Graduate students document legacy businesses for Arlington County
Friendly Cab has been a staple of Nauck, the oldest African American neighborhood in Arlington, since 1947. At that time, segregation in Virginia prevented African American women from giving birth at local hospitals. One of the reasons Ralph Collins, a community activist and innovator, started Friendly Cab was to transport these pregnant women to Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where they could have their babies.
According to Darryl Collins, current owner and the founder’s grandson, Friendly Cab continues to rely “on word of mouth and community to survive."
This is only one of Arlington’s longstanding, or “legacy,” businesses located in the Nauck/Green Valley area and along Lee Highway — a majority of them African American-owned or founded by immigrants — which nine Virginia Tech students focused on in an Urban Affairs and Planning program spring master’s design studio entitled “Celebrating Arlington’s Legacy Businesses.”
Others include A&J Salon, Chinn Funeral Service, and Star Barber Shop in the Nauck community; and Lebanese Taverna, Glebe Radio & Appliances, Preston’s Pharmacy, and KH Art & Framing along Lee Highway.
The purpose of the studio was to provide Arlington County with both a historical perspective of the businesses and some ideas on how the county might support them going forward.
Studios like this one are an integral part of the urban affairs and planning curriculum at the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. They offer student teams the opportunity to help public, private, and nonprofit clients tackle real world planning, policy, development, or design problems.
“There is a lot of concern in Arlington County that local institutions are being displaced or slipping away due to redevelopment. We hope our project helps raise awareness of the important role that legacy businesses have played, and can continue to play, in sustaining the character and vitality of communities,” said Elizabeth Morton, associate professor of practice in urban design.
“Virginia Tech has worked closely with many Arlington County agencies and several civic groups over the years on urban affairs and planning projects and we were happy to join forces again on this one,” Morton said.
Throughout the semester, students researched and mapped a comprehensive list of longstanding businesses in both communities and conducted oral histories of a targeted number of the legacy business owners who had been operating for at least 25 years.
Jim Moore Jr., whose father opened Moore’s Barber Shop in 1960, was one of them. He worked in the shop from the age of seven, sweeping the floors and doing other odd tasks over the years. He eventually joined as a fulltime barber in 1991.
“So the barber shop business, historically, was one of the few businesses black men could do and have their own business and raise their family and generate money, without the help of anyone, so that’s really how it came up through history,” said Moore.
“We still provide great service,” he said, pointing out that while you can get your hair cut other places, the barbershop business is about personal relationships and “…we’ve been able to maintain those relationships throughout the years,” Moore continued.
Wolfgang Buchler immigrated to the United States in1969, bringing the baking style and essence of his hometown of Heidelberg, Germany, with him. He and his wife, Carla, opened the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe on Lee Highway in 1975. They have been successful in retaining employees, some having worked at the bakery for as long as 20, 30, and 40 years.
They also have a loyal customer base. Buchler said that customers often come back after several years, having left for college or moving out of town, and reflect on the sense of community they feel at Heidelberg.
“Arlington is sometimes transient and people sometimes don’t have something to come home to. But they know that they come here and it feels like their childhood or like visiting family and I think that’s really nice,” said Carla Buchler.
The students designed a website to post their maps and oral histories with business owners.
Arlington’s Center for Local History, which had identified the early business history of Arlington as a critical gap in its collection, will permanently house full transcripts of the oral histories.
“Arlington’s Historic Preservation Program was very excited to collaborate again with Virginia Tech, this time to highlight the personal stories of the people behind some of Arlington’s most cherished and long-standing businesses that contribute so much to the cultural fabric of our community,” said Cynthia Liccese-Torres, Arlington's Historic Preservation Program coordinator. “Many of these businesses have provided goods and services for decades.”
“The students’ outreach to the business owners not only helped to document our past, but also, I believe, was beneficial to the storytellers as well. The business owners were happy to have the opportunity to tell their stories,” said Cindy Richmond, deputy director for Arlington Economic Development.
“This type of positive community engagement is very beneficial to furthering relationships with both businesses and residents,” she said.
In a presentation to Liccese-Torres, Richmond, and other Arlington County representatives, the students also offered some recommendations. One was to have Morton’s future student teams interview more local business owners to expand website content.
Other ideas included developing an app that would promote local businesses and initiating an annual Legacy Business Award. To address the argument that buying from older small businesses is often more expensive or inconvenient, the students suggested conducting economic studies to document the direct contributions that these businesses make to their community.
"Much of the information the students gathered and many of their very thoughtful recommendations recognize these legacy businesses in a way that enables us to demonstrate how Arlington values its existing businesses and supports our business retention efforts," Richmond said.
Richmond said that she has received requests from other Arlington County groups, including the Arts Commission and the Economic Development Commission, to have the students present to them.
“These Virginia Tech students represent a huge competitive advantage we have in this area — a very smart, talented workforce,” said Richmond.
The students in the “Celebrating Arlington’s Legacy Businesses” studio were: Andrew Ausel of Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Charles Egli of Arlington, Virginia; Rae Ferraioulo of Seattle, Washington; Valeria Gelman of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; Emily Lockhart of Bristow, Virginia; Sarah Steller of Lawrenceville, Illinois; Michael Tamarin of Long Island, New York; Hazel Ventura of Clarksburg, Maryland; and Peter Winslow of Alexandria, Virginia.