Tysons, VA

Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) President Billy Thompson is stepping down from the position after leading the nonprofit for seven years.

A lifelong Vienna resident and realtor with Samson Properties, Thompson guided the GMBA through a period of significant change, as Fairfax County seeks to transform Merrifield from a largely industrial area to a suburban center anchored by mixed-use developments like the Mosaic District and Halstead Square.

The GMBA, which provides support and resources to local businesses, says Thompson will continue serving as an active member on its board of directors.

“GMBA thanks Billy for his dedicated leadership and vision for Merrifield over the past 7 years,” the association said today (Thursday) in a newsletter. “GMBA wouldn’t be where we are today without the unique optimism and energy he brought to GMBA.”

Thompson’s successor will be Kevin Warhurst, vice president of the Merrifield Garden Center.

Acknowledging the challenges that the local business community has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Warhurst says his goal as the business association’s incoming president is to build off the work it has already done to shape Merrifield as a community and make it an integral part of the local economy.

“As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, there is no doubt that our organization will face some challenges in the months ahead,” Warhurst said. “…But there are also many opportunities to strengthen our existing relationships, and build new ones as we seek to grow our association moving forward. I look forward to facing those challenges together, and creating opportunities to better serve our members and our community.”

Photo via Greater Merrifield Business Association

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Thursday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Public Schools to Start Vaccinations on Jan. 16 — “All FCPS employees will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the Virginia Department of Health 1b group of other essential workers. All FCPS staff who wish to access the vaccine will have the opportunity to receive their first dose in the next three weeks.” [FCPS]

Metro Announces Inauguration-Related Service Changes — Metro will close 13 stations starting Friday (Jan. 15) through Jan. 21. Trains will operate according to a Saturday schedule, bypassing the closed stations, and 26 bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter that law enforcement authorities have put in place for the Inauguration on Jan. 20. [WMATA]

Airbnb Cancels Reservations in D.C. Area — “Today, in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week.  Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.” [Airbnb]

Tysons-based Alarm.com Debuts No-Touch Video Doorbell — The video doorbell uses “video analytics to ring itself whenever it sees someone standing on your mat. That design eliminates the need for anyone to physically press a button, and the built-in camera and microphone let you talk with them through your phone without opening the door.” [CNET]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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About four months after opening its doors at The Boro in Tysons, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka has found its soup legs.

At first, the ramen shop focused exclusively on its signature noodle soups, but the menu has since expanded with appetizers, desserts, and seasonal items that are available for a limited time.

“We want to make sure that what we do offer was at the highest quality that we could possibly do,” Junchiro Kawakami, the general manager of Santouka Tysons, said. “Now that it’s been a couple months, all of our staff have gotten used to the menu items and the general operation of the restaurant. We felt comfortable expanding our menu.”

Originally started in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1983, Santouka chose The Boro as its first Virginia location because they saw “huge potential” in all the development happening in the Tysons area, Kawakami says.

Plans for the new restaurant got underway in 2019 with the goal of opening this past March.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Fairfax County, and the opening was delayed due to concerns from the construction company about the safety of its crews, according to Kawakami.

The pause gave Kawakami and Food’s Style USA, which operates the Tysons location, time to adapt to the unique constraints imposed by the pandemic.

In addition to obtaining sneezeguards and dividers for each table, as well as protective equipment and cleaning supplies for employees, Santouka Tysons pivoted from a mostly dine-in operation to one that could accommodate more carryout and delivery orders.

That required finding takeout containers that can hold soup and noodles separately and replacing a key ingredient.

“We normally use lard for one of our ingredients, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to use that for carryout,” Kawakami explained. “As you might be able to guess, once it gets colder, it starts to look very unappetizing, so we had to change that ingredient to an oil base.”

While opening in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenge, Kawakami says the restaurant has been “going strong,” thanks to the support of its new customers and its suppliers’ flexibility with the changing construction schedule and operations.

In the hopes of carrying that success over into the new year, Santouka Tysons has added some new menu items over the past month, including tsukemen – where the noodles are dipped instead of kept in soup – and a riff on dora-yaki – a pancake filled with red bean paste – that involves bacon bits and maple syrup.

Kawakami says the family-sized, delivery-only appetizer dishes that Santouka has been offering during the holiday season have proven popular.

He has also gotten adept at using social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to stay engaged with customers and share promotions, such as a Japanese snack giveaway that will take place on Jan. 1.

“Our aim is to bring to… the DMV area authentic Japanese ramen,” Kawakami said. “That hasn’t changed, but how we do that, we had to think about it and change that up.”

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Fairfax County will host Virginia’s first-ever Smart City Challenge next month.

Scheduled to kick off on Jan. 23, the challenge is a month-long virtual competition where teams of participants will develop and pitch potential solutions to challenges in health, transportation, housing, education, energy, infrastructure, public safety, and other facets of society.

Fairfax County has partnered with several public, private, and nonprofit groups to organize the contest, including Smart City Works, the McLean-based nonprofit Refraction, Virginia Tech, Girls in Tech DC, and the Universities at Shady Grove.

“The goal of the Challenge is to advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the greater Washington, D.C., region,” Smart City Works said in a Dec. 21 press release announcing the challenge.

While the challenge was designed with the D.C. area in mind, anyone, from college students to startups, can participate regardless of where they live. Organizers say they will put a particular focus on encouraging women and people of color to get involved.

Registration is currently open. There is an admission fee of $15 for students and $30 for everyone else “to help defray hosting and other expenses,” Smart City Works says on its website.

Conducted entirely online through Zoom, the challenge will give participants a month to form teams and use data, resources, and mentors made available by organizers to develop ideas for how technology or other forms of innovation can be used to make communities more equitable, livable, resilient, and sustainable.

Teams will present their projects to a panel of judges, who will evaluate the pitches based on innovation, regional impact, practicality, and equity and inclusivity. Winners will be awarded more than $350,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, along with an opportunity to implement pilot projects with Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax, and other partner organizations.

Alongside the actual competition, the challenge will feature streamed and recorded discussions with government, nonprofit, and business leaders throughout the month. Anticipated speakers include Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Dominion Energy CEO Bob Blue, and Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn.

“The Smart City Challenge is the perfect opportunity to tap bright minds to improve the lives of everyone in the Washington, D.C., area through technology, innovation, and problem-solving,” Refraction CEO Esther Lee said. “We are excited to bring together forward-thinking businesses, entrepreneurs, universities, government, and nonprofits to showcase collaboration and thought leadership.”

Fairfax County previously partnered with Smart City Works and Refraction to start the Northern Virginia Smart Region Initiative, which aims to foster innovation and economic growth in the area.

The county contributed $50,000 when the two nonprofits successfully applied for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to fund the initiative in 2019.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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With COVID-19 vaccines expected to take months to roll out to the general public, one Tysons-based company has developed software that it believes will enable schools, businesses, and other facilities to open their doors with an added layer of security against the novel coronavirus.

Senseware (8603 Westwood Center Dr.) has adapted its air quality monitoring platform to detect the presence of COVID-19 particles or conditions that facilitate their spread.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority announced on Dec. 18 that it will host a webinar with FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins and Senseware CEO and co-founder Serene Almomen on Jan. 7.

Presented in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, the webinar is the latest segment in a 10-part series called “Catalyst for Change: How Companies Turn Disruption into Success.”

“Safety is the critical component of bringing employees back into working on-site at offices during this unprecedented time,” Hoskins said. “This webinar will focus on how Senseware…has developed a platform for detecting COVID-19 particles in order to enable a safer environment for employees returning to the workplace.”

Since COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets and other particles carried in the air, Senseware says that its platform can determine the effectiveness of ventilation systems in mitigating the coronavirus’ transmission by monitoring the air supply flow rate, particle sizes, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide and ozone levels.

The company says it has integrated bio-sensors into its system that can detect the existence of viruses, including the novel coronavirus, and other harmful microbes.

Using the data collected by its sensors, Senseware sends reports to customers and automatically issues an alert if air quality conditions become unhealthy or unsafe.

“Knowing if [the] COVID-19 pathogen is in the air we breathe in real time will play a major role in safely repopulating spaces,” Almomen said. “We are excited to share how we introduced this new innovation to help promote people safety and wellbeing during this critical time.”

The FCEDA webinar will take place virtually on Zoom. Registration is free and can be done through this link.

Image via CDC on Unsplash

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Inova Delivers First Vaccine to Healthcare Worker — “Months of preparations led up to an emotional moment for Inova Health System’s CEO after the first healthcare worker received the COVID-19 vaccine.” [ABC7-WJLA]

National Search Underway for Next Fairfax County Police Chief — Fairfax County has hired a search firm to assist in its search for a successor to Chief Ed Roessler Jr., who has announced that he will retire in February. The search process includes an online survey and focus groups with “key community organizations.” [Fairfax County Government]

Falls Church West End Developers Propose Major Revisions — West End Gateway Partners wants to revise its plans for an “ambitious 10-acre mixed use development at the City’s west end…under conditions of the global Covid-19 pandemic. A special public town hall to outline the changes is scheduled to be held online this Thursday, Dec. 17 at noon.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Teen-Run Business Focuses on Outdoor Jobs Amid Coronavirus — “TaskTeens, a spinoff of TeenServ created by McLean High School student Jack Lannin, connects teenagers that can perform yard work for homeowners.” [Patch]

Staff photo by Angela Woolsey

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Fairfax County’s relief fund for small businesses and nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has come to an end, the county announced on Dec. 11.

Established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in May, the Fairfax Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) assisted 4,809 local businesses and nonprofits by awarding $52.57 million in grants.

According to the county, RISE received 6,280 total requests for aid during the application period from June 8 through June 15. 95% of the grants went to local businesses, while the remaining 5% supported nonprofits.

More than 72% of the grant recipients identified as organizations owned by women, minorities, and/or veterans. That surpasses the county’s goal of allocating at least one-third of the available funds to businesses owned by those historically disadvantaged groups, which account for a third of the jobs in Fairfax County.

The Board of Supervisors praised the county staff and employees of the nonprofit Community Business Partnership who ran the program during an Economic Initiatives Committee meeting on Nov. 10.

“I think each of us have heard from recipients what a difference this has made,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We’ll be paying close attention to what we hope will be future federal stimulus that will help us do even more going forward. 4,800-plus businesses is not insignificant.”

Fairfax County created RISE using money that it had been allocated by the federal CARES Act. As of November, the county had received $340.5 million in federal aid, including $200.2 million from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund, whose eligibility period ends on Dec. 30.

RISE grant funds were intended to assist with wages, rent, employee health insurance, and other fixed operating costs critical to keeping businesses alive.

Recipients needed to have a principal place of business located in Fairfax County, including the Towns of Vienna, Herndon, and Clifton, and no more than 50 full-time employees in order to be eligible for the program.

Almost 40% of the grants went to businesses in the accommodation and food services, healthcare and social assistance, and professional services sectors. 8% of recipients were in retail trade, which joins food services and hospitality as industries hit especially hard by job losses and the pandemic’s other economic impacts.

More information about RISE and the grant recipients can be found on Fairfax County’s website and its RISE dashboard.

Image via Fairfax County government

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Republik Coffee Bar (7915 Jones Branch Dr.) permanently closed earlier this week, Tysons Reporter has confirmed.

An employee at Republik Coffee’s Ballston shop told Tysons Reporter today (Friday) that the Tysons venue permanently shut its doors three or four days ago, but the worker was not privy to any behind-the-scenes information about what went into that decision.

A representative of Highgate at the Mile, the mixed-use building that houses Republik Coffee in Tysons, also stated that the shop just closed, but she didn’t know why. Tysons Reporter also reached out to Kettler, which owns Highgate, for comment but has not heard back yet.

Originally based in Arlington, Republik Coffee came to Tysons in June 2018 with the goal of providing premium coffee and serving as a key tenant of the fledgling Highgate development. It had been envisioned as the start of a larger expansion that would have included another Fairfax County location and two venues in Washington, D.C.

However, signs of trouble emerged only nine months later when Republik Coffee received an eviction notice in February 2019. Owner Talha Sarac told Tysons Reporter at the time that the situation was a misunderstanding, and the location stayed open past the Feb. 27, 2019 date when the space was supposed to be vacated.

Highgate resident Ryan Martinez informed Tysons Reporter yesterday (Thursday) that the furniture in Republik Coffee had been packed up, and equipment appeared to be in the process of being removed. He noted that the shop had always been a little erratic, opening its doors on some days and closing on others.

“I’m sure the pandemic really drove down business,” Martinez said. “Too bad, hope they or another coffee shop can turn things around.”

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The winter holiday season tends to be a crucial time for retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses that rely on the annual flurry of gift-giving and festivities to bring in the revenue they need to stay afloat, but it will be especially pivotal this year after months of economic challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of its ongoing efforts to encourage community members to support local businesses, the Vienna Business Association has expanded the Small Business Saturday guide that it normally puts together every year into a Vienna Holiday Guide.

Launched online on Nov. 1, the guide gives local businesses a platform to share the deals and promotions that they are offering during this holiday season. It also features public events hosted by the VBA and the Town of Vienna, such as the Shop & Stroll series and the annual decorating contest.

“We just want to do everything we can to help the businesses that are struggling so much, and this holiday season is so critical,” VBA Executive Director Peggy James said. “Nothing against Amazon, but our businesses really, really need the business. Small businesses really need the business, so it just seemed like a nice thing to do.”

Vienna business owners say the VBA’s support and the sense of community fostered by Town officials and residents have buoyed them as they adapted their products and services to a world of social distancing and public-gathering restrictions.

“Vienna is really awesome. They’re really a loyal customer base,” Potomac River Running Marketing and Community Outreach Coordinator Gina DeGaetano said. “…The business association [is] doing everything right to encourage people to continue to shop small, whether that’s supporting them online or coming into the store, and we’re certainly seeing the Vienna customer base is doing just that.” Read More

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Friday Morning Notes

McLean Private School Announces New Leader — “We are excited to announce that Jason Shorbe, current Head of School at BASIS International School Guangzhou, will join the BASIS Independent McLean community as Head of School for the 2021-2022 school year.” [BASIS Independent Schools]

Researchers Seek Public Input on Merrifield Self-Driving Shuttle — “Relay will be available to public riders for about a year, and George Mason University School of Business is seeking public feedback on the pilot program.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Vienna’s Jammin’ Java Awarded COVID-19 Assistance Grant — “The Live Music Society has committed to giving $2 million in grants in its first two years of operation to support the live music ecosystem around the United States.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Salesforce to Purchase Acumen Solutions in McLean — “On Dec. 1, the same day it announced that it was acquiring workplace communication service company Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock, cloud-services company Salesforce.com Inc. revealed that it’s also acquiring McLean-based professional services firm Acumen Solutions.” [Virginia Business]

Haycock Elementary Teacher Turns Treehouse into Classroom — “For Haycock Elementary School teacher Nellie Williams, creativity took on new heights as she and her husband decided to upgrade their backyard treehouse for her to use as a classroom.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

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