OTBA & Charlotte Hall – Queen of King Street

OTBA & Charlotte Hall – Queen of King Street

The Old Town Business Association (OTBA) and Charlotte Hall have been operating off and on in tandem for many years. The group has ebbed and flowed over the years but it has been a force to reckon with and never more so than today. The woman behind a major portion of the OTBA’s accomplishments over time has been, and is, Charlotte.

Many of you loyal OTC followers may recall reading about Hall in the June 2016 issue when she was featured in the Personality Profile column. At that time she was running Potomac Riverboats and the Water Taxis. Potomac Riverboats was sold awhile back and Charlotte took on a new role in addition to her leadership with the OTBA…she became head of the Chamber of Commerce. Charlotte has always been involved with the non-political successes of the City of Alexandria.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for all businesses in Alexandria, and is a huge hit for the restaurant industry. The pandemic has helped to reshape the way we look at King Street in Old Town. It may just be part of the silver lining to the cloud.

Back in December Charlotte was involved in a discussion of “how to make the waterfront more attractive and get more people down to the waterfront”. People wondered what else could be done and the consensus was to close off the 100 block of King Street. This idea has been mentioned more than once over the years but was never followed up on, mostly due to loss of parking. The Waterfront Commission and City Staff were going to present a plan for King Street to the City. This proposal caught Charlotte’s attention and she inquired as to whether the OTBA was going to be considered as a source since many of their members would be affected. Her inquiry was met with a “we didn’t think we needed to address the OTBA since we have it on good authority that the proposal had already been made to the restaurants and retailers and ‘everybody is in favor of the idea’”. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. This is when Charlotte and the OTBA sprang to action.

As the plan developed Charlotte and the restaurant owners became more involved. Questions related to vendor deliveries to the restaurants; food pickups by GrubHub and Take Out Taxi, to go and curbside pickups, etc. There were many questions to be answered. At this point Charlotte wanted to have another meeting to include their neighbors on the 200 block of King as well as neighbors on Union Street as they would also be affected. After the meeting, each group had a better appreciation of the situation.

Once everyone was on board, someone had to come up with a legitimate plan on paper that the restaurants agreed to. Noe Landini, owner of Landini Brothers, Club Rex, Pops Ice Cream and Fish Market (all in the 100 block), threw out a proposal of keeping one lane open so deliveries could continue. Almost every restaurant was in favor of Noe’s proposal, the one way, one lane so trucks could still come and go. Everyone agreed to the plan and were feeling good about the situation and communicating.

The enthusiasm was high! Then COVID hit, and everybody thought “there goes that idea”. Once again, Charlotte to the rescue. Hall got together with a few of the restaurants and they came up with a new plan to propose to the city of putting something grand together in waterfront park where you could get your meals to go and enjoy dining in the park. This idea was squelched by the Alcohol Beverage Control people. “Even though the original plan didn’t pan out, the thing that excited me the most, was that all of a sudden these restaurants were all talking together and sharing ideas, it was a beautiful thing to see,” she says.

Another point that Hall brings up constantly is how supportive everyone was of these ideas, the city, the fire department, the health department and the community all came together. It was at this time that Hall made a proposal to the group to approach the city and ask for full closure of King Street. Hall’s idea was to open up the parking spaces for extra tables outside to increase revenues. With the extra tables the restaurants could increase their revenues and put more people back to work. The restaurants agreed with the idea that this would just be a temporary situation until the virus was contained. All this, keeping in mind the ever changing requirements for conducting business within the CDC and Commonwealth mandates.

As the plan evolved, the restaurants in the 200 block of King were included but the street isn’t closed off for pedestrian traffic. Additional sidewalk space was added for outdoor seating on both the sidewalk and in parking spaces in front of the dining establishments on the block. The success was almost immediate as customers came out to dine at their favorite restaurants and discovered others.

Soon the success became obvious and other restaurants throughout town wanted in. The City also realized that they needed to offer increased seating to other restaurants as well, so all calls to the City were directed to Hall. Fontaine Café & Creperie on South Pitt St. was one of her first contacts. The restaurant asked Hall, “What can you do for me?” After putting their heads together Hall approached the city and asked for parking spots out front and additional sidewalk space. In each case, an application for the parking spaces had to be made to the city so they could check for location and safety. The result at Fontaine’s has been stunning and successful.

As the pandemic situation evolves, the way business is conducted will too. Here’s hoping that more positive situations like the one written about here come to light.

The Old Town Crier was way before it’s time in 1994. The cover image of the August issue on the following page reflects what the OTC saw as a possible solution to what a pedestrian mall could look like in the 100 Block. This was a commissioned piece by former local artist Zohair Naghmi. It was drawn from a photograph taken in the early morning in July 1994.

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