Alexandria Businesses React to COVID-19

by Tori Carr '20

It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon, and you decide to go out and enjoy the day. You brainstorm what activities you could possibly partake in. Possibly a museum, see a movie, or go shopping. Luckily, you decide to do a little research before embarking on your journey. You see that many businesses are closed and will be closed up until early April. How did this all happen?

The COVID-19 Outbreak began in China in mid- to late December when the Chinese government notified the WHO (World Health Organization) that there were cases of “unusual pneumonia” in Wuhan, a city in Central China, according to Al Jazeera. The outbreak caused travel to grind to a halt and around 760 million people were told to stay in their homes, according to Nature. These protocols were put in place around two months ago, and now there are only a couple dozen cases on COVID-19 reported each day in China. Michael Osterholm, a scientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said, “These extreme limitations on population movement have been quite successful” in an interview with Nature

This virus has now reached the United States and has exponentially grown in the last few days. As of Wednesday, March 18, 2020, there were 86 confirmed cases in Maryland, 77 in Virginia, and 32 in the District, according to The Washington Post. Local and federal governments have been making new regulations and mandates every day in order to stop the spread of this virus, and social distancing seems to be the method that they are turning to. 

On March 17, 2020 Governor North announced that “public gatherings should not be greater than 10 people,” according to WSLS-TV in Roanoke. He further explained that, “all restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters are mandated to significantly reduce their capacity to 10 patrons, or close. Restaurants are encouraged to continue carry-out and takeaway options."

 

In Alexandria many local businesses are closing or taking new measures to limit the possible spread of this virus and promote social distancing. Local Alexandria restaurants are, particularly, impacted by these precautions. Many businesses are trying to implement social distancing as much as possible while still continuing business and paying their workers. Delivery and carryout are methods that are now being used by restaurants in Old Town and the Mosaic District, according to NBC Washington

The District and Maryland have placed a ban on indoor dining, and although this is not the case in Virginia, Julie Carey from NBC Washington reports that “just down Del Ray’s Mount Vernon Avenue, restaurants might be empty inside, but they’re bringing the food out to the customers. At these three eateries [Holy Cow, Pork Barrel BBQ, and the Sushi Bar], they have installed a food warming station under an outside tent. No one even has to get out of their car.”

James Cattaneo, the General Manager at Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap, stated on Tuesday, March 17, “We’ve had to be very nimble. It’s kind of been our keyword. We’ve been reacting constantly, daily to news coming out from the Coronavirus and following recommended guidelines. [It] started with closing off reservations; putting tables together to promote social distancing within our restaurant; going so far as limiting hours as well; and more focusing on our to-go and delivery services.”

The owner of Grounded Coffee Shop, Candy Briffa, explained, “We also are offering more to-go orders as well. If people want to call in an order, we’ll take it out to their car if they don’t feel comfortable coming in. And we’ve also taken away our train table (the kids’ play area) that children play with. We decided that it would be risky to keep it out, so we decided to remove that.”

Keeping the surface areas and food clean is at the forefront of all businesses in this uncertain time. Briffa said that “the employees are very hyper vigilant about washing hands...We have definitely upped our sanitation procedures as far as sanitizing all the tables a lot more frequently with Clorox wipes. More frequently, we wipe all the door handles, the door knobs, [and] the handles on our creamers.” Cattaneo commented that “We’ve recommended minimum handwashing by all employees every thirty minutes. We’ve been doing hourly sanitations of commonly used surfaces.” 

Additionally, it can be difficult for local businesses to keep paying their employees when they have little business or are unable to keep their shops open. Cattaneo summarized, “Coming into this past weekend we saw a lot of support from the neighborhood because we are in the neighborhood. People are used to coming to their pizza spot, and that’s what we want it to be. The past couple days we have noticed a drop in sales because people are taking the messages seriously, and we take them seriously as well, and we understand that we have to, like I said earlier, be nimble to what’s happening.”

President of the Del Ray Business Association, Sue Kovalsky, is urging Alexandrians to keep participating in commerce. She said in an interview with NBC Washington, “Pay it forward. Take a meal to a neighbor who can’t get out or shouldn’t get out. Treat the family. The retail businesses here aren’t getting the foot traffic, so reach out. Call them. Order a gift certificate.”

 

Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap, on Wednesday, March 18 sent out an email to their customers with a message that read “It is with heavy heart that we announce the temporary closure of the dining room and patio at Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap. Under the advisement of Governor Northam and in the best interest of our customers and our team members, we will remain closed for dining until further notice.” However, the restaurant is now offering Curbside Pick-up and free delivery with UberEats. They additionally included a link, asking customers to purchase a gift card online to support “a dedicated employee relief fund.”

Other businesses in the Alexandria area have been forced to find alternative methods of continuing business. In an email from Yate’s service, the company stated that Yate’s Automotive’s Sunoco station is now offering full service gas pump attendants at the pumps. They are also offering “free local pickup and delivery of customers’ vehicles that require repair, maintenance and detailing services.”

Grocery stores in the Alexandria area are also dealing with how they could offer support to the community. Fresh Market, in an email, explained that they are staying open, and are “designating special shopping hours for seniors and other individuals most at risk. These hours are between 8 AM and 9 AM, Monday–Friday. All stores will continue to operate under our regular business hours.” Likewise, Whole Foods, according to WUSA, will open all their stores in the U.S. and Canada one hour early to people who are 60+ beginning Wednesday, March 18. 

Many other businesses in Alexandria have been closing this past week. According to Patch, Alexandria Library facilities will be closed until March 31; the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria’s shelter is only available by appointment; and the Office of Historic Alexandria is closed which includes the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, Freedom house, and more.

Even doctors’ offices are closing. At Oronoco Dental: Family Dentist Old Town

Alexandria, they announce in an email “I have decided to limit the capacity of the office to true dental emergencies until March 26th, 2020...If you are currently scheduled for a dental cleaning or elective procedures during the next two weeks, you will be rescheduled.”

Nationally, Macy’s Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue are closing all their stores, according to USA Today. Regal Cinemas announced they will close all their theatre locations indefinitely, and local AMC theatres announced “this theatre is temporarily closed in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines,” on their website. In D.C. institutions such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, Capital One Arena, Arlington National Cemetery, the 9:30 Club and more are currently closed according to Washington D.C.’s information website

Alexandria has promptly reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak within the region. The City of Alexandria has also taken measures to help jobs, food, housing, and human services. The Alexandria City Council on March 14, approved a donation of $20,000 to the ALIVE! food bank to provide food for 17,000 meals. The City Council, additionally, donated $100,000 to the ACTNow Fund, which “streamlines grants to nonprofit service providers to assist with food, housing, medical and other financial hardships,” according to alexandriava.gov.