldn’t comment on that report.
“We’ll share details with our loyal customer base and the Arlington community if it becomes necessary,” said Nathan Carroll. “For now we are squarely focused on selling all of our current inventory.”
The full announcement is below.
This business, which my great-grandfather Oscar founded over six decades ago, has been a source of great pride to our family over the years. Like all businesses, we’ve had to evolve: from our beginnings as a district grocery store, to an Army-Navy surplus store, to becoming the outdoor, tactical, and sporting goods store you know us to be today.
It’s no secret that the old retail model no longer works, so when we received a reasonable offer for the sale of our building, we decided the time was ripe to again switch gears, by closing our store and focusing our future business through the internet and beyond.
But first we commence the biggest sale in our 61-year history. Our END OF AN ERA SALE features our entire stock of clothing, outerwear, footwear, camping gear, travel accessories and sporting gear, with storewide reductions up to 50% off.
We’ll be closed all day Monday and Tuesday to reduce prices and prepare. Sale starts Wednesday, April 5th at 9:00am.
So whatever your outdoor needs, whether hiking, camping, adventure travel, or otherwise, we’ve got it all and it’s all on sale. Shop early before the word is out to the general public and buy “the good stuff” at liquidation prices.
It’s been our great joy to have served our local communities for so many years: but times change and for everyone the time comes to move forward. Along with our wonderfully talented and loyal staff, we thank you for your friendship and support and look forward to helping you find the perfect outfit and gear in this final sale.
Eric Stern, on behalf of the Stern family
Photo via Facebook
Farmhouse Sale Not Certain — Arlington County officials are pretty sure the historic Reeves farmhouse in Bluemont will sell to a private buyer, but it’s not a given. The cost of fixing up the house may be more than it is worth. [InsideNova]
Arlington Healthcare Co. Considering Merger — Ballston-based Evolent Health is exploring a possible merger with D.C.-based Advisory Board Company, a healthcare consulting firm that helped to fund and launch Evolent. [Reuters]
VHC Land Swap Still in Progress — A proposed land swap that would give Virginia Hospital Center 5.5 acres of county government land next to its main campus, allowing it to expand, is continuing “to make its way through procedural steps.” The swap could happen as early as June 2018, with Arlington County getting some combination of land and/or cash in return, though it depends on some regional and state regulatory approvals. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Pupatella Expanding to Richmond — Beloved Bluemont pizzeria Pupatella is expanding via franchising. One of the first places getting new Pupatellas: Richmond, where a local franchisee is opening four new locations. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
McAuliffe to Talk Self-Driving Cars in Arlington — On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be in Arlington to “give remarks at [a] workshop hosted by the Secretary of Transportation on autonomous vehicles,” according to the governor’s public schedule. The workshop is taking place at 1776 in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive).
People Are Increasingly Leaving the D.C. Region — All of the D.C. region’s population growth in the latest U.S. Census estimates were from births and international immigration. The region’s domestic migration is negative and increasingly so, with more people moving from D.C. than to D.C. Writes the WBJ: “The challenge for Greater Washington is there are other metro areas that offer jobs and high quality of life, and are also far less expensive — driving people away for what they see as greener pastures.” [Washington Business Journal]
Does Our Site Seem Faster? — We were working Saturday, moving ARLnow and our sister site Reston Now to a powerful cloud-based server from a traditional dedicated server. Things should be faster today, but if you notice any glitches please let us know. [Twitter]
Photo courtesy Erinn Shirley
Three businesses have closed in short order at the Dominion Hills Centre shopping plaza, worrying some local residents — but remaining businesses say there’s little cause for concern.
A tipster emailed ARLnow.com earlier this week lamenting the shuttering of the Little River Yoga Studio at 6025 Wilson Blvd. The tipster said it was the “latest to go,” following the departure of the Great Harvest Bread Company as well as the florist nearby.
But expiring leases and other circumstances were behind the closures, not a larger trend, we’re told. Business owners that have remained say foot traffic and sales remain healthy.
Great Harvest closed at the end of January. Franchisee Brad Hurst, who operates the bakery’s Alexandria location alongside his wife, said that it proved difficult to run two stores, especially as the larger Alexandria one took up more time.
After taking over the franchise’s five-year lease with approximately two years remaining, Hurst said they made the decision to close and focus their energies in Alexandria.
“Probably for the last year or so, we knew it was a lot of effort for what we were getting as far as traffic and sales,” Hurst said. “When the lease came up, we let that expire, much to the disappointment of several customers. We have to make sure our effort is rewarded with the business, so it was hard to keep it going.”
The shopping center’s florist had been in business for several decades at 6035 Wilson Blvd, but multiple business owners in the plaza said it closed when its owners retired and let the lease expire. It is now being marketed for another tenant.
Then Little River Yoga relocated its classes to Faith Lutheran Church at 3313 Arlington Blvd and rebranded as Ashtanga Nation. It made the move in mid-January.
Katie Gilman, owner of Taste by Katie, which provides reheatable meals to bring home, said business appears healthy for the dozen-plus stores that remain, including her own. When a reporter visited on Thursday afternoon, the plaza’s parking lot was about two-thirds full.
“Three [closures] seem like it could be a big percentage, but it’s really not when you consider all the stores open along here,” Gilman said.
Steven Cover joined Arlington County as director of Community Planning, Housing and Development in March 2015. He won the respect of many in Arlington’s business community by trying to streamline processes in CPHD, which has gained a reputation for a heavy-handed, intransigent approach to enforcing county regulations, sources tell ARLnow.com.
The City of Sarasota announced Cover’s hiring yesterday.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Steven Cover to Sarasota,” said City Manager Tom Barwin. “Steve has extensive and highly successful experience in two of America’s great communities: Arlington, Virginia and Madison, Wisconsin. Steve’s experience and passion for walkable communities, cutting edge bicycle and transportation planning, appreciation for great architecture, innovative zoning codes, and commitment to affordable housing collaborations will serve our community well.”
In a statement released to ARLnow.com, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said the search for Cover’s replacement will be starting soon.
After more than two years of service as our Director of Community Planning, Housing and Development, Steve Cover is leaving to take another job. We wish him well. With the guidance of the County Board, Steve, together with our excellent staff of CPHD professionals, and in coordination with Arlington Economic Development, helped make improvements in service during his tenure. We will begin a search soon for a new director to lead this vital department.
We also only sparingly cover things like high school sports or do long human interest feature stories, things which readers have told us — in surveys and in their actions — are a lesser priority than news about core topics like crime, fire, local government, local businesses, weather and traffic. At the same time, readers frequently ask for us to “investigate” various topics, but true investigative journalism is time-consuming and expensive and hard to do while on the daily local news grind.
So what’s the solution to this for those readers who have emailed us and asked for more weekend coverage, more in-depth features and more investigative stories?
One possibility is for ARLnow to launch a membership program as part of a larger community journalism project.
Services like Patreon allow fans to support, with a small monthly contribution, the creators who are making content they’re passionate about. Similarly, we’re wondering if Arlingtonians would be interested in supporting local content that goes above and beyond ARLnow’s core news mission.
Those who sign up as members would get to weigh in on what kind of content their contribution should be funding — features, investigative pieces, coverage of local arts and nonprofits, etc. The new content would run as an ARLnow “weekend edition” — so as to not overwhelm readers who follow our weekday news coverage.
At the same time, members could get other benefits. We’re considering exclusive discounts from local businesses, access to exclusive ARLnow member events, access to a members-only online forum and perhaps the occasional ARLnow schwag (if NPR has totebags, we can have totebags).
That all said, maybe a $6 a month for local news isn’t something that people want to pay, or you’d rather we just stick with our core mission. Tell us what you think in the poll below and in the comments.
With the worst of the snow over, businesses and restaurants around Arlington appear to be mostly back to normal ahead of a potential refreeze tonight.
In Clarendon this afternoon, only Crate & Barrel and Barnes & Noble appeared to still be closed as their doors were locked.
There are also some early closings: The Container Store is set to shutter at 6 p.m. tonight because of the weather, while the Washington Sports Club gym posted a sign informing members that no group exercise classes would be held.
Although main roads are plowed and largely clear of snow and ice, it appears that those who did get a snow day mostly chose to spend it inside — especially as winds picked up and dropped the wind chill well below freezing.
The lunch rush was virtually non-existent at Clarendon fast casual salad eatery Sweetgreen. While lines usually snake to the door, today employees said it was “not anywhere near” as busy as it usually is at lunchtime.
Similarly, the Trader Joe’s grocery store had lines almost out the door on Monday evening as shoppers prepared for the onset of the storm, but on Tuesday afternoon was quiet and still had plenty of items on the shelves.
Several businesses looked to cash in on many people not being at work, or their children being out of school. Ireland’s Four Courts on Wilson Boulevard opened its doors and let children eat for free all day.
— Irelands Four Courts (@irelands4courts) March 14, 2017
Also in Courthouse, Bayou Bakery is celebrating Pi Day — the date is 3/14 — with a $3.14 special on slices of pie. However, the business is closing early so you’ll have to hurry.
— Bayou Bakery (@BayouBakery) March 14, 2017
— Bayou Bakery (@BayouBakery) March 14, 2017
A new women’s clothing and accessories store opened December at the Lee Heights Shops, replacing the recently-shuttered Lemon Twist Arlington.
Lemoncello Boutique at 4518 Lee Highway is a family-owned store that sells clothes for women of all ages, including young children and babies. It opened under different ownership from the previous store.
It also sells gifts and other items, including photo frames, jewelry and beauty products. Brands sold include Vineyard Vines, Scout and local jewelry designer Second Daughter, owned by Jessica Speckhard.
Lemoncello replaced Lemon Twist, which sold similar items and brands from the time it opened on Lee Highway in the late 1980s until it closed last year.
The store was part of a small retail fashion chain.
As of yet, the other Lee Heights Shops store to close recently, Bradshaw’s Children’s Shoes, appears not to have been replaced. It shuttered last year due to the owners’ retirement, after the store had served Northern Virginia since 1834.
(Updated at 4 p.m.) The Buckingham Florist, a long-time local business on N. Glebe Road, closed last week and appears to have relocated to Annandale.
Open since the 1940s, the florist delivered to Arlington County, Arlington National Cemetery and other parts of Northern Virginia.
Jean Tucker Bassin founded Buckingham Florist with her late husband Myer. Their son Neil Bassin is listed on various websites as having also owned it. In 2013, another website said Buckingham Florist was owned by Kim Park, who also owns Annandale Florist and Tysons Flower Affair.
As of last week, the flower shop’s location at 301 N. Glebe Road in the Buckingham Shopping Center was shuttered, an empty shell with no fixtures or fittings and some of its tiled floor ripped up. A retail leasing brochure lists the 1,460 square foot space as “coming available.”
An employee at the next-door Ravi Chatkhara takeout restaurant said he heard rumors the florist would be relocating elsewhere and would be replaced by a coffee shop.
The phone number listed for the florist is still active. A person at that number answered Tuesday and told ARLnow.com the store is now located in Annandale and open, but hung up when asked for further details.
Sale of Reeves Farmhouse Moves Forward — From a press release following yesterday’s Arlington County Board meeting: “The Arlington County Manager today recommended that the County move forward with the sale of the historic Reeves farmhouse, and that the County not be a financial partner in the farmhouse’s restoration and reuse.” [Arlington County]
‘No Systemic Problem’ Led to High Water Bills — Arlington County says it has investigated resident complaints about unusually high water bills and found “no systemic problem.” Errors in billing or meter-reading were found in only five percent of complaints, the county said, adding that customer-side leaks and a hot and dry summer help to explain many of the remaining cases. [Arlington County]
Arlington Millennials Willing to Move — According to a new study, 77.5 percent of Millennials in Arlington say they would leave the region for the right job offer. That’s the highest response of any D.C. area jurisdiction surveyed. Millennials make up 35-40 percent of Arlington’s population, but real estate affordability remains a concern. Only 28 percent of Millennials in Arlington said they can afford to buy a home in the D.C. area. [Washington Business Journal]
Another Phone Scam Warning — Arlington residents are getting phone calls from scammers claiming to be Dominion Virginia Power technicians collecting unpaid electric bills. “In some cases, scammers have deliberately falsified the information transmitted to the victim’s Caller ID display to disguise their identity,” warns the Arlington County Police Department. [Arlington County]
Talk By Black Man Who Befriends KKK Members — Daryl Davis, a musician who befriends KKK members and convinces them to leave the organization, gave a talk in Arlington earlier this week. Of our current political climate, he said: “This is the best thing that has happened to this country because we have been so much in denial of racism in this country, xenophobia and all these kinds of things… Now we can no longer turn a blind eye to it.” [Fox 5]
Arlington’s ‘Cafe Urbanism’ — A new article in a publication written for state and local government officials asks poses the question: “Hip restaurants have helped revive cities. But is the boom fizzling out?” As a prime example, the article cites recent restaurant closures in Clarendon. [Governing]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
(Updated at 3:44 p.m.) The Clarendon area has a new spot for haircuts.
The barbershop, Willy and Habib’s, opened at 3107 10th Street N about three weeks ago, said co-owner Habib Zaki. The shop is a short walk from the Clarendon Metro station.
Customers at the newly opened shop can get haircuts, shaves and stylings. A cut costs just $20, and the shop has flatscreen televisions, leather barber chairs and lots of nearby parking as perks for clients.
Zaki is a veteran of Pete’s Barbershop, the beloved Westover business that attracts customers from across Arlington. So far, business at Willy and Habib’s has been “pretty good,” Zaki said, a claim matched by a recent flurry of positive Yelp reviews.
Airbnb Reg Changes Proposed — The Arlington County Board is considering more updates to its new Airbnb regulations. The Board on Saturday is expected to advertise two potential changes: first, eliminate the loophole that allowed Airbnb hosts to get out of paying hotel taxes if they host fewer than four guests at a time. Second, set a $60 annual fee for the permits required to be an Airbnb (or VRBO, HomeAway, etc.) host in Arlington. [Arlington County, Arlington County]
Letter: Short-Term Rentals Pose Risks — A pair of letter to the editor writers in the Sun Gazette argue that allowing Airbnb and other short-term rental services in Arlington involves major risks to safety and the potential for abuse of affordable housing. [InsideNova]
Meeting to Discuss Proposed VRE Fare Hike — A meeting will be held March 7 in Crystal City to discuss a proposed 3 percent fare hike for Virginia Railway Express. [WTOP]
FBR to Be Acquired — Rosslyn-based investment bank FBR is being acquired by Los Angeles-based B. Riley Financial Inc. for $160.1 million in cash and stock. FBR’s chairman and chief executive will become CEO of the combined company. [InvestmentNews, Washington Business Journal]
Wakefield B-Ball Teams Advance — The Wakefield Warriors boys and girls basketball teams have clinched state tournament berths. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley