Tysons, VA

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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The City of Falls Church is encouraging businesses to prepare for winter and apply for COVID-19 relief grants worth up to $100,000.

More businesses may be eligible for increased sums of relief money under Gov. Ralph Northam’s expanded criteria for Rebuild VA grants. The changes were announced last Thursday.

Under the new criteria, businesses that have less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees will be eligible to receive up to $100,000, which is 10 times the original grant maximum.

The Rebuild VA Grant Fund is a program to help small businesses and non-profits whose operations were disrupted by COVID-19. Rebuild VA will now be open to all types of Virginia small businesses that meet size and other eligibility requirements, from restaurants and summer camps to farmers and retail shops.

This is in addition to the $250,000 that the City of Falls Church agreed to appropriate last week from the city’s CARES Act funding to give to small businesses. Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant will receive a second award in line with the updated guidelines.

Falls Church City spokesperson Susan Finarelli says the Rebuild VA program expansion is especially welcome as the cooling weather could present extra challenges to local businesses.

“The City of Falls Church is trying to help City businesses succeed through the pandemic with grants, special permits, and sharing resources and information,” Finarelli said in an email. “…The more businesses and non-profits than can benefit, the better for the entire community.”

Approved Rebuild VA applicants may receive grants of three times their average monthly recurring eligible operating expenses, plus COVID-related expenses, up to a maximum of $100,000. Applicants who have received CARES Act funding are not eligible to receive reimbursement for COVID-related expenses under the Rebuild VA grant.

Eligible recurring operating expenses include:

  • Payroll and benefits
  • Mortgage payments
  • Rent or Lease payments
  • Utilities
  • Principal and interest payments for business loans incurred before or during the emergency

Eligible COVID-related operating expenses, made on or after March 24, include:

  • Expenses to comply with safety standards relating to COVID-19 prevention
  • Expenses to reconfigure business facilities to comply with physical distancing standards, including the installation of drive-through windows
  • Expenses for using or phasing-in touch-free technology or equipment
  • Purchase of equipment, infrastructure, technology or other services to prepare for and respond to coronavirus
  • Purchase of equipment, infrastructure, technology or other capital assets to prevent transmission and provide a healthy and safe work environment

An application guide can be viewed here. A list of required documents can be viewed here.

Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook

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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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