About 15 years ago I started to plan the opening of The Shoe Hive. When I registered the domain name theshoehive.com, I also bought the name for a second website, oldtownboutiquedistrict.com. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, I just had a thought: how do we put all the great stores in Old Town under one umbrella? I knew that what made Old Town so great was the mix of shops, homes, restaurants, and businesses. We have the original version of what suburban developers try to create with their “town centers,” replete with herringbone brick pavers and fountains in faux “town squares.” I also knew that if all the independent businesses were in one row it would be a lot better for shoppers and shopkeepers.
Four years passed before I started to figure out how to bring this “Old Town Boutique District” idea to a reality. I had started the annual Alexandria Boutique Warehouse Sale a few years prior and become friends with other retailers in the process, so I started to put a plan in place with the help of others. Backed by shared marketing dollars from each store and a grant from the Alexandria Marketing Fund, it came to be a reality and we began selling Old Town as a unified boutique shopping destination. After several years of work, in May, 2017, Washingtonian magazine recognized our goal had been realized and ran a story headlined “Old Town is one of the area’s most interesting fashion hubs. (No, really!)”
The landscape of Old Town has changed over the years. Many businesses both big and small have closed and many have opened. The recent year has seen a frightening number of empty store fronts and many folks come in asking me what they can do to prevent Old Town from becoming a Bethesda Row or Georgetown. My answer is simple: shop local. We can’t stay open without the support of our neighbors.
I often hear folks come in and tell other customers in my store “you know Nordstrom or Zappos has a much better selection of XYZ.” It is true: I will never be able to offer the breadth of selection they do. Online shopping has changed how people spend and I get it. We are all busy and I am just as guilty of using Amazon Prime as anyone for staples when I’m in a pinch. Social media has also changed how we all do business, I think for the better. Never has it been easier to connect with other small business and help promote one another. Local shopping is as easy as checking out Instagram and sending a message.
Our marketing collective that started with just 12 members has grown to have more than 30 members. With the help of many others like Amy of Red Barn Mercantile, Danielle of fibre space, Kelly of Bishop Boutique, and Nancy of La Cuisine (just to name a few), the OTBD has become a part of the Alexandria community. And it wasn’t just the retailers who grew this organization. Local businesses like The Potomac Riverboat Company, Roger Parks of AAD, Chris Campagna of Braddock Commercial Real Estate, S. Freeman and Sons, Union Street Public House, Neighborhood Restaurant Groups, and The Liz Luke Team in real estate realized that higher water makes the whole ship rise and wrote checks to help us grow our efforts.
I no longer run the group; the torch was passed a few years ago. The newest president, Megan Podolsky of 529 Kids Consign, is taking Old Town by storm, bringing new ideas and energy to this group of independently owned businesses and taking it to the next level. Along with Maria of Salon de Zen, Katya of She’s Unique, and Elizabeth of Periwinkle, this group is starting a Shop Local initiative and VIP program. Members of the VIP program can receive benefits, exclusive offers, early access to sales, and even more. Click here to find more information.