In the middle of June, Visit Alexandria, in partnership with local government and organizations, administered a survey to discover the extent of the Metro Summer Shutdown’s impact on the Old Town community. While some businesses lost revenue and others gained, the general trend is this: the closer a site lies to the waterfront, the stronger the performance and the closer a business is to the Metro, the weaker the performance.
Of the 149 responses, the most highly represented sectors in the survey were restaurant and retail and about two-thirds come from Old Town. While the majority of businesses surveyed reported that revenue was either up or unchanged compared to the same period in 2018, 38% on upper and middle King Street reported revenue declines of greater than 5%, with most seeing declines greater than 10%.
“We are trying to do every single thing we can during this interruption to ensure we deliver as strong a performance as we can,” says Visit Alexandria Chief Operating Officer Tom Kaiden. “Once we got the results back, we’ve started making adjustments in our marketing mix to place greater emphasis on retail and restaurants, and also the full length of King Street.”
In preparation for Alexandria Restaurant Week, happening Aug. 16 to 25, the Visit Alexandria team has increased recruiting efforts for participating restaurants, making 2019 a record year with more than 74 eateries already signed up.
Ally Kirpatrick, owner of relative newcomer Old Town Books, located at the foot of King Street by the water, has experienced an increase in sales since the Metro Platform Improvement Project began on May 25, which she credits to the location of the shop. While Old Town Books’ revenue has increased, Kirpatrick has noticed a change in her regular consumer base.
“You know, we get a lot of tourist foot traffic but also a lot of our customers are locals, it’s part of our business model,” says Kirpatrick, who hosts regular book club meetings and events within the store. “I’ve definitely noticed my DC peeps aren’t showing up as much, so I really hope the end of the shutdown will mean they are more inclined to come to our events.”
Amy Rutherford of Red Barn Mercantile and Penny Post, located on opposite ends of King Street, has noticed a similar trend in shop visitors.
“I think we will still get tourists because they want to come to this great little city—they’ll find a way—but the regional traffic not as much,” says Rutherford. “DC and Maryland people, even some North Arlington customers, are not making the trip on a regular basis like they usually do.”
While Rutherford prepared for the shutdown by talking to financial advisers and the stores’ banks, she still worries for the upcoming holiday season, as sales for Red Barn Mercantile decreased significantly in June and sales for Penny Post remained stagnant. Over the past few months, she has worked collaboratively with other local business owners to host events like the Old Town Spring Carnival and the Maker’s Mini Mile to make sure people know about Alexandria and what it has to offer.
Alexandria Restaurant Partners, a company made up of eight local eateries, has experienced revenue changes at some of its sites as well, including Mia’s Italian Kitchen and Theismann’s.
While Mia’s is up 10% compared to last year, Theismann’s sales are down 15%, but Scott Shaw, one of the founding partners of Alexandria Restaurant Partners, doesn’t attribute the decline at Theismann’s all to the shutdown.
In addition to the summer shutdown, the King Street-Old Town Metrorail Station Access Improvement Project, which started in November of last year, has interrupted normal traffic patterns in the area. In order to remain productive during the alterations, according to Shaw, Theismann’s is going through an extensive interior makeover, with a completion date coinciding with the Metro’s reopening.
“We knew both of these things were coming so we just rolled with the punches,” says Shaw. “Theismann’s has been here for 34 years, so one weak summer is not going to kill us.”
While Visit Alexandria initially planned on surveying local businesses once as a temperature check, the organization is considering conducting the survey again once the closure ends to examine the entire effect of the project.
“It’s such a vibrant, wonderful town that people do want to travel here on a regular basis,” says Rutherford. “It’s just if they aren’t able to get here, then obviously it makes things difficult.”
This article is a part of our ongoing coverage of the Summer Platform Improvement Project. See all of our coverage here.