Tysons, VA

Easter is usually the busiest time of year for the Polish Market in Vienna, but this year, the family-owned grocery store couldn’t invite customers inside and instead offered curbside pick-up due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oskar Skrzeszewski, who helps his parents run the business, told Tysons Reporter that they had to “do a 360” with operations when the pandemic hit.

“We were one of the first stores to implement safety glass in the beginning of the pandemic,” Skrzeszewski said. “We soon realized this wasn’t enough and we had to close the store completely to foot traffic. We operated on a curbside pick basis only, which was extremely difficult since we’ve never done anything like that before.”

Located at 431 Maple Ave W., the market has served Polish customers and people of Polish heritage for six years, selling pierogis, kielbasa, cabbage rolls, packzi, beer, New York cheesecakes and more, Skrzeszewski said.

The last few months have taken a toll on the business by completely changing its operations and taking a financial hit.

“Our revenues are about 30% down and we have fewer customers coming into the store,” Skrzeszewski said.

At the start of the pandemic in Northern Virginia, Skrzeszewski said that they had trouble finding personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, but eventually were able to order gallons of hand sanitizer from a company. Masks were also hard to come by, but customers who worked in the medical field were able to help.

Currently, customers can only access about half of the store and safety glass is everywhere inside. The limited capacity has led to a dramatic decrease in the shelf space.

“We have to pick and choose the items we order a lot more carefully now,” Skrzeszewski said.

Despite the inconvenience, the Skrzeszewski said shoppers seem to be taking the public health measures well: “Our customers have been tremendously supportive and we’re very grateful for that.”

Over the last few months, Skrzeszewski said he’s seen consumer demand change a little as more shoppers stock up on kielbasa, beer and mustard for barbecues and camping.

Elsewhere in Vienna, a new small grocery store is also working to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Owner Rami El-Hasrouni told Tysons Reporter he was glad he converted Bey Lounge into the LB Food Market (303 NE Mill Street) in late 2019 after the lounge got in trouble multiple times over the Town of Vienna’s noise ordinance.

The market sells Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food and is right next door to Wooden Bakery. Both stores are operated by D.C.-based Woodfire Brands.

After deciding to end the lifespan of Bey Lounge, he decided to expand the small market that was in the bakery into its own concept

While he’s glad that he doesn’t have to worry about how the former restaurant and club would have stayed open during the pandemic, he said the grocery store transition has been tough.

El-Hasrouni said he was already in the process of rebuilding his customer base for the small supermarket — “Everybody is used to this location as a restaurant with nightlife, not a grocery location” — before the pandemic hit.

Night club aside, the location doesn’t help either.

“We are in a hidden location,” he said. “Nobody expects a grocery store to be in the warehouse district. That’s the toughest part for us. If we’re on the main street, people walking by them might see us.”

For the grocery shoppers the store has attracted so far, El-Hasrouni said that the fresh pita bread is the big draw. Shoppers can also find Mediterranean specialty items, like Lebanese olive oil, spinach cheese pies and homemade hummus, along with standard groceries: milk, eggs, vegetables.

Even though LB Market is essentially an expanded version of the grocery section in Wood Bakery, El-Hasrouni is hopeful that the name “is something new” that will also catch people’s attention.

As the pandemic continues, El-Hasrouni said he’s working to get online ordering available on the website, along with mailing people coupons and flyers to help spread the word.

Photos (1-2) via Polish Market/Facebook, photo (3) via LB Food Market/Facebook

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Like many independently-owned restaurants, the pandemic has taken a giant slice of revenue from local pizzerias. Owners in the Tysons area say “tremendous” community support is the key ingredient helping them survive.

Tysons Reporter talked to five owners to find out what it’s like running an independent pizzeria during the pandemic. All but one of the restaurants are currently open and taking orders.

Most of the owners noted they saw prices soar for popular pizza ingredients. “Cheese and pepperoni are through the roof,” Marty Volk, the owner of Church Street Pizzeria and Lombardi’s Pizza in Vienna, said. “The pricing almost doubled.”

Some pizzerias chose to raise their prices, while others didn’t. “If you don’t increase the price of your pizza with the cheese doubling, you’re just taking profit out of our pocket so you have to pass it on to the customer,” Volk said, adding that pizzas with cheese now cost an additional $0.75.

Here’s what the owners had to say about how they have adapted their operations to keep making the dough and why they are grateful for the local community. Read More

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Funding Metro Project — “A project submitted by the Fairfax County government remains in contention for Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) funding, even as a number of other regional projects have been delayed for consideration due to sharp dropoffs in available funding.” [Inside NoVa]

Acquisition Takes Flight — “McLean-based communications satellite services provider Intelsat Corp. announced Monday it will acquire in-flight broadband connectivity provider Gogo Inc.’s commercial aviation business for $400 million.” [Virginia Business]

New Space for Shows — “The Creative Cauldron, a home-grown theater with some of the more successful performance and educational programs in the Little City’s history, has been promised 5,000 square feet for an expanded venue as a part of the Broad and Washington project.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Auto Care Shop Rolls Into McLean — “McLean Automotive Service Center, a family-run business for nearly 70 years, has been turned into another locally-owned business.” [Patch]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Fairfax County is under a Tornado Watch until 10 p.m. today (Thursday).

The National Weather Service issued the alert shortly after 3:30 p.m.

Forecasters say that residents in the Tysons-area may see heavy thunderstorms this evening.

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It might look like another shuttered business, but the former Container Store building in Tysons has come in handy for Fairfax County recently.

The county bought the site (8508 Leesburg Pike) near the Spring Hill Metro station in late 2019 after the Container Store relocated to 8459 Leesburg Pike in 2018.

A few months later, the county’s Department of Economic Initiatives revealed it would use the 19,000-square-foot building for its inaugural pilot “Activate Fairfax: 8508 Uncontained” to support small businesses. While the project faces delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county has taken advantage of the vacant space for personal protective equipment (PPE), Rebecca Moudry with Fairfax County said.

“It’s actually been a bit of a silver lining having that space because it has been housing PPE equipment for the county and other supplies — serving as a kind of like other storage needs in this time,” Moudry, who is the director of the Department of Economic Initiatives, said.

The county’s Department of Procurement and Material Management started using the space for PPE storage a few months ago, and now is storing not just PPE but also library holdings, Moudry said.

“From what I understand, PPE is being received and deployed daily, and so the library holdings are more static,” Moudry said. “The PPE has been largely moved to the logistics center just to get it in and out in an easier way than at the Container Store.”

While it’s temporarily getting used to help the county combat the coronavirus pandemic, the pop-up plans for the building are still in the works, Moudry said.

After applications for pop-up ideas closed in April, a steering committee reviewed the proposals and eventually narrowed it down to one applicant, Moudry said. Currently, the county is negotiating with that applicant and working on a feasibility study.

While it’s one applicant, the building — and possibly its parking spaces — may or may get used in several different ways.

“We were always looking for an operator that we could potentially move into a lease with, so that operator could engage multiple partners and multiple uses certainly, and I think that came through in the responses,” Moudry said.

Originally, Moudry said the goal was to get the pop-up operator in the space by this fall. That timeframe will likely get pushed due to COVID-19 delays — Moudry’s department pivoted earlier this year to providing resources to small businesses, like launching the microloan and Fairfax Rise grant programs.

“Small businesses have been hit extremely hard over the last number of months and we are still in the pandemic,” Moudry said.

But the pandemic hasn’t stopped the “8508 Uncontained” project, which Moudry said relies on the Made in Fairfax network and small businesses in the area to be successful.

“Those producers need to be around,” Moudry said. “We need to find ways to help them continue in existence or be prepared to come back with the economy. So that’s really been our focus.”

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BrandBox has been vacant since early spring, but that’s about to change for the pop-up focused space in Tysons Corner Center.

Located on the first level near Barnes and Noble, BrandBox targets digitally native brands for short-term leases often ranging from six months to a year. If they like the brick and mortar storefront, BrandBox works with the tenants to help them find a permanent spot in the mall.

“Needless to say, with the fate of retail as a whole up in the air due to Covid, especially in an indoor shopping center and people’s varying comfort levels,” Becca Willcox, BrandBox’s senior manager of product and brand success, told Tysons Reporter. “We are taking things slowly.”

BrandBox will soon welcome Tailor on Tap this month. Started by four college students, the business serves as personal stylists with custom high-end clothing for men and women.

“In a world where anyone can buy the same mass-produced outfit from a brick & mortar retail store, Tailor On Tap makes it possible for you to create and elevate your unique style,” according to Tailor on Tap’s website.

Willcox said that BrandBox will be the first store for the Tailor on Tap. “Along with tailored pieces, they will have some ready-to-wear items as well — perfect for those returning to the office, on virtual calls and meetings or just wanting to look great in their everyday dealings,” she said.

Willcox said that BrandBox has been vacant since leases for three brands expired in the early spring.

In the past, BrandBox at Tysons Corner Center has served as a temporary home for Nectar, Peloton, Seletti, Chubbies and Gilly Hicks.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the retail industry. Even with widespread inventory challenges and legacy stores suffering, Willcox said that BrandBox’s ability to pivot quickly, flexibility and creativity keep it going.

BrandBox’s strategy — helping young, online brands with physical retail space through flexible leases — has remained the same through the pandemic, Willcox said.

“This formula actually makes BrandBox the perfect option for post-Covid store openings, even in unpredictable times,” she said.

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FCPS Town Hall Tonight — “Join FCPS Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand for another opportunity to ask questions and provide your thoughts on Wednesday, September 2, from 6 to 7 p.m. The focus for this Town Hall will be resources for parents, including technology and other supports.” [FCPS]

Fired Capitals Head Coach Selling Local Mansion — “It’s barely been a week since the Capitals fired head coach Todd Reirden, but his Falls Church mansion is already on the market. The six-bedroom, eight-bathroom house sits on 2.3 acres, and was listed Monday for $2,250,000 by Keller Williams agent Jordan Stuart.” [Washingtonian]

Tysons Galleria Debt — “The owner of the high-end Tysons Galleria mall said it plans to avoid defaulting on $282 million in debt slated to mature Tuesday as the owners of retail centers across the nation continue to struggle amid the coronavirus pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]

Push for Vienna Police Reform — “In June, Sam Ressin read the news reports of protests against racism and police brutality in Minneapolis. Then he looked at his own community of Vienna, in Fairfax County.” [DCist]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Restaurants and businesses in the Town of Vienna can take advantage of outside spaces for the next seven months.

Last night, the Vienna Town Council voted to extend a temporary waiver on commercial activity outside in hopes of helping local businesses stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses are utilizing parking lots and sidewalks in hopes of attracting more customers as they operate under state and local rules capacity restrictions and social distancing guidelines. As the pandemic continues, customers are gauging how safe they feel inside or outside — with some people opting to limit their time inside businesses.

“We have got to do this to keep our businesses going,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said.

The Vienna Town Council first approved the emergency ordinance on June 1 and then readopted it on June 15. Before the town officials voted last night, the temporary waiver was set to last until Sept. 30.

Now, town businesses will have until March 31, 2021 to apply for and use temporary emergency outdoor commercial activity permits, which Town Manager Mercury Payton authorizes. Payton can also waive regulations for signage and conditional use permits for outdoor dining activities.

After Councilmember Nisha Patel pushed the town to consider a similar waiver for non-commercial zones, Colbert suggested calling for an emergency session on Friday for the Vienna Town Council to consider the proposal.

Patel said that she knows of private schools that would like to use outdoor space for teaching. “If you can get the kids out of the classroom and out into the open air, I think is safer in general,” Patel said.

Photo via Vienna Business Association/Facebook

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The Town of Vienna announced plans to buy the Faith Baptist Church — and now wants residents’ input on what to do with the property.

The Vienna Town Council last night (Monday) approved buying the 3-acre property at 301 Center Street S. for $5.5 million after councilmembers lauded the upcoming acquisition as a long-term benefit to the community.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson called the purchase a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” saying that the church is in the core governmental area of Vienna.

“Center Street is literally in the center of town,” Mayor Linda Colbert said.

Town Attorney Steve Briglia said that the church — a “vital and established part of the town for many, many years” — started internal discussions about changing its mission and possibly selling the property a few years ago.

Previous Town Councils were interested in buying the property, but the church wasn’t ready to sell it, Briglia said. The town is scheduled to close on the property on Sept. 18, using funds from the general obligation bonds issued earlier this year for the purchase, according to a press release from the town.

The town plans to rent the space to the church while the church makes its transitions.

“I’m sure it’s bittersweet whenever a house of faith decides to move into a new way of operating and I certainly wish them the best of success in the future,” Anderson said.

In the short-term, the town is looking to temporarily relocate the police department to the church for one to two years while the new station is under construction.

Police Chief Jim Morris said that the church — instead of the originally planned relocation to the town’s Beulah Road property, will allow the police station to have business hours. “People can come in and we’ll still remain in the community in the heart of all of the activity,” Morris said.

How the property will get used in the long-term is still to be determined. The building includes classrooms, a sanctuary and a full-size gym, Briglia said.

Councilmember Nisha Patel urged residents to share their ideas for how the property can get used. “It’s your property, and as town residents, I really hope you guys provide us with feedback about you’d like to see go into that space eventually and after its temporary use,” Patel said.

Colbert said that the town will do a feasibility study to help figure out how the property can get used. The Vienna Town Council will also start discussing the options during its Capital Improvement Plan work session on Sept. 21, according to the press release.

Image via Google Maps

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ShowPlace Icon didn’t know when its Tysons location opened in February that the contactless kiosks would come in handy for a pandemic.

The kiosks are just one of the ways the newly reopened theater aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19. From the “digital box office” to the mobile app, Jim Nowicki, the theater chain’s marketing director, shared with Tysons Reporter how technology is playing a starring role in the theater’s reopening and overall brand.

“I think initially when we opened, people were apprehensive to use the kiosks because they like that human touch factor,” Nowicki said. “And then who knew that a couple of months later, we are way ahead of the curve, and everyone loves the fact that we have kiosks and a very vibrant mobile app.”

The luxury theater (1667 Silver Hill Drive) has turned to online and mobile ordering as a selling point to bring movie-goers back.

When people order their tickets, the system automatically blocks off seats around the reserved ones to keep people 6 feet apart, Nowicki said. While Nowicki doesn’t expect people to disregard the seating assignments during the pandemic, he said staff will check to make sure everyone is sitting where they are supposed to.

When Tysons Reporter talked to Nowicki, the theater in The Boro had been open for five days after its months-long closure.

The 72,000-square-foot theater originally opened in February, boasting large-format auditoriums, heated recliners, 4K laser projection and more. The Boro location especially emphasized its restaurant and bar — both of which are still temporarily closed as the theater brings back its offerings in phases, Nowicki said.

People can still get their popcorn and drinks from the concession stand’s limited menu. When people get food through the mobile app, the order will be sent to the concession stand for preparation when they check-in at the theater, he said.

“We just want to make sure that our experience when it’s open, is the best experience possible, and we didn’t want to rush our openings and have someone come into an inferior experience,” Nowicki said.

Even though movie theaters could reopen when Virginia’s Phase 3 guidelines went into effect on July 1, Nowicki said that ShowPlace waited to reopen in mid-August so that safety protocols would be in place and movie-goers could see new films, like “Unhinged,” the thriller starring Russell Crowe, and “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula,” the horror film about soldiers battling post-apocalyptic zombies in Korea.

“Our numbers have been slower, obviously than in our opening, but we’re building so every day we’re starting to see more and more guests coming in,” Nowicki said, adding that word-of-mouth and spreading information about the theater’s safety measures are big factors for enticing people back.

To talk to customers directly, the theater is relying on its Extras Club, a free membership program that offers discounted and advance tickets, and a social media campaign. The theater also signed on to the National Association of Theatre Owners’ CinemaSafe Program that features safety guidelines developed by epidemiologists. (Full lists of the program’s guidelines and ShowPlace Icon’s safety measures are online.)

Now, COVID-19 delays that pushed the big summer movies, like “Wonder Woman 1984” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” to the fall and winter will hopefully entice viewers, Nowicki said.

Nowicki said he doesn’t expect the shifting release dates to be difficult for the theater, noting that the movie industry in recent years has already seen adjustments for when blockbusters hit screens.

“You used to have your big films start in June or late May when school is out, but then you started seeing films opening in early May and then you start seeing films opening in late April to build to the early May, to build to June,” Nowicki said. “So now you’re really seeing big films in March.”

With people working from home in the Tysons area, ShowPlace Icon is staying flexible about expanding its mid-day showtimes. “We still have a lot of people who can come out to matinee shows or come out to weekday shows, and they’re eager to do it,” Nowicki said.

The theater is now screening “The New Mutants” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” along with offering early access to “Tenet.”

Nowicki said he expects “Tenet” will be a “game-changer” that will fill more seats: “We want this to be successful, and we actually want people to come back and have a little bit of escapism.”

First photo courtesy ShowPlace Icon

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