A unique initiative by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, arising in the context of the recent years’ surge in new mixed use projects in the City’s slim commercial zones, is believed to be the first of its kind in the entire U.S. and is aimed at assisting existing small businesses who are, or may become, faced with displacement.
The initiative, “A Resource Guide for Displaced Businesses,” was presented to the Falls Church City Council last month and it includes a lengthy list of “strategic action items” that the Chamber will pursue from the City government to improve the plight of these small businesses.
The highest profile case so far was the displacement of the historic Anthony’s Restaurant to make way for the new 301 W. Broad apartments above the soon-to-open flagship Harris Teeter supermarket. A huge outpouring of public concern for the fate of Anthony’s, a popular family-owned restaurant that operated at the site since the early 1970s, was unable to prevent the inevitable displacement.
However, the citizens’ concerns contributed to the family’s commitment to stay in business with fresh energy from its next generation, and while intense efforts by the City’s Economic Development office failed to produce a desirable alternative site in the City, a new location was found a short way away, on Annandale Road near the Route 50 intersection, where it has prospered every bit as well as before by bringing over many of its former customers and added business from local citizens sympathetic to its plight, and tasty fare.
Now, this week has come the news that another popular establishment, Brits on Broad, will be closing its doors by the end of this month. Their location in the 900 block of W. Broad Street is slated for demolition to make way for the massive 4.3-acre Mason Row project inclusive of restaurants, movie theaters, a hotel, retail and hundreds of apartments.
It has been common for the Chamber of Commerce to align not with the small businesses being displaced, but to endorse the new, large scale projects, which has been the case for Falls Church in almost all the new projects that have come here, or are approved to, since 2001.
So, it is a marked departure for the Chamber now to also look out for the smaller businesses, many of whom are dues-paying Chamber members themselves, who may stand in the path of progress in an effort to make the next steps in their lives easier and potentially successful.
The new resource handbook, developed by Chamber Board of Directors member Andrew Painter, who spoke to the City Council last month, “is intended to help local businesses anticipate and successfully navigate business displacement challenges owing to condemnation, lease expiration and termination, eviction, rent increases and redevelopment by the owner,” according to a Chamber statement.
The Chamber claims the guide “is thought to be the first such handbook in the nation specifically crafted to tackle the issue of business displacement.”
“Redevelopment can be an emotional process for neighbors and businesses,” current Chamber board chair Joe Wetzel explained. “How we wrestle with issues of picking up and moving your merchandise, your cash registers, and employees often creates anxiety and uncertainty. For an organization representing primarily local businesses, our Chamber felt we needed to do something for our membership and the community as a whole.”
The handbook “provides comprehensive information regarding best practices between tenants and landowners, contact information for key government agencies and officials, an overview of the redevelopment process, lease negotiation tips, information on finding space to which to relocate, and a list of permits required for business relocation,” the Chamber statement reads.
In addition an appendix to the 24-page guide spells out 11 Chamber “strategic actions,” including an annual City legislative package, a mentor/protege program, a local business roundtable, a displacement study, a local business survey, a comprehensive space inventory, a business retention outreach team, development evaluation process criteria, broker engagement, lower Chamber membership fees, and proposed City government initiatives.
The City initiatives include nine proposals of bonus densities, fee waivers, fast-track permitting, a relocation fund, application notifications, lower exhibitor and sponsorship fees at City events and lower BPOL (business license) taxes for displaced businesses.
Working with Painter, himself a local zoning attorney, on the guide was the Chamber’s Business Displacement Subcommittee, including Alan Frank, Gary LaPorta, Bob Young, Wetzel and the Chamber’s executive director Sally Cole.
The guide’s disclaimer states that “Nothing contained within this document is intended to constitute legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.”