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The pretzel bakery Nordic-Knot placed second in a national small business competition (via Studio-M Photos & Jennifer Heffner Photography)

Nordic-Knot has won $40,000 in a national contest for small businesses.

The Reston-based bakery — which specializes in its twisted pretzels — placed second out of 10 finalists in the annual Small Business Big Wins contest, which is run by Barclays Bank.

Ashland Birth Center placed first in the nationwide contest, which recognizes businesses that were heavily impacted by the pandemic. The Wisconsin-based maternity health care center received a grand prize of $60,000.

More than 4,750 small businesses from across the country shared stories of how the pandemic impacted their daily operations. After the 10 finalists were selected, public voting determined the final winners.

Nordic-Knot co-owner Melissa Romano said they plan to use the funds to increase marketing, outreach and boost its production line to “better serve our community.” Results were announced yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.

“We’ve grown this business very carefully and we were put through the runner during the pandemic,” Romano told FFXnow. She expects to announce some big, new clients in the coming weeks.

For Nordic-Knot, the pandemic meant a dramatic business shift came quickly into play. With many of its distributors closed during the peak of the pandemic, the business shifted to providing their products to customers directly.

Now, even as wholesale distribution picks up, the business plans to maintain direct services for consumers directly.

A vending cart that offers customer direct access to goodies will return to Lake Anne Plaza this summer.

Romano says they plan to continue big partnerships while providing direct access to their items.

“Lane Anne has and will always be our special place of business,” Romano said. “We are really excited for this opportunity for our business.”

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Clawes Carpets’ storefront in Oakton (via Google Maps)

In recognition of National Small Business Week, which started Sunday (May 1), Sen. Tim Kaine is sharing success stories from across the state, include several Fairfax County businesses.

“Despite facing difficult challenges throughout COVID-19, small businesses have adapted to the pandemic, kept workers employed, and continued to support their communities,” Kaine said yesterday (Monday) in a statement. “Our small businesses are the backbone of our communities. I’m glad I’m able to share some examples of resilient small businesses across Virginia, many of which have used federal COVID relief to keep the lights on during the pandemic.”

Kaine announced the initiative last month, encouraging Virginians to nominate small businesses for recognition through a Virginia Small Business COVID Success Stories portal.

Several business owners identified their establishments and described how they received help during the pandemic.

Here are some of the Fairfax County business highlighted by the senator, per the news release:

  • John Norce from Vienna wrote in about his small business, Medicare Portal, which helps provide education and enrollment services to residents in Virginia during the pandemic. They received PPP funds to help them transition to virtual services. He wrote: “Virginia has provided a great environment to allow small businesses to grow pre- and post-pandemic.”
  • Debi from Reston wrote about her nonprofit that provides day programs to adults with disabilities. She pivoted to programs on Zoom during the pandemic, and received PPP funding to help cover costs. She said: “An unexpected outcome from going virtual during COVID is we now have the technical infrastructure to provide…virtual programming for participants who are on bed rest from surgeries…Now they can enjoy the benefits…while recuperating even months at a time!”
  • Valerie from Fairfax wrote in about Clawes Carpets, a family-owned small business that successfully adapted to online sales during the pandemic. They received a PPP loan to help cover payroll and rent, and did not lay anyone off.
  • Shannon Link from Lorton wrote about FIT4MOM, her business providing wellness services for mothers. During the pandemic, she successfully pivoted to online fitness classes, social events, and children’s activities and continued to provide a community space for women in the area. She received EIDL funding. She wrote: “My team and I did not relent. We are coming out on the other side!”
  • Robin from Reston wrote in about the Pearl Project Institute for Innovation in STEM Literacy, her nonprofit that is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of tech talent, especially among women.
  • Harsha Rajasimha from Herndon wrote in about Jeeva Informatics Solutions, a small business that develops software to better accelerate clinical research.
  • Tess Rollins from Herndon wrote in about Simply Enhance, her business offering graphic design and brand strategy services for small businesses.

The Small Business Administration oversaw the distribution of over $400 billion in emergency relief funding last year.

According to the SBA, which defines “small” businesses based on annual revenue and the number of employees, small businesses have been responsible for two of every three jobs added to the U.S. economy over the past 25 years.

Photo via Google Maps

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Exterior of the Original Mount Vernon High School along Route 1 (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is looking for proposals to create a food-centric business accelerator and entrepreneurship center at a historic school.

The Original Mount Vernon High School, once part of President George Washington’s estate, has a former locker room that the county wants to develop.

The county’s Department of Economic Initiatives started gauging interest on Feb. 24 in applicants who could lease the 12,000-square-foot, lower-level space.

“This effort will serve as an anchor tenant in the building and contribute to the enhancement and activation of the larger campus,” a request for proposals page says.

The request is part of an effort to redevelop the school building. A gym has already been renovated and opened, and other parts of the site are being used as a satellite Fire Marshal’s Office for the South County area, a Fairfax County Public Schools registration site, and a teen/senior center.

The county says future development at the site could include “a theatre, space for education and workforce development, childcare, and a separate technology-based business center.”

The 22-acre property along Route 1 is part of state and national registers of historic places. The school was built in 1939 under the federally funded Public Works Administration with additions throughout the decades.

The school originally only allowed white students and didn’t desegregate until 1965.

As part of the development, respondents must show how the changes would advance racial and social equity.

Responses must be sent by the end of the month. The project page lists contact information and other details.

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Local businesses trying to revive operations could soon get more help as they seek to ward off persistent challenges due to COVID-19.

Fairfax County plans to create a new program called Fairfax Thrive that would use American Rescue Plan Act money to provide technical assistance to small businesses for digital marketing, financial planning, and staff retention, among other areas.

“The majority of our small businesses continue to report negative impacts from the pandemic,”  Economic Development Initiatives Director Rebecca Moudry told the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Initiatives Committee yesterday (Tuesday).

Up to $10,000 in services could be provided for each company, which would allow the program to assist 620 small businesses, according to a staff presentation at the committee meeting. The effort could use $7 million in ARPA funds that the county government received to provide COVID-19 relief.

The county has already devoted millions of dollars in relief funds to support local businesses during the pandemic.

The Fairfax Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) program awarded over $52 million in grants in 2020 to over 4,800 businesses and nonprofits, and the PIVOT Business Recovery Grant Program, which launched last summer, gave over $16 million to over 1,000 businesses, focusing specifically on the hospitality and arts industries.

The Fairfax Thrive program is seeking to reach more businesses than those previous efforts, with a potentially multi-year outreach.

“We’re proposing an expansive program in terms of who’s eligible,” Moudry said.

Eligible businesses could involve sole proprietors, home-based as well as commercial enterprises, and certain nonprofits. They would need to have fewer than 50 full-time workers per location and be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike previous programs that had limited windows to apply, the new program envisions a rolling applications process. 

As the pandemic stretches toward the end of two full years, top needs for small businesses now involve finding and keeping qualified workers, obtaining financial planning assistance or additional capital, and increasing digital marketing or brand development, the county found through a survey.

“At this point, financial assistance is no longer the No. 1 need that businesses require,” Moudry said, noting that cash was the top concern a year ago.

County officials are expected to further tweak the program based on feedback during the committee. The outreach could involve providing seminars or forums to swaths of businesses, such as those looking to hire more staff.

The Board of Supervisors could approve the program this spring, possibly launching it this summer. Supervisors said they would like it to start as soon as possible.

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