Arlington, VA

The restaurant business is hurting nationwide.

The pandemic has kept diners at home and contributed to the closure of thousands of restaurants. It has also prompted temporary restrictions on how restaurants operate, which in Virginia means no bar seating, reduced capacities, and increased cleaning expenses, among other things.

Here in Arlington, at least 17 restaurants have closed since the start of the pandemic; the most recent closures include Spirits of ’76 and Riverside Hot Pot in Clarendon, and Summers in Courthouse. Owners of restaurants that have closed, who have talked to ARLnow, have said that business — particularly indoor business — was greatly reduced, while the already-high rent stayed the same.

(There have been restaurant openings amid the carnage, however, including Colony Grill in Clarendon, Lee’s Sandwiches in Ballston, and Ruthie’s All-Day in Arlington Heights.)

What’s keeping diners away is pretty simple: it’s risky to dine out during a pandemic. Doing anything in an indoor, confined space without a mask, including eating, elevates one’s risk of contracting COVID-19.

Outdoor dining is safer — a new contact tracing report from the City of Alexandria saw only about 2% of new COVID patients report recently dining outside — but, of course, the weather is now getting colder, making it a less attractive option, even with the mass deployment of heaters.

In the meantime, coronavirus cases nationwide are increasing, though for now new cases locally are holding relatively steady.

Given all that, how do currently feel about dining out? Are you willing to dine inside a restaurant at this point?

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Morning Notes

Expensive Bike Parking Spaces — “Metro has spent nearly $20,000 per bike parking space at three bike facilities, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found. Metro has spent over $5.9 million on the construction of 304 bike spaces at the three facilities… located at the College Park, East Falls Church and Vienna Metro stations.” [NBC 4]

Short Waits to Vote in Arlington — “Eager to avoid waiting in line while casting an early ballot? Try to avoid peak times and you should be fine. ‘Wait times are minimal,’ said county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, with the exception of early morning and occasionally at lunchtime. Other than that, voters have been experiencing waits of 10 minutes or less, and ‘most people are just walking straight in to vote,’ she said.” [InsideNova]

Voters Flocking to Ballot Drop-Boxes — “Arlington has set up nine dropboxes for the secure collection of ballots at points across the county, representing another option for those who neither want to vote in person nor wish to trust the U.S. Postal Service with their ballots. That network has proved ‘very popular,’ Arlington elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” [InsideNova]

Biden Leads in New Va. Poll — “Former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump 52 percent to 41 percent among likely Virginia voters, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll — roughly double Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the state in 2016. Biden’s advantage cuts across most demographic groups, with regional strength in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Richmond area.” [Washington Post]

Local Nonprofit Featured on GMA — “Lights, camera, action! We had a wonderful experience filming with the Good Morning America team last week. The piece aired early this morning… We were thrilled by an unexpected and very generous gift from Amazon.com to help our residents weather the pandemic.” [Facebook, Vimeo]

Police Investigation Bill Signed into Law — “Gov. Northam has signed my bill (HB 5072) to empower the Atty Gen to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, or racially biased policing.” [@Lopez4VA/Twitter]

Pupatella Now Available for Delivery — “UBER EATS Now available at all locations – DC (Dupont Circle), both the Original Wilson Blvd spot and South Arlington, as well as Richmond too! We’ve partnered up with UberEats to bring you some of the best pizza around.” [@PupatellaPizza/Twitter]

Local Beer Biz Figure Dies — “Ben Tolkan, a popular figure in DC’s beer industry who was the subject of a Washingtonian feature story, died late Saturday night after a five-and-a half-year battle with cancer. He was 37.” Tolkan is survived by his wife, Abby, an Arlington County public school teacher. [Washingtonian]

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(Updated at 9:45 a.m.) Halloween has not been cancelled, but the pandemic is putting a damper on the usual spooky spirit of the holiday.

The owner of a local costume store in the Crystal City Shops told the Washington Post that his sales are down 80%, amid a nationwide drop in Halloween spending. Sales of adult costumes in particular are down significantly, as parties are curtailed.

Overall Halloween spending is expected to fall 8%, according to the Post, citing the National Retail Federation.

Around Arlington, Halloween decorations can still be found, but three-and-a-half weeks out from Oct. 31 it feels like there are fewer ghouls, goblins, fake spiderwebs and pumpkins to be seen.

Are residents reluctant to decorate when trick-or-treating will be much diminished and when fake skeletons feel a bit, well, insensitive? Or is it actually business as usual for most people, despite the deadly global pandemic?

Let’s find out.

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Halloween is a month away, but people are already starting to wonder how it’s going to play out.

Health authorities are cautioning against trick-or-treating during the pandemic. So far it has not been officially banned, but there is historical precedence for doing so.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, which was at its deadliest between October and December, a number of U.S. cities banned Halloween parties and celebration, according to CNN.

What to do about Halloween is a hot topic on local Nextdoor threads.

“As tough as it is we are not going to engage in this this year to protect not only ourselves but others,” one resident said, on a recent thread visible to those in some North Arlington neighborhoods. “I really wish everyone could just buckle down so we can get the schools back open, even if it means sitting it out this year.”

Others disagreed.

“If people can safely protest, kids can trick or treat,” said another local resident. “This is nuts. This is an outdoor activity. I’m certain kids and their parents can social distance and those over the age of 2 yrs can wear proper masks.”

Given the current likelihood of there being some trick-or-treaters out and about this year, what is your plan for offering candy? Will you be answering the door, leaving a jar outside, or skipping the holiday altogether?

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Once can hardly go a block in some parts of Arlington without spotting a Tesla, but the vast majority of vehicles on local streets are still powered by fossil fuels.

The proportion of electric vehicles on the road is expected to increase, albeit gradually. The Edison Electric Institute expects 3.5 million electric vehicles to be sold annually in the U.S. in 2030; that compares to the total of 17 million vehicles sold last year.

The switch to electric will have a number of advantages: less noise along busy roads, lower operating and maintenance costs, and a cleaner environment.

From a WTOP article yesterday:

Switching to electric vehicles would save lives, time and money, and the D.C. area would be one of the prime beneficiaries, a new study finds.

The American Lung Association’s Road to Clean Air report placed D.C. among the top 10 metropolitan areas that would benefit from a switchover to electric cars, buses and trucks by the middle of the century.

Compared with a “business as usual” scenario, the D.C. area would see about 175 fewer premature deaths a year by 2050; nearly 3,000 fewer asthma attacks; about 12,000 fewer lost workdays per year and more than $2 million in public health benefits, the association said in a statement.

Today we’re wondering: how many Arlingtonians are planning to buy an electric vehicle over the next 10 years?

Photo via Twitter

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Across the region, office buildings have remained largely sparsely populated since the start of the pandemic, with most employees working from home.

It might stay that way for awhile.

“It could be next summer before the bulk of the Washington region’s workers return to their offices after months spent teleworking because of the novel coronavirus, according to a new survey,” the Washington Post reported yesterday. That has big implications for traffic, for commercial real estate, and for the business that serves workers in central business districts.

While some have returned to the office in the six months since the start of the pandemic, a study led by the Greater Washington Partnership found that many employers are still not sure when they’ll bring workers back. The study, according to the Post, says that a third of employees are expected to resume commuting to the office this fall, 40% this spring, and 72% by next summer.

Those figures, of course, are largely a function of the desire of employers to bring workers back into offices. In this morning’s poll, we wanted to ask those that work in offices: when do you want to come back?

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Arlington was the big winner of the biggest economic development prize of them all: Amazon’s HQ2.

But Amazon’s second headquarters is nowadays feeling like a very distant second, behind the tech giant’s growing presence in the Seattle area.

“The real HQ2: Amazon adding 10k more jobs in Bellevue, growing further beyond downtown Seattle,” was one headline from earlier this month.

“Amazon to Have as Many Workers in Seattle Suburb As Virginia HQ2,” was another.

Amazon, which is still busy building the first half of its permanent office campus in Pentagon City, has not wavered from its original plans: 25,000 employees in Arlington, across 4 million square feet of new office space, over the next decade. That remained the plan even after it scrapped the idea of hiring 25,000 people in New York City as half of a split HQ2.

(The company hired its 1,000th HQ2 employee this summer; it is currently leasing temporary office space in Crystal City.)

But with Amazon’s already lofty stock price up 67% since the beginning of the year, combined with its growing ambitions and newly-announced Seattle area expansion, one might be forgiven for wondering if Arlington and HQ2 is an after-thought at this point.

Suppose for a moment, however, that the company eventually decides to add to its Arlington presence. Is that a move that you would welcome?

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It’s official: the Pumpkin Spice Latte returned to local Starbucks locations today, heralding the imminent arrival of Mr. Autumn Man.

Granted, temperatures today are expected to reach the mid-90s, and the actual calendar start of fall — the Autumnal Equinox — is not for another four weeks. Some people, however, might have their own personal definition of the start of fall.

Maybe the return of the PSL is it for you, in which case fall just started two days before it did last last year.

Or the start of meteorological fall on Sept. 1 may be what you generally consider to be fall.

For many others, it’s the day after Labor Day, the holiday that serves as the “unofficial end of summer” and also marks the closing day for lots of local pools.

Here in Arlington, with a warmer climate than cities to our north, September is usually pretty warm and pleasant, which makes the beginning of October a choice that generally better matches up with the actual weather at the time.

When is your personal start of fall?

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With clear skies and lower temperatures, the past couple of evenings have been downright pleasant outside. Except for one thing: the “bumper crop of mosquitoes” that swarm those venturing outdoors.

Thanks to heavy rains over the past few weeks, mosquitoes have been out in force.

This morning we’re asking: have the mosquitoes kept you inside, or have you continued with your outdoor activities undeterred?

Photo by Егор Камелев on Unsplash

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A lot of local businesses are hurting during the pandemic.

Any business that relies on people congregating inside is having a tough time — restaurants, gyms, events organizers, etc. The economic hardship has hit ancillary businesses as well: dry cleaners, for example, are struggling due to few people going to offices and formal events.

Arlington has fared better so far than some other places. While there have been some business closures, it’s been more a trickle of closures than a flood.

That is partially due to Arlington being an affluent place with plenty of government-connected jobs that come with a steady paycheck even during a recession. But it is also, at least in part, due to Arlingtonians going out of their way to support local businesses.

The popular Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group regularly hosts discussions about ways to support locally-owned businesses, for instance, including a “Takeout Tuesday” thread where members say which restaurant they’re ordering from that night.

Making an effort to support more local businesses is certainly laudable, but we wonder whether on balance Arlington residents are spending more or less than they did before the pandemic. After all, you might be ordering more takeout, but perhaps when you used to go out in person you’d spend more on drinks, offsetting any increase.

Take a look at your spending habits and let us know where you stand.

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There was another crash at the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Little Falls Road yesterday afternoon.

No one was seriously injured in the wreck, which temporarily closed the eastbound lanes of Old Dominion Drive in the Rock Spring neighborhood. But it’s just the latest in a long string of crashes.

The crash-prone intersection has been the subject of local discussion for years. It was the scene of 27 crashes over a two-year period between mid-2017 and mid-2019, according to Arlington County police.

Minor safety changes rolled out last year — restricting traffic on Little Falls Road to right turns only during the morning and evening rush hours — have not eliminated the danger. In May, a two-vehicle crash at the intersection sent one car careening into the front yard of a house on the corner.

In 2017, a Williamsburg Middle School student led an effort to convince the county to implement safety changes at the Old Dominion and Little Falls intersection. Ultimately, only the rush hour restrictions were deemed appropriate — county staff said that stop signs for traffic on Old Dominion, an arterial street, would result in too much queuing, while a traffic light was not justified because there was not enough traffic on Little Falls Road. (There are existing stop signs for traffic on Little Falls.)

Given the continued collisions, what, if anything, do you think should be done?

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