Tysons Corner, VA

Fairfax County police officers decided to chip in to buy a new car seat for a Merrifield mom after she was in a car crash.

It all started when Officer E.J. Green from the McLean District Station stopped to make sure everyone in a two-car crash in Merrifield on Sunday (May 26) was all right.

No one was hurt, although one of the cars needed to be towed. Its driver — a mom who lives in Merrifield — decided to walk home.

“Green offered to take her child’s car seat to her so she wouldn’t have to carry it, but quickly noticed that the car seat was old and in rough shape,” the Fairfax County Police Department wrote in a Facebook post.

Green then talked to the rest of the McLean daywork — the A squad — about how the car seat wouldn’t protect the child, and they all decided to pool their money to buy a new car seat for the mom.

Green and Officer Brian Hungarter surprised the mom and her daughter with the new car seat about an hour and a half later at 1:30 p.m., a spokesperson for the police department told Tysons Reporter.

“The woman was grateful, calling the officers’ actions sweet, kind and unexpected,” the police department wrote on Facebook. “We applaud these officers for making a positive difference in the lives of our community members!”

Photo via Facebook

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Even after 47 years, Ar-Jon Portable Toilets in Vienna is still “a family-owned business.”

The septic company is based out of 327 Owaissa Road S.E. and offers portable restrooms and sanitation equipment for any type of event that might need them.

“It’s a family thing,” Ben Wood said of the company his father started in 1972. Ben joined the business in 1975. “I’m the only son. My mother still runs the office and she’s helped out by my niece. I have two sons and the younger one works for us.”

Wood said the company has expanded and changed considerably since his father’s time. Over the last few years, there have been new innovations in septic-toilet cleaning.

“He started off with 12 wooden ones he built in the backyard,” Wood said. “Now, we’re at around 2,500.”

Like many businesses, Wood said Ar-Jon was hit hard by the 2008 recession, but the growth of construction in the area — and the subsequent need for portable toilets — has been a boon.

“Vienna is growing,” Wood said. “They’re tearing down all the 1940s homes and putting up big ones.”

For Wood, that means dozens of construction sites, all of which need portable toilets. Wood said that’s a large part of where the company’s business comes from.

“About 90 percent of our sites are construction,” Wood said. “We also do parks and specials events on weekends, that type of thing, especially like ViVa Vienna and Taste of Vienna.”

Photo via Facebook

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Vienna may be going through changes, but in some ways, life in The Italian Gourmet Deli (505 Maple Avenue W.) isn’t that different from when it opened in 1974.

Jeremy and Margaret Schottler are the owners of The Italian Gourmet. Jeremy bought it in 1995, having grown up in Vienna and worked in the deli throughout high school and college. He married Margaret in 2005, and shortly after, she began working at the business.

“The area has changed a lot since then,” Margaret said. “It’s a lot busier. We make frozen entrees, and once they were not big sellers, but now people really want them.”

Margaret said the shift is representative of a larger change in the town. When The Italian Gourmet started, Margaret said it was known as the place to get specialty Italian food at a time when Vienna — and Northern Virginia as a whole — were still very much viewed as part of the South.

“Everyone would spend their Sundays making marinara sauce and they’d come here for supplies,” she said.

While the quick-bites have become increasingly popular, the specialty side of the gourmet remains active from hand-rolled balls of mozzarella to basil from a nearby hydroponic farmer. Margaret said the deli even uses the same recipe and tomato base for their marinara as they always have.

One of the biggest changes over the last few years was the Schottlers opening Molly’s Yogurt, a frozen yogurt and gelato spot just a few doors down in the same shopping center. The location had been a framing store underneath overflow spaces owned by the Schottlers.

The framing store closed in the middle of the recession in 2010, but with frozen yogurt on the rise, Margaret said the family saw potential. Molly’s Yogurt — named after their daughter — opened that year and is basically an extension of the deli, sometimes using the same tools or kitchen.

In both locations, Margaret said they know most of their customers by name and enjoy answering questions people have about the deli and gelato.

“If people are making an effort to go out to shop, they want an experience,” said Margaret. “That’s what we will always provide — what chains aren’t able to.”

If you stop by the deli, Margaret recommends the Roman Sandwich, a collection of traditional cold cut meats loaded with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and more onto a 7-inch sub roll. Or if you swing by the frozen yogurt-gelato spot, Margaret said there’s plenty of options, but nothing beats classic chocolate.

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Just a month shy of its 10-year-anniversary, a kids’ clothing boutique named Wee Chic recently open its first Virginia store in the Mosaic District.

Rewinding to when it all began, owner Bridget Quinn Stickline told Tysons Reporter that she started Wee Chic after struggling to find clothing she liked for her daughter, who was then a baby. “A retailer alert went off [in my head] — this is a void in the market. There’s opportunity here,” she said.

Stickline, who has worked in the garment industry and is a self-described “fabric-phile,” knew she wanted ethical fashion with a modern approach that she could buy in boutiques.

Fast forward to present day and Wee Chic sells appropriate kids’ clothing that parents can have a hard time finding, she said.

“Fashion forward and mom approved” is how Stickline describes the shop’s offerings, which include clothing for girls’ sizes from newborn up to size 16 and for boys from newborn up to size 8, along with toys and books. (Food-printed clothing, like sushi and tacos, are popular right now, she said.)

Originally based in the Baltimore-area, Wee Chic has a newly opened Mosaic District shop, which was formerly the location of Dawn Price Baby — another local kids’ boutique that started shuttering its stores last year after 15 years in business.

Stickline said that she heard about Price’s plan to retires and signed the lease for the space in March just a few months after Price’s lease ended.

“We saw that as a sign for us to make a move into Northern Virginia,” Stickline said, adding that she likes the variety of restaurants and mix of national chains and small businesses that call the Mosaic District home.

She says she hasn’t had any customers confuse the two shops, since the decor and merchandising “feel very different” from Dawn Price Baby.

Wee Chic embraces the individuality, fun and the flexibility that comes from being a small business, Stickline said.

She has embraced recent push in the industry toward selling gender-bending — not be confused with gender neutral — clothes and toys. “We’re seeing dinosaurs on girls’ clothing. Why didn’t this happen 10 years ago?” Stickline said, adding that she’s excited about how retailers are starting to think differently about gender.

Wee Chic is also unique in its refusal to sell products online — a move that might be surprising in an e-commerce age, but one that Stickline says creates in-person experiences that shoppers can’t replicate online. “For us, it’s about the human connection,” Stickline said. “We get to know clients really well.”

Even in “Age of Amazon” — as Stickline calls it, the boutique sees returning customers — “the Wee Chic Squad” — that allows Stickline to watch kids grow up.

“Kids come into our store and it’s their favorite store,” she said, adding that parents will bring their kids shopping there as a reward. “That’s a really cool feeling to create a space that kids love.”

Now age 12, Stickline’s daughter has outgrown Wee Chic, but has picked up her mom’s entrepreneurial spirit, Stickline said. “She was the original Wee Chic.”

Photo courtesy via Wee Chic

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As Tysons grows, Fairfax County officials say the plan is for the small Raglan Road Park between Tysons and Vienna to be repurposed into “active recreation uses.”

Currently, Fairfax County Park Authority owns 11.82 acres of Raglan Road Park, a forested area adjacent to the Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley. The area recently saw some construction with the opening of the new Vesper Trail, but more amenities could be on the way.

David Bowden, director of the Park Planning and Development Division, said the park is one of the only properties the Park Authority owned prior to the widespread redevelopment of Tysons.

“Expansion of that park property is an area identified as [a priority] to support Tysons,” Bowden said.

“What we need in Tysons is an athletic field,” Bowden added. “We need multi-use spaces for basketball or tennis courts, or even pickleball now.”

Raglan Road Park and the Freedom Hill Park to the south are both identified in the 2014 Tysons Park System Conception Plan as locations for some active recreation facilities. According to the plan:

The park is mostly forested upland, with a small clearing of about half an acre. Raglan Road Park is contiguous with the Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley, though the park does not have any regulatory Resource Protection Area (RPA) land on it. Prior to construction of any recreational uses at Raglan Road Park, additional land will need to be acquired to complete the park. This is due to the irregular shape of the park, and the land area needed to construct facilities.

But Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Park Authority, noted that active recreation uses don’t have to be incompatible with preserving natural spaces.

“There are combinations uses of active natural areas and streams,” said Pedersen. “The urban park model tries to do a little bit of both. But the reality is we do need active recreation facilities in this area.”

Any moves towards redeveloping the park as an active space are still in the formative stages. As part of their proffers for The View project, the Clemente Development Company plans to contribute $750,000 to construct an athletic field at Raglan Road Park.

Pedersen said that other priorities for creating active use spaces in the area include trails to connect to nearby neighborhoods and playgrounds.

“This is all very conceptual,” said Bowden. “It all depends on how much land we ultimately acquire as part of that park. But eventually, it’s going to be more than it is today. It will provide for the park network in Tysons.”

Photo via Facebook

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Falls Church a city almost exactly 100 years older than the first daguerreotype cameras. It was a recruiting station for the American militia in the Revolutionary War and the scene of minor skirmishes throughout the American Civil War.

But even so, it’s a city that’s gone through numerous changes over the last 80 years of Fairfax County’s aerial photography.

Unlike most of nearby Tysons, Falls Church already has the visible bones of a small city by the photography from 1937. The familiar street network is in place, with several homes situated along the intersection of Broad and Washington Streets.

By 1953, the Winter Hill neighborhood was built, and the cookie-cutter pattern of American suburbia was starting to stamp down on fields around the town.

The aerial photography is spotty after that, with no coverage in the 1960s or 70s, but returns in 1980, when downtown Falls Church’s transition to strip malls and small shopping centers was in full swing.  New streets, like Annandale Road, also connected businesses along Washington Street to homes and other businesses along Broad Street.

There was less change between 1980 and 1990 though, when most the changes took place at the western end of the downtown area where new apartments and new shopping centers were built closer to Lee Street or with new northeast of Broad Street.

Like nearby Vienna, the pace of development in Falls Church slowed dramatically after 1990. Very little of the town’s shape and structure changed between 1990 and 2007, and less between 2007 and 2017.

One of the most visible changes in downtown Falls Church was the construction of the Harris Teeter in 2016, the first grocery store in the city’s downtown in three decades.

Previous Then and Now features from around the area include:

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Nightlife may be one of Tysons’ weak spots, but local music in the area has a long history — and a wide-open future.

The Fairfax scene is very diverse, drawing on artists who are local to the county as well as those from elsewhere in the greater D.C. area.

Emblematic of that diversity is an upcoming performance on Saturday, March 23 at the VFW post in west Falls Church. Six different acts will be playing music — two punk groups, three rappers representing a variety of styles and an indie rock four-piece.

D.C. is famous for its historical punk scene, with names like Fugazi that defined a sound across the entire country — but much of that scene happened on the southern side of the Potomac. Although not all of its current residents are aware, Northern Virginia has a strong tradition of independent music. In the 1980s and ’90s, most of that tradition was being made in Arlington.

The little county was home to the nationally-successful punk group Minor Threat, whose frontman Ian MacKaye later starred in Fugazi, as well as many other bands. It also boasted the Dischord and Teenbeat record labels and the Positive Force activist group, which was closely associated with the “Riot Grrrl” feminist movement.

These groups were often based out of houses, dotted across Arlington. The county was successful musically because it was cheap and offered easy access to the city — but, unfortunately for the punks, the rest of society caught on.

Today, the median home on the Arlington market is listed at over $700,000, and there aren’t many places left in the county for young musicians living on a shoestring budget. In the words of Positive Force co-founder Mark Andersen, “there was another Arlington that existed, and that was a much more humble Arlington.”

In some ways, Fairfax carries on that tradition. By offering (relatively) affordable performance spaces, a large population of potential audiences and a wide network of musical collaborators, the county has a lot to offer a young musician.

There are some major differences, though: today’s scene isn’t only about punk music. Also, it’s less tied to D.C. than it used to be, and has more potential to define itself as “NOVA” music.  It does face some obstacles, though, including the drain of talent and attention to nearby cities like Richmond and Baltimore, and, as in Arlington, the difficulty of coexisting with some of the most desirable residential neighborhoods on the East Coast.

To understand what it’s like to record and perform in Fairfax today, Tysons Reporter spoke with Jason Saul, a melodic rapper native to the area.

Tysons Reporter: First, how did you get to be making music in VA?  Are you originally from the area?  When did you start rapping, and what’s driven you to the style you use?

Jason Saul: I was born & raised in NOVA. I started writing music when I was 13 but it was never anything super serious… Once I turned 20 I realized there wasn’t anything else that brought me the amount of joy that making music does. So now I’m seeking to make music my career. My style comes from influences of music that I listened to when I was young. I’ve always enjoyed storytelling or making music the correlates with the listener. To me, music is all about feeling. Eventually I started to make more melodic music since that’s what I always gravitated towards.

Tysons Reporter: Second, what should I know about the NOVA scene in general? How does it compare to other scenes around the D.C. area — does it have a particular identity compared to, say, D.C. or Maryland? Is it known for particular styles, or for particular venues? Do you want to stay around here, or, if not, where would you go?

Jason Saul: The NOVA scene is very interesting when it comes to music because I see it as a big question mark on the creative map. No one can really say NOVA has a particular sound, and I think that stems from no one really making it out on to the mainstream platform yet. I know there’s Kali Uchis but that’s just one artist. I respect D.C. a lot because it’s so rich with culture but I would definitely separate NOVA from D.C. just because it really feels like two different worlds. MD in my opinion is known for their raw rapping which is great. It’s up to NOVA to see what we come up with now. I’d love to stay here and I probably will but I also enjoy the weather in the west coast.

Tysons Reporter: Third, it’s pretty cool to see this wide a mix of sounds at a single show. Is that standard, would you say, or is this unusual? If it’s unusual, what helped bring it together this time?

Jason Saul: It’s very exciting to see a show like this going down because it’s bringing different groups of people together. I wouldn’t say it’s the ordinary but it’s definitely going to be a good show and should happen more often. What helped bring it together was the relationships some of us have outside of music, just knowing each other really. This gives the audience and artists a great opportunity to discover some music they never thought they’d listen to.

To listen to some of Fairfax’s local musicians, check out these artists, who will be performing at 6:30pm – 11pm on Saturday, March 23, at the VFW Post #9274 (7118 Shreve Road), just 10 minutes from Tysons on Leesburg Pike. There will be a $5 cover charge, and Respawn Thrift will be selling vintage clothing.

Desperry (NoVA, Hip-hop)

Holographic (NoVA, Hardcore punk bootgaze)

Jason Saul (NoVA, Melodic hip-hop)

Needle (D.C., Grind punk)

Wisteria (MD, Indie rock)

Lil Dynamite (NoVA, first show)

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Cvent is expanding in Tysons, adding 72,000 square feet of office space to their headquarters and opening up 67 new jobs at a company that offers some unusual perks.

Cvent creates software for businesses to organize meetings and events. The company will occupy three additional floors of Boro Station at 1765 Greensboro Station Place.

Erica Stoltenberg, a Cvent spokeswoman, said the company includes a few travel opportunities for high-performing employees. Notably, an exchange program offers an employee at the Tysons office and one at the company’s office in India a chance to “switch positions” for a few weeks.

Top-performing sales reps are also given a free, all-inclusive trip to Mexico each year.

This seems to fit with reviews on Glassdoor.com that call the office highly competitive, with a good group of driven coworkers, and one that offers jobs to young people fresh out of college. For those applying to the company, Stoltenberg said the company is looking for employees with an “entrepreneurial mindset” who are “natural go-getters who embody that start-up mentality.”

Stoltenberg also bragged about the company’s all-out Halloween party, which includes divisions competing for best costumes and best overall decorations.

Other perks at the company range from the standard “free office coffee” to onsite massages and other wellness activities.

The company recently expanded into the fifth floor of their headquarters at 1765 Greensboro Station, just south of The Boro development. Stoltenberg said part of that move included discussions with employees to figure out what enhancements or additions were most needed.

“As we expand, it’s important the new floors are constructed in a way that means we have the best environment for our growing team,” said Stoltenberg.

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Business is hurting in Vienna. The Maple Avenue Market closed last week, as did the GameStop, with an employee there citing increasing rents as the leading cause.

As store after store shuts its doors, there are questions swirling around town about whether local businesses can stay competitive with new developments surrounding Vienna — and if so, how?

At a town council meeting in January, town business liaison Friderike Butler said businesses on side streets were being hit particularly hard.

“If they’re not on the main street, they’re struggling a lot more,” said Butler. “Even on Church Street, it’s not easy. The economy is doing well overall, and if we have small businesses struggling as the economy is doing well, what is going to happen if there is a recession? It’s something to really think about and make sure our business community is strengthened and supported.”

Peggy James, executive director of the Vienna Business Association, told Tysons Reporter that two big challenges are facing local stores.

“It’s very expensive and we’re pretty tight on parking,” said James.

What’s driving up the rent? It’s an old maxim anyone in real estate will be familiar with.

“Location, location, location,” said James. “It’s always been an expensive place. With Mosaic District just two miles away and Tysons building up like crazy, the competition for brick and mortar is tough.”

Over the years, James said the Saturday morning shopping at mom-and-pop stores that had turned Vienna into a local destination disappeared as sales went to big box stores and Amazon.

“The challenge in this age of Amazon is double,” Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, wrote in an email. “You don’t even have to leave your home or apartment to purchase, and Amazon has such size and distribution that it can undercut in price on almost anything one would purchase at a small business.”

But all three experts noted that there are ways to help local businesses survive.

From a policy standpoint, Butler said the Town of Vienna can help make parking more accessible.

“We need a comprehensive parking map,” said Butler. “Culpepper has a beautiful parking map distributed everywhere in stores and people know where to park. For visitors who have never been in Vienna, it’s very confusing where to park. A comprehensive map would be helpful.”

Town Councilmember Howard Springsteen also recommended the Town Council consider hiring a full-time economic development specialist, an idea that’s been tossed around the council for two years.

“There’s a limit to how much we can rely on volunteers,” said Springsteen. “We just really need to bite the bullet and do it.”

For businesses, Shafroth said survival hinges on finding a niche that can’t be as easily replicated by bigger stores or by Amazon.

“Retailers have to carve out a niche that makes them indispensable: whether shopping for a stroller, car seat, crib or mattress,” said Shafroth. “For instance, new parents want to walk into a physical store and speak with a retailer who can field multiple questions and direct them to the products that best suit their needs — even if those products are available through a different vendor.”

As part of that, Shafroth also said smaller stores should capitalize on the advantages physically touching merchandise offers.

“It’s hard to be certain–especially if you are shopping for a small child, for instance — what will work,” said Shafroth. “A parent wants to feel and touch something: is it baby soft? If it’s a toy, is the mechanism simple enough and safe enough for a tot?”

He continued: “According to Forrester, 43 percent of millennials respond they would rather shop at small local stores, as opposed to big national chains. According to Cassandra, a trend forecasting, research and brand strategy firm, 78 percent of parents in the U.S. would rather shop in stores than online. And, according to the National Retail Federation, today’s young parents spend as much as $1 trillion on items for kids — and this generation values good service more than convenience: they want to be certain that what they purchase will be appropriate — and safe.”

And at the individual level, there’s an obvious answer for how locals can help small stores survive.

“The best thing people can do is give local businesses the first shot at a sale,” said James. “I had a lot of loyal customers at Artful Gift Shop. They’d come to us first. You don’t have to find what you want, but give us a shot.”

James also noted that it can be too easy for locals to blame new developments, like those coming in with the Maple Avenue Commercial zoning changes, for the hardships local stores are facing.

“We can’t stay small and survive,” said James. “We can’t stay as small shops if we can’t keep customers. New spaces [are being developed] on Maple Avenue. Citizens don’t like it and I can understand it, but it kind of has to happen.”

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For all its faults, it’s hard to say Tycon Courthouse doesn’t stand out.

More locally known as the “Toilet Bowl” or “Stargate” building, Tycon Courthouse on Route 123 just west of Leesburg Pike is most notable for it’s over seven-story tall ring in the front of the building.

But there was a time where the building, labeled the ugliest in Virginia in Business Insider’s 2018 list of ugliest buildings in every state, was once the height of local architecture. It was, at one point, the largest office building in Tysons and the first structure to include massive structure parking, able to accommodate a then-record 900 cars.

It was built in 1983 in the middle of a “screaming architecture” fad — a Washington Post article at the time said the buildings were designed to be their own advertisements. They were reflective of peak Reagan-era style, where notability was more important than pleasing aesthetics. Architects Volker Zinser and Barry Dunn were credited with the project.

There are several urban rumors about the project, like that it was designed to look like an “O” for the Olivetti Company, or the lenses of a Nikon camera, but an interview with Zinser at the time said he was inspired by a book about 19th-century French architects who designed projects that explored geometric volumes.

In keeping with the style, Zinser said the fact that the building was being talked about was more important than what people were calling it.

The screaming architecture fad was centered around Fairfax County. Experts at the time called it medieval, noting that businesses were grabbing spaces and turning them into private fortresses.

The Blade Runner-esque Tysons Office Center on Route 7 and Gallows Road, sometimes called the “Flash Cube” building, and Tycon Towers, the 17-story “shopping bag,” were other local examples of this design.

Tycon Courthouse in the 1980s photo via Bonstra Haresign Architects

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