Tysons, VA

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The county board originally made the grant program in May with $25 million from funds through the CARES Act.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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Wee Chic, a kids’ clothing boutique with stores in Maryland and the Mosaic District, is now offering custom boxes as it navigates e-commerce in the time of coronavirus.

Wee Chic opened its doors at 2905 District Ave, Suite 120 last spring, offering taco-printed onesies, a sushi-printed bib and much more as one of the few small clothing retailers in the Mosaic District.

“We have a lot of inventory we have to sell,” she said.

Since the stores are closed, owner Bridget Quinn Stickline said she’s pivoted to selling items online and via FaceTime appointments with customers while she or an employee is at one of the stores.

Now, Wee Chic has rolled out a “Shop Box” to entice clients to keep shopping.

Employees will talk to shoppers over the phone before building a custom box with 10, 15 or 20 pieces for each child at the low price of $10, $15 or $20.

“It’s kind of like a Stitch Fix model, but not a subscription,” she said.

Once the box arrives, kids try the clothes on, keep what they like and send back what they don’t before Wee Chic charges the family for the clothing they keep.

“Kids still need clothes,” Stickline said, adding that her store caters to shoppers who want to buy quality items.

Each box will include a return label and the shipping fee will be credited to future purchases, according to the website, which says that shoppers who keep eight or more styles will get 30% off their entire order.

Boxes that get returned will sit for a period of time before employees open them up, Stickline said.

The boxes can include multiple sizes, Stickline said, adding that she’s noticed something interesting from the test cases for Shop Box: “Kids are picking out things they would never have picked out if they were in the store.”

Stickline said she expects most of the orders to be for comfortable clothing — “definitely more around the house kind of stuff” — along with pajamas, birthday gifts and Wee Chic’s exclusive skort — a skirt combined with shorts underneath.

“It’s a good time to be a customer,” she said. “We anticipate there will be some really good deals [when we reopen.]”

When Wee Chic does reopen its stores, Stickline said she’s turning to her customers for guidance.

“I want to get a sense for where the customer is most comfortable,” she said, adding that she’s flexible with opening later in the day for parents homeschooling and other ideas to meet clients’ needs.

To keep customers and employees safe, she said everyone will need to wear masks and follow directional signs on the floor — “Can we do something more fun like dinosaur tracks?” — and everything that they will need to do to follow legal guidelines.

Ultimately, Stickline hopes that shoppers continue to support small businesses like hers as the coronavirus pandemic continues and once it’s over.

“Amazon is going to be fine. Jeff [Bezos] isn’t going to need any more of your money. Hopefully, people will be able to tolerate the extra effort it takes to shop with small businesses,” she said.

“We don’t want an environment where everything is big box and all the small businesses are gone.”

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Little Birdies Boutique was only open for a few weeks in Tysons Galleria before the coronavirus pandemic forced its now closure. Now, the shop is hiring as it prepares to reopen.

The boutique, which sells kids’ clothing from newborns to size 10, first opened in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood in 2014 before expanding to Tysons earlier this year.

Shanlee Johnson, the owner and founder of Little Birdies Boutique, told Tysons Reporter that online sales, loans and grants have helped keep her business going.

“We’ve always had a strong online presence,” she said, adding that her online sales have doubled since the pandemic.

“Our online sales have been a lot of swimsuits and sandals and shorts and picnic blankets,” she said, adding that she expects popularity to increase for those items.

But the increased online sales can’t make up for the store closures: “It’s not the same as having two stores [open] and online.”

In a normal year, Little Birdies Boutique sells twice as much merchandise during March-May than the rest of year, she said. But this isn’t a normal year.

“March and April [sales] were basically what I do in January,” she said.

In addition to the online store, Johnson said she’s offering virtual in-store shopping, which has been a hit with older customers “who haven’t picked up the online presence.”

While Easter was “rough” since customers weren’t buying dressier clothes, Johnson said people are shopping for extra pajama sets and loungewear or stocking up for next year. Her private label, Pineapple Sunshine, “has taken off even more,” she noted.

To help make up for the decreased revenue, Johnson said she’s been able to negotiate her rent and received a Small Business Administration loan and grant from D.C.

Now that both of the stores are temporarily closed, Johnson said she has settled into her 11 a.m.-6 p.m. workday routine to fulfill online orders: go to Tysons in the morning to pick up clothes, head to D.C. for more clothes and then go to the post office.

“It keeps me busy,” she said. “There is no one at the mall.”

As Johnson awaits information on reopening dates for both stores, she’s looking to hire one to two full-time employees and a few part-time employees for both the D.C. and Tysons stores.

“The Georgetown store was a lot of students,” she said. “They all left to go home. We didn’t do any major layoffs.”

When the store does reopen, she expects the mall will have shorter hours and keep offering kiosks of hand sanitizer. “We’ll require masks and I’ve always been a cleaner,” she said.

Since both of her stores are small, she said she is working to figure out how to maintain social distancing, although she doesn’t expect “tons of people.”

She expects the Tysons location to maintain its appeal among her clientele of new moms, grandmothers and friends of moms-to-be.

“We carry boutique brands, international pieces,” she said. “They are not department store brands.”

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Sorry, No Sports — “The Virginia High School League’s Executive Committee voted Thursday to cancel the spring sports season altogether for rest of the 2019-20 calendar year due to the coronavirus outbreak.” [Inside NoVa]

Vienna Hosting Free Small Business Webinar — “Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Vienna-based Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, will lead the first online discussion from 10-11 am Wednesday, May 13.” [Town of Vienna]

Tysons Area ABC Stores Offering Curbside Service — “The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) is now offering curbside pickup for online orders at 15 stores in Northern Virginia.” The list includes two in Vienna (8413 Old Courthouse Road and 436 Maple Ave E.), Falls Church (7121 Leesburg Pike) and McLean (1445-B Chain Bridge Road). [Inside NoVa]

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