Old Town Alexandria: Back From the Dead

Old Town Alexandria is adopting an innovative approach to safe dining and the world should take note. But will it be enough to save brick and mortar restaurants from Coronavirus?

One thing looks different about #OldTownAlexandria. Driving down King Street you will find the last two blocks cordoned off while heading to the Potomac River. I initially thought they were trying to ensure social distancing or perhaps there was an event. But to my surprise, they began setting up tables for patrons to sit on in the street. 

The chairs were draped with fine linen to give customers a nostalgic restaurant experience. It makes sense. It was 80º and everyone wanted to enjoy themselves outside with a cold beverage and lunch. 

This was all new and interesting to me. I lived in the shadow of Old Town for about four years. I absolutely loved it. I'm frequently drawn back to its brownstone homes, cobblestone streets, and kerosine street lamps. Today was no different as I fell in love with the magic of Old Town again, but in a new way.

Patrons caught on quick as the owners of restaurants such as the Fish Market, Mia's Italian Kitchen, and Urbano rolled out the red carpet... in the middle of the street!

I just wrapped a shoot in the area and was ready to grab a bite with my client. We had a fun graduation portrait session, and cold beer with a lobster roll sounded perfect.

Unfortunately, they were still getting a feel for the new normal. Although the tables were set up, a rep from the Fish Market informed us that they were not cleared for seating at this time. We had to eat our food closer to the river in the park. On the other hand, we couldn’t help but look with envy at the cool setup on display further up King Street.

Despite the limitations, all the owners seemed enthusiastic to implement quality of life changes. Despite the hiccup, they were ready to be flexible and move forward. I thought about the logistics and planning for such an event. It’s not easy to get a city to block off a street and coordinate the efforts of a dozen or so restaurants. But is it so hard? I know the business owners on King Street and Old Town Alexandria in the general stick together. That gives them an advantage. They have meetings and lobby for the best interest of their businesses and the community. How much advocating occurred to pull this event off, and is it replicable in other places around the country, or even the world? Especially when businesses in poor or middle-class areas font have the support of local governments or consensus from the community and neighboring businesses that may be impacted by closures.

I saw some enthusiastic discussions taking place right before everything started to open up. I was certain if these were health inspectors. But I was informed that they were currently looking into the situation to approve seating. All in all, everyone seemed to work together well.

Nonetheless, it's a great idea. I’m sure we are looking at the new normal of community-based businesses in areas that depend on commerce. Time will tell how the impact on traffic, closures due to weather, and the threat of a new outbreak will impact the initiative.

In the end, it was great getting back into Old Town and enjoying the magic. In all honesty, I liked the street cafe vibe. It remains to be seen if I like the increased traffic :) 

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