Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

It’s a sign of our times.

A work-from-home mom starts a business, achieves local success, decides her goals have largely been met, then shouts out a highly personal social media message about why she’s closing it down.

Arlington-based Lisa McLaughlin, five years after launching the localized T-shirt supplier District Line Co., is going out with a bang — a style being watched by other female entrepreneurs struggling to balance career and family.

You’ve probably seen McLaughlin’s colorful apparel for women, men and children bedecked with sketches of skylines, custom slogans or maps of Virginia showcasing in large type her hometown of Arlington, or McLean, Alexandria, Falls Church, Vienna, the District of Columbia, Loudoun or Richmond.

The concept hits folks with a “love of local with shirts that feel like home,” District Line’s website says. She supervised design and manufacture of 12 patterns sold in small batches to 13 retail outlets — 10 of which are in Arlington. They include Casual Adventure and the gift shops Covet and To The Moon.

“Arlington has always been our best seller, perhaps because I live here and I know people here and network,” she told me. “Arlington is an easy place to set up a business,” especially since wholesalers have minimal contact with regulators.

As a member of the support group Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, McLaughlin — 37 and the mother of a four- and five-year-old — spent 10 years earlier working at the Arlington-based Defense Advanced Research Project Agency before getting the “work for yourself bug.” Having grown up on the West Coast, she got the T-shirt idea after visiting a kiosk on the National Mall selling FBI paraphernalia and realizing that “I’m no longer a tourist, I live here.”

Focus groups demonstrated to her that “people love the uniqueness” of their own locality, which inspired products that express “the niche experience” of their town and neighborhood.

Every year since 2014, District Line Co. doubled its sales. She hired a manager last year. She also formed partnerships to support schools and other nonprofits such as the Reading Connection, the hotline for abuse victims at Doorways for Women and Children and the Clothesline donation center for low-income families.

McLaughlin’s husband has been supportive of her learning experience, she said, but they now agree that the time is ripe to move on. “It’s been a great success and more than I expected,” she insists when multiple people ask whether sales have dropped. But “my kids are getting older and they need me more, so I’m looking for more space in my life.”

At five years, the business “seemed like it has run its course,” she added, and a trademark dispute would have required energy and investment in a re-branding.

McLaughlin doesn’t rule out selling District Line to the right party. But for now, the plan is to continue the “Farewell Sale” with its 25 percent discounts — until inventory runs out, probably in July. A tough decision, made with fanfare.

Just a few more days to go online and order your 10-pound box of New Jersey blueberries to help the Kiwanis Club of Arlington serve community needs.

It’s a heapin’ helpin’ for $35, I can testify, but tasty — even after they’ve been frozen. Organizer Julia Wright dons a blueberry costume to mark the season, and club volunteers go out of their way to assure that all who order are satisfied when the fruit arrives at the end of June.

One of the showcase names in the history of Arlington commerce died May 25.

Bob Rosenthal was 91. His Chevrolet dealership was familiar to all who passed the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Rd. from 1954 to 2012, when it gave way to redevelopment. Fourteen other area dealerships are still going strong under the fourth generation of Rosenthal automobile dealmakers.