The business community in the Colvin Run Mill section of Great Falls is banding together to highlight its strengths to the community with a weeklong event opening April 19 that will showcase merchants and retailers. The effort is spearheaded by ReMax real estate broker and agent Doris Leadbetter who felt that bringing all the businesses together to draw residents to the shopping district made more sense than each merchant trying to do it themselves.
“I thought that if we all joined together we could get a lot accomplished. This is pretty new here with the shopping centers and businesses,” said Leadbetter.
Leadbetter is relocating her offices to the area and originally wanted to do something on her own to promote the move. “We wanted to do a grand opening. I looked around and saw a lot of other small businesses and thought we could do something,” Leadbetter said. Participation by her retail neighbors far exceeded her expectations. She had hoped to get eight other merchants to tie in together but was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the other merchants.
At several meetings, a structure for the event was developed that will bring out the best of each business and allow anyone stopping in for the event to get a more detailed picture of the shopping, business, recreational and dining experiences available from the Colvin Mill business district.
Restaurants will be running culinary specials, health experts will be on hand, and there will be a local artists exhibition, games for children and myriad prize opportunities for adults. “There are so many businesses participating that you will walk away with some expertise no matter how much time you are able to spend,” said Joe Cassella with Elite Fitness.
OTHER MERCHANTS in the business district quickly joined in when they realized it was an opportunity to let Great Falls and surrounding neighborhoods get a look at the diverse shopping opportunities in this small section. Cassella said, “Everyone has to work together to bring people out here.”
New restaurant Mediteranee’s owner Jacques Imperato said, “It’s a great idea. It will give a bigger identity to this area.”
Vashti Mays, an owner of The Petal Works floral store said, “A lot of people drive by us so much and don’t even think about it until they make a decision to stop, and then they are surprised and happy about what they find here. We hear that a lot.” For the weekend, The Petal Works is setting up a European-style flower market with umbrellas and buckets of flowers.
According to Imperato, when people do discover a new place nestled in the small shopping plazas along Colvin Mill Road and Walker Road, they are overjoyed. “We opened in February. I have been very surprised. They say thank you to us for being here. It was shocking to me. Usually you open a restaurant for yourself but this, they feel, is for them,” said Imperato.
Even though the Colvin Mill section of Great Falls is home to nationally recognized restaurants and occupies a distinct mark in Virginia history, as a shopping destination it has not proven the draw that the nearby Great Falls Village Center has. “It’s really just to let people know we are here. There are still a lot of people who aren’t aware of who is here. For instance, we’ve had three businesses recently relocate here from Vienna. We want people to know there are businesses right off Route 7. In fact, we used to be Route 7 before they changed it,” Leadbetter said.
Cassella said, “We moved out here because we saw the potential that this could be a nice quadrangle.” Elite Fitness has now been doing business in Great Falls for four years.
DURING THE EVENT, there will be displays on hand that give the historical details of this part of Great Falls. While Colvin Run Mill, run by the Fairfax County Park Authority, is well-known in the area, people know less about the Colvin Run dance hall that still serves the community and about the history of the vicinity. Living history can be seen and tasted at Thelma’s ice cream, a local landmark that has been serving homemade ice cream for generations.
While Great Falls tenaciously holds on to its agrarian roots and small town feel despite its proximity to the nation’s capital and its growing affluence, the community has witnessed marked business expansion within Great Falls borders in recent times. The Great Falls Business and Professional Association (GFBPA) was created to help develop local business opportunities and to promote the merchants doing business there. GFBPA officials say the fact that Great Falls is economically able to support more businesses is a positive step for everyone because it enables the community to shop locally for goods and services, and it shows that business is thriving as well.
“We are getting very strong support from the Great Falls Village Center, what we call downtown, and from the GFBPA,” said Leadbetter. “What any group of businesses does highlights us all,” she said.