What do you mean by “Feasibility Assessment?”

Now What?
Now What? How do I turn this in to a new store?

Contemplation – Imagine you are a retailer contemplating this tenant space. Clearly, you might be asking yourself; “now what?” Suppose a few of the questions below move from unconscious reflection to conscious contemplation without ensuing answers, then assessing a project to see what is actually required could facilitate the decision making process and provide many benefits.

Resources – Landlord provided documents, previous project cost summaries, consultations with building departments, contractors, engineers and sometimes professional construction estimators are all resources informing project feasibility. The intent is to simplify, consolidate and summarize the probable scope of work, professional fees, construction costs and time that might be anticipated for a project. It is the purpose of a feasibility assessment and a highly recommended means of beginning most retail projects.

  • Do I need to build the walls?
  • Do I need to build the bathroom(s)
  • Why do I need 2 bathrooms?
  • Why do I need 2 entries?
  • Do I need to install the storefront system?
  • Can I use my own storefront design?
  • Do I need to have my own electric meter installed?
  • Do I need to install my own Air Conditioning and heating system?
  • What is the best mechanical system to use?
  • Is there water in the space?
  • What about hot water?
  • What about gas?
  • Where is the sewer?
  • How do I connect to it?
  • Will my store fit in this space?
  • Must I supply my own storefront sign?
  • Who will design it?
  • Can I design the store myself?
  • Can I turn a logo into a store design?
  • Where do I get the store fixtures?
  • What if I can’t find the exact fixtures that I need to display my products?
  • Are custom store fixtures required, if so who will design them?
  • What about lighting?
  • Who sets up the Point of Sale (POS) system and how do I hide the wires?
  • How do I accommodate the cabling and hard wiring for my computers?
  • How much can I expect to spend for all this?
  • A contractor told me he could build my store for $45/sq. ft. Should I believe him?
  • Do I need a building permit?
  • What does an architect charge?
  • Can I get this done in time to open before I must begin paying rent?
  • How do a pick a contractor?
  • Is the construction allowance from the landlord enough to build the store?
  • Does the location have enough parking?
  • What is the visibility from walk and drive by traffic?
  • Is this space a good choice for my project?
  • If I don’t take this space do I need to start all over with a new feasibility for a different location?

Please feel free start a discussion here and maybe even see some answers.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Communicate with Your Customers

As a small business owner, you have already figured out who is your “perfect customer”. Your next challenge is to determine how to communicate with that customer in the most efficient and productive manner possible. The efficiency part of that determination is very important both from your point of view and that of your customer…. Read more »

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Connecting with Your CustomersAs a small business owner, you have already figured out who is your “perfect customer”. Your next challenge is to determine how to communicate with that customer in the most efficient and productive manner possible.

The efficiency part of that determination is very important both from your point of view and that of your customer. How much time do you have to spend on e-mail marketing and social media platforms? Not much, if you are going to also be actively running your business.

Likewise, your customers spend their day with their own very full and busy lives and are not generally thinking about your business until they want or need it. The key is for you to get your message to them at that point of want or need, and on their preferred platform.

You have already been collecting e-mail addresses from your best customers – right? Of course you have, and they gladly gave them up in exchange for valuable information about new products and services, discount opportunities, and special events. They may also follow you on Twitter, particularly if your customers are in the target demographic that wants their information fast, quick, and on their mobile device.

Surveying your customers to ask them their preferred social media platforms can give you valuable insight – especially if you have been a bit late coming to the game. A good marketing plan will have you considering a combination of messaging platforms, with the length, timing, and platform of each message geared to a particular segment of your target market.

The key word in the previous sentence is plan. Whether you are a new business owner or have been in business for some time, it is important to take the time to look at your customer profiles and available communication platforms, and make a solid plan for how to improve your communications in 2016.  Everyone in your organization should be involved in this effort, even if just at a kickoff “brainstorming” session. You may have a young employee who is the “whiz kid of Twitter”, or someone who would love to put together a regular blogpost or podcast.

We will be addressing many of these platforms in future blogs and in upcoming workshops, and one-on-one counseling opportunities are available to Alexandria’s small businesses through the Alexandria SBDC. Join us and plan to update your communications for the New Year!

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From Ideas to Brick-and-Mortar Store

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  “Big box retailers, at some point, define the competition,” said Retail Architect Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Leed AP, and Principal of Alexandria-based architecture studio, Gaddis Architect. With over 20 years of commercial retail… Read more »

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This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

Ideas to Brick and Mortar Store“Big box retailers, at some point, define the competition,” said Retail Architect Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Leed AP, and Principal of Alexandria-based architecture studio, Gaddis Architect. With over 20 years of commercial retail design, Bridget knows what she’s talking about when it comes to taking your retail concept and bringing it into reality. She presented a seminar workshop entitled, “From Ideas to Bricks and Mortar Store” at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center recently to help educate retailers and forthcoming retailers for the Alexandria Small Business Retail Mondays, a series of educational programs for retail small businesses throughout the City of Alexandria, Virginia, throughout July and August.

So, if big box retailers are creating the standards for small business retailers to compete and prosper, what can you do to set yourself up for success? It turns out that proper lighting, showing your merchandise, saying what you sell, and creating a shopping experience, said Gaddis, are just a few ways you can champion your retail design success. Here are my non-architect’s takeaways of just some of the highlighted points Bridget illuminated (pun intended) during her presentation.

Get a retail store prototype made.

As Bridget demonstrated in her seminar, one of the primary goals of a retail project is to make sure that your retail marketing objectives are met upon opening your store. One of the best pieces of advice offered was the production of a retail store prototype with the help of a retail architect. This can eliminate many of the unknowns that can plague a project as well as illuminate some of the guesswork from what will happen and how it will look at completion.

High contrast lighting is better than brightness.

Something very interesting to me, that when you are planning your retail store you should really look to have high contrast lighting versus bright lighting. Bridget gave the example of several stores that had low ambient lighting but stronger direct lighting on the products themselves. This makes sense as what’s more important, the walls or selling your products?

“Warm, white lights extend the amount of time a customer spends in a retail store.” ~Bridget Gaddis

Mannequins as design strategy. You can even use it to sell hardware!

When designing your retail clothing and accessories stores, you may want to think about how mannequins and other props play into your overall marketing strategy. The more people see themselves wearing your clothes or the accessories that you sell, the more likely they are to buy.

Test for the “Tchotchke Effect” (flea market look): take photos of your display in black-and-white.

Clutter isn’t good for the home and certainly not good for the retail store environment. If I can’t see all of your products clearly, or if I’m nervous about turning around in your store but actually knocking some expensive product off the shelf, I’m not going to be in the most ready state for buying now. Make sure that aisles are clear and passable, that products are displayed together in an organized fashion and are complementary, and, even in small spaces, that there’s enough visual space between sections or categories of products. In this case, less is more often greater sales generated than inventory displayed.

How often should a retail store update their storefront to stay visually relevant?

The tip that Bridget Gaddis offered was practical: pay attention to design trends and think about updating your retail store and storefront accordingly.  You can read interior design blogs, like Go To Gaddis’ blogs, As well as subscribing to Twitter profiles, facebook pages and Pinterest boards that are showing design and marketing trends that can inform your decision whether or not your storefront or retail store is looking current.

Show your merchandise.

This advice marries well with the cluttered retail environment issue. If you block purposefully or inadvertently customers’ views of your product, they won’t see them to buy them. It’s as simple as that. So, it’s best to showcase your actual merchandise and not hide it in seemingly clever displays that may not really tell me which or what your product is.

Say What You Sell.

Any store signage and other words that appear to the customer from the storefront or within the store needs to tell the customer what it is you sell. From personal experience, I have walked through Old Town and not been able to decipher what a store actually sells as I walk by. Since I couldn’t determine what it is that they sold, I have never stepped foot in the store. That’s hardly the non-invitation you want to present as you launch your retail store.

Create a shopping experience.

The final tip that I picked up from the seminar was the contextualizing of the age-old principle of creating a shopping experience. As with any restaurant or retail store, people are expecting to experience your brand as much as they are to buy your product. As you plan out how your bricks and mortar store is going to look, take into account how you are future customers will experience your brand from visual, layout, sales, and customer service perspectives.

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Credit Card Liability Changes – The Time to Act is Now

Do you accept credit cards as payment for the goods and services that you provide to your customers? These days, most small businesses answer “yes” to that question. For those who currently swipe the magnetic stripe on credit cards, including most restaurant and retail establishments, there are major changes coming soon that may have serious… Read more »

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Credit Card Changes EMV ChipDo you accept credit cards as payment for the goods and services that you provide to your customers? These days, most small businesses answer “yes” to that question. For those who currently swipe the magnetic stripe on credit cards, including most restaurant and retail establishments, there are major changes coming soon that may have serious implications for your business.

The major credit/debit card issuers have begun to distribute new cards that contain an embedded chip on the front which should make fraudulent card use more difficult. The fraud reduction benefits of the new cards will not be realized if merchants do not have the technology to accept the new cards. It is important for all merchants who accept these cards to upgrade to the new technology because on October 1, 2015 there will be a shift in the fraud liability. This means that, after that date, merchants who swipe chip cards will be liable for any fraudulent transactions, not the bank.

What should you do?

  1. First, if you have not already been contacted by your merchant services provider, payment processor, or financial institution, you should contact them. The solution for each merchant will depend on how they have set up their payment processing, how it interfaces with their POS (Point of Sale) system, etc. At the very least, you will need to acquire new devices that will be able to process the new cards in place of the swipe machines currently in use. There are varying charges and steps necessary, depending on the system that you use. Again, your best source of information should be your current processor.
  2. If you find that the new technology changes will not work with your current POS system, and you want to continue with that system, you may need a change in processing companies. This is why all merchants who swipe cards should be taking action now – October will be here sooner than you think.
  3. There is a great deal of information in the press and on the Internet about these changes. One of the most complete and unbiased resources is emv-connection.com. This site has listings of videos, Frequently Asked Questions, and other information to help you. Educate yourself now, talk with your providers, and begin to determine the best solution for your particular circumstances.

At 9:00 am on September 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will be presenting a one-hour workshop on this issue to clear up and clarify any remaining questions. The presenters will be Chris Harrison and Scott Johnston of WorldPay. We encourage everyone who accepts credit card transactions to attend this free one-hour session. Register for the event here.

Small Business Owners – Don’t put this off!!!  Now is the time to act.

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Summer Retail Tips and Trends

Starting on July 13th and running through August 24th, the Alexandria SBDC will be presenting a series of events for retailers and restaurants. Every Monday, the SBDC will have a guest speaker presenting on a different topic. We’re excited about this series and the impact it will have on our small business community. In the… Read more »

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Summer Retail TipsStarting on July 13th and running through August 24th, the Alexandria SBDC will be presenting a series of events for retailers and restaurants. Every Monday, the SBDC will have a guest speaker presenting on a different topic. We’re excited about this series and the impact it will have on our small business community.

In the meantime, we thought we would share some information on the trends in retail for this summer, as well as some tips that you can implement before attending one of our workshops. We hope that these tips will allow you to boost your sales and avoid making some common retail mistakes.

Summer Retail Outlook

The summer retail outlook is quite positive. A combination of factors, including rising incomes, declining gas prices, and positive job growth are all contributing to additional consumer spending. Kiplinger’s Economic Outlook is projecting a 7% increase in sales at bars and restaurants this summer and a 10% increase in online and catalog sales.

When people have more disposable income, they also tend to travel more, which is beneficial to retailers. While some areas are not equipped for tourist traffic, Alexandria has a great infrastructure in place to accommodate tourists and benefit from increased tourism activity. Retailers should think about ways to capitalize on these opportunities.

Tips for Retailers This Summer

There are several things that retailers can do to make the most of the summer retail season. Here are a few tips:

  • Send monthly emails over the summer that highlights seasonal offerings and specials
  • Engage with customers over social media; showcase a new product or provide a seasonal discount
  • Participate in local community events that are held during the summer, like festivals, summer concert series, or farmers markets; even if you’re not able to sell products at these events, you can take advantage of this opportunity to promote your business
  • Host a party or event in your space, or invite other organizations to use your space for an event
  • Refresh your window display; as customers stroll during warm summer evenings, make sure your space looks fresh and inviting

What are some of your favorite retail strategies for the summer? Tweet your ideas to @AlexVASBDC and let us know what we’re missing!

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Choosing a Contractor for Your Small Business

Whether you are opening a new business in the City of Alexandria or expanding the physical location of an existing business, it is important to be aware of the City’s build-out requirements.  The permitting process may be easier and smoother if you choose architects and contractors who are have done work in the City of… Read more »

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Choosing a Contractor for Your Small BusinessWhether you are opening a new business in the City of Alexandria or expanding the physical location of an existing business, it is important to be aware of the City’s build-out requirements.  The permitting process may be easier and smoother if you choose architects and contractors who are have done work in the City of Alexandria and are familiar with the State and City regulations and processes. The helpful folks at the Multi-Agency Permit Center will explain the process and requirements to you and your contractor, but you should do some research before you choose your contractor.

When choosing a contractor, be sure that your choice carries the required license for your size and type of project.  Contractors in Virginia are regulated by the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. As stated on that site, the Board of Contractors licenses businesses engaged in the construction, removal, repair, or improvement of facilities on property owned by others.  The Contractors License consists of two parts:  the class of license (A, B, or C) which determines the monetary value of contracts or projects that may be performed, and the classification specialty, which determines which type of work is allowed.  You should be aware that any job valued at $1,000 or more requires a contractors license.  Those who hold a Class C license are permitted for jobs valued between $1,000 and $7,500; those with Class B licenses are permitted for jobs up to $120,000; and contractors for jobs valued at more than $120,000 must hold a Class A license.  You can view the state contractor requirements and check the license class of individual contractors on the website of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.  There are several documents on that site that can assist you. Each of these documents is recommended reading before you choose a contractor for your small business in Alexandria:

Consumer Information Sheet

10 Tips for Making Sure Your Contractor Measures Up

What You Should Know Before You Hire A Contractor

The contractor also needs to have a City of Alexandria business license. Often, the contractor is licensed with the state of Virginia but does not have the required City business license.  This can be obtained at the Multi-Agency Permit Center at City Hall.

Of course, in addition to ensuring that your contractor holds the required licenses, you will want to check references, particularly with other local businesses for whom they have done work.  Talk with those business owners about the quality of work as well as the timing.  Was the work completed on time and on budget?  Did the contractor work with the permit office or did the business owner do that themselves?  Did the contractor communicate well with the business owner? Did the contractor arrange for City inspections to be done in a timely manner and was the contractor present at those inspections?  Overall, would the small business owner hire this contractor again for future work?

Do your research, choose a good contractor and follow up on the progress, and you will be on your way to apply for your Certificate of Occupancy to officially open your new space – congratulations!

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Drive Sales By Making Your Location A Destination

This post was written by Paul Williams, marketing expert and founder of Idea Sandbox and the do-it-yourself local store marketing website LSMGuide. When you think of a destination, what comes to mind? Probably a vacation spot. A place worth going out of the way to get to. A place worth planning to go. A place… Read more »

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Drive Sales By Making Your Location A DestinationThis post was written by Paul Williams, marketing expert and founder of Idea Sandbox and the do-it-yourself local store marketing website LSMGuide.

When you think of a destination, what comes to mind? Probably a vacation spot. A place worth going out of the way to get to. A place worth planning to go. A place you’ll brag about going to.

“We’re taking the kids to Florence this summer.”

When you return, you’ll brag about the visit to friends, family, and co-workers. And, you’ll show-off your pictures on Facebook and Twitter.

Wouldn’t it be great to have your business have these qualities? To be worth going out of the way for? Worth the wait? Where the experience is so out of the ordinary, people take pictures and tell their friends?

It is possible. You’ve been to restaurants and stores like that yourself.

So, what does it take to be a destination?

There are two situations…

  1. Either you’re perceived as the first, the best or the only in what you offer. Customers already go out of their way to come to you. Or,
  2. You’ve got to make yourself the first, best, or only.

First, Best, Only

The first bakery to serve a cronut? The best home theater store in the area? The only authentic Korean restaurant in town?

If you are the first, best, or only – good for you – now you need to promote that specialty to drive people to your location and transform that traffic into sales.

More than likely, you’re like most of us. Not the first, or only… And, while you may think you’re the best, your customers do not necessarily perceived you that way.

So, for us, we need to do programming and host regularly scheduled events that help us stand out. (And ultimately, help you become the first, best or only).

Destination Events & Programming

There are at least seven different types of programming you can host, and countless events. Every day offers an excuse for hosting events, programming, or other fun ways to entice customers to your location. Consider…

Special Days & Holidays – If not traditional celebrations like Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, First Day of Spring and Thanksgiving, consider that nearly every day of the week, and every month of the year has some special occasion. In June alone we have…

  • Iced Tea Month,
  • National Doughnut Day (3rd),
  • Strawberry Shortcake Day (14th),
  • World Gin Day (15th),
  • The First Day of Summer (21),
  • and more…

Use dates like these to promote and host fun in-store events. Visit the Marketing Holidays Calendar for more ideas.

Insider Events – Host invite-only special events. Use your eNewsletter and hand-delivered invitations to build awareness. Everyone loves to be treated as a VIP and receive exclusive offers.

Educational Events – Offer classes related to your products that help customers gain expertise. Wine tasting, knife skills class, dress for success, building a home theater, how to make a latte at home. Share your expertise and help customers become experts.

Games & Contests – Host trivia nights. Invest in a few Wii Game Consoles and host virtual leagues – bowling, darts, etc. Have fun prizes and have teams compete weekly. Buy a bunch of classic board games – the ones best for groups to play. Have your staff keep them happy with drinks and munchies!

Arts & Culture Events – Host in-store music, author readings, or bring in a table magician to wonder and delight your customers. Use your wall to exhibit the work of local artists. Do this and, each time you change out the artwork, you can host an Art Opening, which is an excuse to bring people in and sample your new products and offerings.

Charity & Giving – Find a local group or charity in need that matches with your brand, and partner with them on a long-term basis. Host in-store events and events around the community.

Groups & Clubs – If you’ve got the space, allow local groups and clubs to reserve space in your location. If you don’t rent it to them, create special offers for your products and services while they’re there. Give them special access to what you do.

Transform Traffic

Terrific, now you have events to host at your location. But, getting people to the entrance and into your shop is only half the job. The second part is transforming that traffic to something meaningful.

And, it is important to add, it may not be transforming directly to sales…

Prior to making the sale, you may need first to build trust and reduce perceived risk. So we recommend:

Trial: Sample and Demonstration - Auto dealers sell cars through a test drive. Homes are bought via house tours. The expensive brand of pasta sauce flew off the shelf when they sampled at the grocery store. Letting customers try before they buy reduces perceived risk. Even sampling a low-priced item, like a seasonal flavored latte, often needs sampling because people don’t want their day to start on the wrong foot with a cup of coffee they may not like. Sampling, and allowing customers to test products, allows them understand – without the risk – that they do like the product. Sampling and demos lead to increased purchase rates.

Create Insiders: Newsletter Sign-Up - Offering a newsletter, sent monthly by email is a great way to get potential customers to know you better and keep existing customers engaged. Create a way for your customers to sign-up in your location. A simple page printed with “Name” and “eMail” will do the trick. By signing up, customers are giving you permission to communicate with them. In every message to your customers find a way to provide value to them. I don’t mean a coupon or sales offer. Give them what they want to know. If you sell stereo equipment, keep them on top of the latest trends. If you are a bakery, give tips to hosting great kid’s or office parties. Sure, let them know you have a special offer on stereos or cupcakes, but make your sales message a second priority over helping customers feel good about themselves.

Make The Sale

Everything mentioned so far leads to “making the sale.” The important thing to remember is that the “sale” is the end result of doing the right things for your potential customers. Creating meaningful, relevant reasons for them to visit you.

On a final note, of course, any event needs to be supported by awareness-building tools. Make sure customers, and potential customers, know when you’ve got fun programming. (But that’s the topic for another article!)

By implementing these ideas, your location will become a place worth going out of the way for. A place worth planning to go. A place your customers will brag about – to their friends and via social media!

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Restaurant Week Brings New Customers and Grows Business

Alexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week is getting ready to kick off. From January 23 – February 1, 2015, restaurants will be offering dinner for two for $35 or a three-course dinner for $35. This year, for the first time, several restaurants are also offering lunch specials, too. As consumers, it’s clear why we all love restaurant week… Read more »

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Restaurant WeekAlexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week is getting ready to kick off. From January 23 – February 1, 2015, restaurants will be offering dinner for two for $35 or a three-course dinner for $35. This year, for the first time, several restaurants are also offering lunch specials, too. As consumers, it’s clear why we all love restaurant week and the value it provides. From the small business perspective, though, what’s the value in participating in an event like restaurant week?

Restaurant Week brings new customers to restaurants. In 2014, OpenTable did a study of winter restaurant weeks nationwide. The study uncovered that 73% of diners during restaurant week choose a restaurant they have never been to before. Even better, 88% of diners said that they were likely to return to the restaurant at which they dined during restaurant week. This is a great way for businesses to grow their customer base and build brand loyalty. Additionally, OpenTable discovered that 91% of diners were likely to recommend the restaurant they went to for restaurant week, so businesses are not only capturing the initial business that is generated during restaurant week itself but also follow-on business that results from word-of-mouth advertising.

Restaurant Week provides free advertising for participating businesses. While restaurants must be members of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association (ACVA) to participate in Alexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week, there are no additional costs for participating. In addition to aggregating menus and promoting the event on their own website, social media, and blog, ACVA also advertises Restaurant Week through digital display ads in local and regional papers, other digital advertising, such as Google AdWords and Facebook ads, and in local print newspapers. Last year, digital advertising efforts made more than 500,000 impressions, and print advertising reached a newspaper circulation of 91,000. There are also posters, bill inserts, and brochures at participating restaurants and at the Alexandria Visitors Center. Each individual restaurant would never have the resources to promote their own restaurant to this regional audience, but by participating in an event that is widely promoted and published, restaurants benefit from a wider reach of advertising.

Restaurant Week allows restaurants to highlight new offerings or changes in the menu. Restaurants can feature any items on their Restaurant Week menu, allowing each the opportunity to highlight new entrees, desserts, or other offerings. For example, Artfully Chocolate Bistro and Wine Bar opened their location in Carlyle, and owner Nelson says that Restaurant Week “is a good way to promote the new emphasis we have on meal service.” For new restaurants, Restaurant Week allows them to showcase their menu. Several new restaurants are participating in Alexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week and are getting their menus out to a broad audience.

A small amount of work on the restaurant’s part can yield great rewards during Restaurant Week. If you would like more information on how to participate in the next Alexandria Restaurant Week, please contact Meredith Sasser at 703-652-5365 or e-mail her at [email protected]. For those of you who are not in the restaurant business, we hope you will consider taking advantage of this opportunity to support local small businesses and enjoy a wonderful meal at an Alexandria restaurant. Happy dining!

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