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A Summer Of Winners And Losers In Alexandria Amid 3-Month Metro Shutdown

The summer shutdown of six Metro stations in Northern Virginia, now in its 12th week of a scheduled 15, has impacted retail businesses in Alexandria, but not all for the worse. 

The King Street Metro station in Alexandria, shown before the platform improvement project began

While some restaurants near Metro stops have reported sales declining as much as 15% this summer, other businesses that offer alternative modes of transportation and ways to work closer to home have thrived amid the shutdown. 

WMATA's Platform Improvement Project closed the Braddock Road, King Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield stations — everything beyond Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — and offered free shuttle service for those sections of the Blue and Yellow lines. The closure began May 25 and the stations are scheduled to reopen Sept. 9. 

"Certainly short term it's very painful, but long term it's important to get these things done" said Stonebridge Principal Doug Firstenberg, a developer with multiple Alexandria projects who will speak Aug. 27 at Bisnow's Future of Alexandria event. 

A mid-summer survey from tourism agency Visit Alexandria found retail businesses in Old Town have had mixed results. On the upper and middle portions of King Street, closer to the Metro station, 38% of businesses reported year-over-year revenue declines greater than 5%, many of them experiencing declines above 10%.

But the story was different on lower King Street, an area farther from Metro where Alexandria this spring opened a new waterfront park and has hosted events throughout the summer. In lower King Street, 83% of businesses said their revenue was unchanged or up from last year, and 68% reported increases of more than 5%. 

"What we saw, not surprisingly, was businesses closest to the waterfront where the new park opened were doing reasonably well, and our businesses closer to Metro were more negatively effected," Visit Alexandria Chief Operating Officer Tom Kaiden said. 

Theismann's Restaurant and Bar sits across from the King Street Metro station in Alexandria.

The portfolio of Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which owns eight dining spots throughout the city, exemplifies this dynamic of winners and losers. The group's restaurants near the waterfront, such as Mia's Italian Kitchen and Vola's Dockside Grill, have experienced revenue increases of 5%-10% this summer, ARP partner Scott Shaw said.

But he said Theismann's, which sits across the street from the King Street Metro station, has seen revenues drop by 15%-20% from last year. 

Shaw attributed the declining revenues at Theismann's to a combination of the Metro shutdown and Alexandria's ongoing overhaul of the nearby King Street parking lot. 

"We've been hit up at Theismann's," Shaw said. "Theismann's has been here for 34 years. We're just going to roll with the punches. It all will be fine. Metro will be back up, and hopefully the city can get the parking worked out because I think that's been affecting it as much as Metro."  

Another bar and restaurant in the middle portion of King Street, roughly halfway between the Metro and the waterfront, has also been hit hard by the closure. Sales at Murphy's Grand Irish Pub were down roughly 20% year over year during June and July, General Manager Kenny Mitchell said. 

"We expected business to drop, but we weren't sure by how much because this is uncharted waters for all the businesses," Mitchell said. "We definitely weren't anticipating that large a drop."

August is typically a slower month for Murphy's, Mitchell said, so sales during the first two weeks of this month have been more in line with last year's numbers. He expects business to pick back up when the Metro opens in September and he said Murphy's, which has been open since 1978, will survive the rough patch.

While these older restaurants have faced struggles amid the Metro shutdown, some newer businesses offering alternative transportation and workspace options have benefited from the closure. 

Todd Ketch, the owner of Pedego Electric Bikes' Alexandria location, in front of his Old Town store

Metro riders looking for new ways to commute have turned to alternative transportation options from bicycles to water taxis. 

Todd Ketch, the owner of Old Town Alexandria's Pedego Electric Bikes store, said the Metro shutdown has generated additional interest in electric bikes. 

"We have had a fair number of customers come in with the idea that they could use an electric bike to commute into D.C. or wherever they used to go on the Metro," Ketch said. "Certainly the shutdown of Metro has brought in customers that we wouldn't necessarily have seen come in otherwise."

Average bicycle volume during peak commuting periods on the Potomac Yard Trail this summer has been nearly double last year's numbers, according to Alexandria's July 23 Mid-Summer Report. Ketch said electric bikes are particularly appealing for longer commutes because they don't require the rider to expend as much energy. 

A chart showing the Water Taxi ridership from Alexandria during the first six weeks of the Metro shutdown

Commuters looking for new transportation methods have also turned to the water taxi. Potomac Riverboat Co. offers $10 one-way water taxi trips connecting Old Town Alexandria with The Wharf, Georgetown and National Harbor.

Alexandria's July report found the water taxi has averaged 819 daily riders during the shutdown, and ridership has increased as the summer has dragged on. During the first week of the shutdown, 2,274 riders rode the water taxi, but by the fifth week ridership had increased to nearly 5,000.

"The water taxi has definitely seen an increase in traffic from commuters and visitors, so they're a beneficiary," Kaiden said. 

A rendering of the ALX coworking space at 201 North Union St. in Alexandria

Some Alexandria residents have also found ways to work in their own community rather than commute to a different part of the region.

Coworking provider ALX Community opened a coworking space at 106 North Lee St. in April 2018, and it is preparing to expand to a second location in October.

Shaw, who is a co-founder of ALX Community in addition to his work with Alexandria Restaurant Partners, said the Metro shutdown has led some nearby residents to work out of the coworking space. 

"Some people have said, 'Hey, I need to work here for the summer," Shaw said. "There were a handful of individuals who had regular offices in D.C. who worked it out with their employers for the summer to work out of our coworking space."

Developers, brokers and architects will discuss their outlook for Alexandria at Bisnow's Future of Alexandria event, Aug. 27 at 5001 Eisenhower Ave.