Tysons, VA

Finally, for the first time since March, McCabe’s Printing Group has seen a jump in sales.

The Merrifield based shop (8451 Hilltop Road), which typically specializes in promotional materials for schools and banquets, suffered a 50% drop in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to operations manager Chris Ricci.

“Mid-March, everything dropped off the face of the earth in terms of work,” Ricci said. “It was kind of a shock, to say the least.”

But after forming a few new partnerships and changing tactics, Ricci said that the shop finally began to bounce back in August.

“I wanna say that businesses slowly and gradually reopening has definitely played a role in boosting morale,” he said, adding that the shop has seen a large increase for printed materials reminding people of safety procedures to prevent the spread of COVID, such as proper handwashing techniques and PSAs to wear a mask.

“We’ve been lucky,” Ricci said. “A lot of print shops had a lot of difficulties during this time, but the biggest goal is keeping at it.”

When the pandemic first hit, Ricci said that the shop received a federal PPP loan.

“That definitely helped us out, especially during the early months,” Ricci said. “We were one of the first ones to apply and get it.”

The shop is also awaiting a loan from Fairfax County, which Ricci is expecting to hit the accounts sometime next week.

Ricci said that he’s been with the company since he was a “wee little lad,” adding that he has family connections to the business.

For community members who want to keep supporting local and small businesses, Ricci said he wanted to remind people that there is a gap between the drive to support local shop owners in practice vs theory.

“The biggest disconnect that folks have is supporting local businesses but not supporting small business prices,” he said, adding that the printing industry has a very small sales margin to begin with.

Ricci encourages people to chat with the staff when visiting a small business, that way they can form a connection with other community members.

“There are not that many people at small businesses, so when you walk in, you could easily be chatting with the owner,” Ricci said.

Image courtesy McCabe’s Printing Group

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“Shop local” has become a popular refrain during the pandemic as small businesses struggle with the economic fall-out and health risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

Several small businesses have permanently closed during the pandemic, but many have found ways to keep their doors from shutting. Owners have told Tysons Reporter over the last few months that affluent residents, loyal customers and community support give Tysons-area businesses advantages.

Fundraisers to support businesses’ operations and employees, social media efforts by residents to promote local eateries and loans and grants from the government also aim to keep small businesses alive.

Even as businesses grapple with the pandemic, many are giving back to the community.

Lebanese restaurants and shops are fundraising for relief efforts in Beirut. A Mosaic District dry cleaners turned into a mask factory. Local eateries are donating meals to help food-insecure people in Vienna. Falls Church Distillers switched to making hand sanitizer when there was a shortage in March.

Let Tysons Reporter know in the poll and comments below how much you have been spending at small businesses during the pandemic.

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos/Unsplash

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About a year after Wee Chic opened in the Mosaic District, COVID-19 restrictions temporarily closed the brick and mortar store. Now, the newly reopened kids’ clothing boutique is preparing for the fall.

Started in Maryland a little more than 10 years ago, Wee Chic made a quick pivot to e-commerce with curated boxes and an online store this spring. Just like owner Bridget Quinn Stickline predicted back in May, the reopened stores are currently offering steep discounts as Wee Chic looks to shed excess inventory and make way for fall clothing.

“We still have too much inventory,” Stickline told Tysons Reporter in mid-July. “Currently, we’re selling product up to 60% off. This is the good stuff that would have sold full price.”

With fall approaching, Wee Chic plans to make changes again — a “giant pivot cycle” as Stickline calls it — to keep the business going during the pandemic. Stickline stressed that the store is committed to serving shoppers with various comfort levels around COVID-19 precautions, from in-store browsing with required face coverings to online shopping.

Curated Boxes Returning 

Wee Chic first promoted its curated “Shop Box” in the spring to help with the inventory overload, but put a pause on the box due to the summer sale.

As the store now looks to move away from being heavily discounted, Stickline said that she plans to relaunch the box for fall merchandise.

Here’s how the box works: employees talk to shoppers over the phone to pick out 10-20 pieces, which can include multiple sizes. When the box arrives, kids try on the clothes and parents send back whatever they don’t want. Shoppers who keep a certain number of pieces get a percentage off their entire order.

Because the box is not a subscription model, Stickline said that her employees work hard to pick out the right products.

“[Subscription services] have a chance to get it right,” Stickline said. “In our model, it’s one box. That one box has to be good enough.”

Stickline noted that while Wee Chic had been offering the box for awhile, the store hadn’t given it a name or marketing until the pandemic.

Loyalty Program

Bringing back the box isn’t the only upcoming move for the fall. Wee Chic is also looking to start a loyalty program — “Something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” according to Stickline.

Stickline sees the loyalty program as a way to make her customers feel appreciated and also ease any strain on their wallets from the pandemic.

“Everyone I think is more concerned about spending right now,” she said.

Inventory Changes

Regular customers might notice some changes to Wee Chic’s inventory this fall. Unlike previous years, the store is now looking to reduce its party dresses and ramp up its toy and gift options as the pandemic affects clothing demand.

Wee Chic is also selling masks for kids and tweens, which Stickline calls “a little bit of a heartbreaker.” The masks include pastel colors, sharks, unicorns, corgis and more. “

“You still have to buy clothes,” Stickline said. “Some kids are going back to schools a few days a week.”

Even for families and school systems opting for fully virtual learning, Stickline noted that kids outgrow clothes quickly.

Parents normally have to size up for a few or all of their kids’ clothing pieces every season, with ages 2-5 usually seeing the fastest growth and ages 6-8 most likely for growth spurts, Stickline said.

Online Wish List

When the pandemic prompted social distancing and canceled in-person events, Stickline noticed that shoppers started to spend more on kids’ presents.

“I feel like people are giving slightly nicer gifts because they can’t go to showers,” she said. “[People] want to make more of a gesture. You’re sad for a kid who can’t have a birthday party when they’re 6.”

In pre-COVID times, kids could pick out items in the store for wish lists. Now, work is underway to create an online registry.

Stickline sees the online wish list as a way for would-be guests to send “a big box full of fun” to kids and their families celebrating birthdays and holidays.

“The role I see for us in the world as a business is we’re here to spread some cheer and make things better,” she said.

Photo via Wee Chic/Facebook

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After receiving thousands of applications, Fairfax County officials want to add funds to its grant program to support more small businesses and nonprofits facing financial turmoil from the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider spending $20 million to expand Fairfax RISE, according to the draft agenda for the meeting.

The county board originally made the grant program in May with $25 million from funds through the CARES Act. Businesses can receive the following amounts based on the number of employees:

  • 1-10: $10,000
  • 11-25: $15,000
  • 26-49: $20,000

The county is especially trying to help women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses stay in business during the pandemic.

Of the 6,280 applications the county received in June, 6,038 qualified for funding, meaning the county would need more than $60 million to support all of them, according to the county.

“As the Grant Program was oversubscribed, a random selection was used to determine the order of processing for all applicants,” according to county documents.

The county invited 2,183 applicants — 36% of the total qualified applicants — to submit documentation and start the certification process. The county documents say that some businesses that qualified during the first review phase may become disqualified in the second review phase if they don’t meet the documentation requirements or don’t respond.

Now, county officials hope that expanding the program will fund approximately 65%-80% of the June applicants by adding $20 million from the county, along with the $1 million provided from the Town of Vienna.

Currently, the county is not accepting new submissions from businesses.

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Despite hopes that reopening Virginia, which is now in Phase Three, would help the economy, barbershops in McLean are experiencing the opposite. 

Barbershops in McLean Tysons Reporter spoke to have reported very few customers, which owners blame on the fear of catching the virus from their barbers and a lack of social distancing, despite increased sanitation and safety measures.

“They are afraid,” said Ali Virek, the owner of McLean Barber Shop. “They are safe when they come in, but they have to actually come in.” 

Virek reported that business is down 60%, and he believes that is because older people are more nervous about coming in. He added that people have called asking for home visits, but they turned the idea down out of concern for the safety of the traveling barbers. 

“I’m scared. I’m nervous about my business. We’re doing our best, but we have to protect ourselves as well,” said Virek.

Kim’s Family Barber and Dominion Barber Shop also reported slow business since their reopenings.

“[Business] has been very, very slow,” said a manager at Dominion Barber Shop. “Before [the pandemic], every day, we had five customers. Now we have two customers.” 

The barbershops have changed their cleaning procedures to ensure safety and sanitization. Barbers are required to wear masks, clean chairs after each customer and encourage customers to wait in their cars or outside before their appointments.

They have also eliminated services that involve extra contact, such as shoulder massages. At McLean Barber Shop, chairs are even spaced 8 feet apart to ensure the extra distance between customers.

“Everyone has to wear a mask,” said Kim Nguyen, the owner of Kim’s Barber Shop. “We clean everything before another customer comes in.”

All of the businesses reported opening on May 29, and have been trying to draw in customers since then.

“We do it exactly like the news tells us. We sanitize, we take care of the chairs after each customer… After each customer, we do laundry,” according to Dominion Barber Shop.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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After area hospitals began to see the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Vienna company LaserShip decided to donate its services to help deliver personal protective equipment and other necessities to several Inova locations.

For medical workers, PPE can save lives by limiting the contact healthcare professionals have with people who might be carrying COVID-19. Josh Dinneen, LaserShip’s VP of Commercial Development, said the company decided early on in the pandemic to help deliver this equipment at no cost to the medical centers.

“We are just managing it, getting it where it needs to go for them,” Dinneen said. “Whatever we can do to leverage what we have in our resources, we need to do it in this time of crisis.”

As a “last-mile delivery service,” the majority of LaserShip’s business comes from medical supply and e-commerce, Dinneen said, adding that it made sense for them to help community members in need.

During this three-month partnership, which will likely be renewed in July, Dinneen said the company has delivered life-saving supply to three Inova Hospitals and 10 additional affiliated medical centers  — including Inova Alexandria, Inova Fair Oaks and Inova Fairfax hospitals. 

“What’s good for the community now will be good for us in the long-run,” he said.

Dinneen said the company chose to affiliate with Inova because they have coordinated on things like blood drives before.

Though LaserShip began with shipments to hospitals and medical centers nearly every daily when the partnership first began in April, Dinneen said that demand has lessened somewhat, and now they are only sending drivers out once or twice a week.

Going forward, LaserShip will also be helping Food For Others, a Merrifield based organization that helps community members facing food insecurity.

“We’ve offered to come in and do some logistics advice,” he said, adding that the company is also helping the organization with food delivery.

Photo courtesy LaserShip

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(Updated 5:40 p.m.) The Town of Vienna is giving $1 million to support Fairfax County’s new grant program to financially help town businesses.

The town announced the news today (Wednesday), saying that it’s giving some of its funds from the CARES Act to the county’s RISE grant program. The town received roughly $2.9 million in CARES Act funding at the end of April, according to the town newsletter.

“While the $1 million being provided by the Town of Vienna is designated specifically for Town businesses only, Vienna businesses also will be eligible for funding through the county grant program beyond the Town’s contribution,” according to the press release.

Natalie Monkou, the town’s economic development manager, said in the press release that the town originally thought about creating its own grant program, but decided that the county had more resources.

“Fairfax County has the infrastructure already in place to execute a grant program for businesses,” Monkou said, adding that the county will give businesses “more immediate access to grant funding.”

At least 30% of the total RISE funding will go to women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses, she added.

“When we did a business survey a few weeks ago, one of the main things we heard was that businesses need access to capital, and that can be even more true for veteran-, minority-, and women-owned businesses,” she said. “The CARES Act allows us to provide this important assistance to our small businesses.”

The county’s grant program currently has $26 million for small businesses and nonprofits, according to the press release. The grant application will be open from June 8-15.

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The MacMillan Whisky Room is trying to fill a void in the local dining scene: late-night food and drinks.

The Mosaic District restaurant and bar has always focused on offering options for diners hungry past 10 p.m., but staying open late now as the coronavirus pandemic continues gives the MacMillan Whisky Room an extra advantage.

“We’re open at least one to two hours later than everyone else [in the area],” Derek Anderson, who co-owns the bar along with his wife Emma Hand, told Tysons Reporter.

Currently, the restaurant is open 5-11 p.m. on Sundays and Thursdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, but Anderson said those hours might get extended once the patio seating opens this Friday (May 29).

The MacMillan Whisky Room reopened on Saturday for its one-year anniversary and to attract Memorial Day diners after being closed since March, Anderson said.

“It was kind of important to us for our one year anniversary,” Anderson said. “It was a symbolic way to come back.”

Currently, carry-out and a limited delivery service are available. The menu features small plates like tater tots and beef sliders, cocktails including gimlets and margaritas, wine, beer and “hearty fare,” which consists of steak and Guinness pie for $14.

People who order drinks will get their cocktails already mixed in 6 oz. custom bottles, which may come with garnishes on the side. “People seem to like that more than the red solo cup,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to keep it classy.”

The owners decided to not use third-party delivery services due to increased liability with alcohol deliveries, the percentages they take, along with “other issues.” Instead, they are opting to deliver to people living in the Merrifield area. “It’s going to be where we can walk,” he said.

The reopening is helping them prepare for when Northern Virginia starts to ease business restrictions.

“We’ve already set up our outdoor seating area,” he said, noting that the tables are spaced 6 feet apart.

Anderson is hoping that diners “don’t want to storm the patio.”

“If they come back too quickly, it will come back to an increase in cases,” he said, adding that he wants customers to know that restaurant staff — at his place and others — “are facing health threats from these big crowds.”

Now that he’s received a Paycheck Protection Program loan during the second round in early May, he expects that they will slowly rehire more staff. So far, they have brought back six of the 25 people who worked there in pre-COVID times.

“That was the hardest part of all of this,” he said about letting all of the employees go when the restaurant closed. Currently, they are prioritizing rehiring people who haven’t found new jobs, left the area or aren’t receiving unemployment benefits.

“With the nature of our carry-out business now, we’re not having as many bartenders,” he said.

Since the PPP loan is primarily meant to pay employees, Anderson said that the Small Business Administration loan they got “is what is really allowing us to ride out the delays.”

They’re also eyeing Fairfax County’s new loan programs to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

As long as everyone stays safe, Anderson is hopeful that the business will bounce back.

“We think we’re going to ride this out pretty well,” he said.

Photo via MacMillan Whisky Room/Facebook

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In celebration of Virginia Business Appreciation Month, the Town of Vienna launched a new campaign called ViennaUnited.

ViennaUnited consists of community activities throughout the week and will benefit 1,800 of the town’s small businesses, according to a press release.

Events include bingo, a drive-by business challenge and “people’s choice awards” to local businesses given in an array of categories.

For the drive-by business challenge, people are encouraged to make signs supporting and encouraging their favorite spots by flashing the signs, the press release said. People are welcome to post pictures on social media and use the hashtag #ViennaUnited.

To score bingo points, people can engage in activities such as letter writing, ordering lunch from a local eatery and visiting a community coffee shop.

Though COVID-19 impacted small businesses, according to Natalie Monkou, the town’s economic development manager, event organizers hope this event will give business owners a boost.

“More than ever before, we need to show appreciation to our business community as we also consider the next steps toward recovery,” Monkou said in the press release. “This is a small but visual step in showing our support and showcasing the innovation and resiliency that is present in our town.”

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Small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Fairfax County can apply for grants through a new program approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The Fairfax Relief Initiative to Support Employers (Fairfax RISE) uses $25 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The program is intended to provide immediate relief for small businesses and nonprofits impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and “address gaps that may exist among complementary programs,” according to the county.

Our hope is that these grants will help small businesses and nonprofits be able to emerge from these difficult times by retaining employees and preparing to grow in the future,” Fairfax County Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement.

Businesses and nonprofit organizations can begin applying in early June. Funding will be awarded based on the number of employees, with amounts varying from $10,000 to $20,000.

Funding can be used for compensation, capital, equipment, inventory, rent and other critical operating expenses. No grant funds can be used to pay debts to start or close a business.

Here’s more from a press release:

Fairfax RISE will offer grants to qualified businesses or nonprofits that will not have to be repaid. It also specifically establishes a minimum allocation of 30% of the program’s total dollars — or $7.5 million — towards awards for minority-, veteran-, and women- owned businesses.

Not only have these kinds of businesses historically faced difficulty obtaining financing, but they also make a major contribution to the county’s economy. Minority-owned companies with employees account for 32% percent of businesses in Fairfax County, and collectively, all minority, women and veteran-owned businesses employ 80,000 people in the county with total annual revenues of $14.4 billion.

The grant application process is expected to begin in early June 2020. To be eligible, applicants must be established and have one or more location(s) in Fairfax County, including the principal place of business. Fairfax County includes businesses and nonprofit organizations located in the Towns of Herndon, Vienna, and Clifton. Additionally, awardees must have less than 50 total employees across all locations, have been in operation over 1 year; and, with the exception of nonprofits, have a valid Business, Professional and Occupational Licenses (BPOL).

The county also created a microloan fund for small businesses using county dollars.

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