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Business Matters

Valley Night Life

A quiet stretch of Eisenhower Avenue is about to get a new lease on life — nightlife, to be exact.

City officials are currently examining an administrative special-use permit for a new restaurant that would be called Birch Cafe. It would be located at 2850 Eisenhower Ave. at the Alexandria Tech Center, which is near the intersection with Telegraph Road. The restaurant would be located in a vacant space that used to be K.T. Cafe, which closed several months ago.

The application requests longer hours, the ability to sell alcohol and approval for live acoustic music.

"On weekends, there is no food service in the area other than the Hoffman complex," said Donald Simpson, attorney for the applicant. "But west of Telegraph Road until you get out near Van Dorn."

The application is being considered for administrative approval, which means that City Council members will not be considering it. Simpson says he hopes the permit will be approved in the next three weeks so the new restaurant can open in August. By expanding the hours, allowing alcohol and approving the request for live music, Simpson said, city officials can finally create some nightlife in Eisenhower Valley.

"Right now, there's no food service after 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. because it all shuts down," said Simpson. "They are looking to create an atmosphere and a cafe that would be available after working hours."

Market Mystery

Hold your wallets, vendors. The Alexandria City Council is hitting you up for more money.

This week, elected officials approved a fee increase for vendors at the farmers market in Market Square, which has been in continuous operation since 1753 — the oldest continuously operating farmers market in America. The move will increase the current fee of $30 a month to $45 a month for permanent vendors. The vote also increases the rate for temporary vendors from $10 a week to $25 a week.

The rate was last increased in May 2009, when City Council approved doubling the fee for permanent vendors from $15 a month to $30 a month. The fee for temporary vendors also doubled at that time from $5 a week to $10 a week.

"Each year over the last four years vendor fee revenue collected has been less than the expenditures incurred to operate the market," wrote City Manager Rashad Young in a memo outlining the new fee schedule. "The result is that the city has to absorb an average annual deficit of approximately $20,000 in order to continue to administer the market."

For pottery vendor Lynn Julia Pendlebury Colby, that raised an important question: How much does is cost to operate the market and how is the money spent? After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, Colby says she is still in the dark about why the city needs the extra money.

"The vendors have been denied access to a detailed accounting of the market's expenses," she wrote in a letter to council members. "We have no way to assess whether these drastic increases are necessary or not."

Taxing the Ether

Should Virginia collect sales taxes when customers shop online?

That's a debate currently erupting across the river in Washington D.C., where Congress is considering legislation known as the Marketplace Fairness Act. The bill passed the U.S. Senate this week on a vote of 69 to 27.

"This bill is particularly important for Virginia’s infrastructure," said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in a written statement following the vote. "Merchants across our commonwealth play by the rules and collect sales tax but big internet retailers have been shielded from that same responsibility."

At issue is an estimated $253 million in revenue for Virginia. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell also supports the bill, issuing a written statement this week explaining that he believes the effort would level the playing field between sales by online companies and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

“This legislation will not enact a new tax," said the governor. "Rather, it represents a fairer way to collect revenues which consumers under existing law are currently required to declare on their income tax filings."

Virginians are currently supposed to estimate their online purchases and pay sales tax when filing income tax returns. But that almost never happens, leading state and federal officials scrambling to create a new approach. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee, where chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6) has been critical of the effort.