Old Town Business league to upgrade or dissolve
Carla Clarke credits Old Town Business (OTB) league with arranging events that bring new faces into Today’s Cargo, the jewelry and gift shop she co-owns on Alexandria’s King Street.
“It’s bringing new people through your door,” says Clarke.
The 40-year-old nonprofit business league champions Old Town’s business community through events like an annual cookie crawl. It has served as a liaison between local businesses — mostly small busineses — and the city. During the pandemic, it arranged vaccine clinics for local businesses.
Membership in OTB has grown from about 40 businesses in 2019 to about 160 today. Given its recent successes, OTB is seeking to become a business improvement service district (BISD).
The Old Town Business-Business Improvement Service District (OTB-BISD) would represent about 500 businesses along King Street, from the King Street Metro station to the Potomac River. Funded by a $0.10 service district tax levied per $100 of assessed valuation, the OTB-BISD would have a budget of nearly $1 million and be overseen by three employees and a board of directors. OTB currently has a board and CEO and a budget of about $150,000 but depends on volunteers, dues and donations.
“That’s not sustainable because we can’t count on those dollars,” says OTB board member Amy Rutherford, owner of two Old Town businesses, The Red Barn Mercantile and Penny Post.
In addition to taking over more than 20 annual events run by OTB, the district would create a unified brand, develop ambassador and business mentorship and networking opportunities, and advocate for district businesses.
To meet Alexandria City Council’s guidelines for establishing a BISD, which were enacted last year, OTB must get 60% of commercial property owners to approve a petition for the proposed designation, as well as City Council’s approval.
OTB has campaigned for support, holding listening tours and public hearings. By March 31, nearly two-thirds of the 60% of required property owners in the proposed district indicated approval of the petition, which is due to the City Council by May 31. If the OTB-BISD is not approved, OTB will be dissolved, Rutherford says, citing sustainability concerns.
Visit Alexandria, the city’s nonprofit tourism organization, supports OTB’s efforts. In a statement to Virginia Business, Visit Alexandria President and CEO Patricia Washington says the BISD “is critical for Alexandria to retain its current level of visitation that supports our local restaurants, shops and hotels.”