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Business Matters

Donley's New Gig

Former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley is looking for a new gig. Ever since United Bankshares announced that it had entered into an agreement to acquire all the outstanding stock of Virginia Bancorp back in January, the writing has been on the wall.

"I'll be here until the merger is complete, and then I'll probably be moving on," said Donley. "I've talked to some other banks and a couple of other possibilities, but it's still four or five months off and so it'll be a dance for a while."

Virginia Commerce first hired Donley, a longtime Crestar employee, back in 1998 when he was still mayor. In 2005, he took a hiatus from banking and politics to serve as the athletic director for T.C. Williams High School. Then, in 2009, he returned to Virginia Commerce Bank and announced his intention to return to politics — first considering a run for the House of Delegates before launching a campaign for Alexandria City Council. In May 2009, he won more votes than any other candidate — earning him the title of vice mayor, a position he held before being first elected mayor in 1995.

Last year, he did not seek reelection. Now, he's leaving the bank he's called home for more than a decade.

"It's not ethical for me to commit to another employer while I'm employed here, so I'll be hanging out here until the merger, which is probably in October," said Donley. "And then I'll have something lined up shortly after."

Books Without Bookstores

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Alexandria is currently in an age of wisdom, according to a recent Amazon.com list that ranks the city as the most well-read city in American. But it's possible that Alexandria is also in an age of foolishness.

Yes, it's true that the city has a popular children's bookstore and a major chain retailer. It also has a handful of used bookstores. But Alexandria has lacked a general interest independent bookseller since Olsson's closed in 2008. Then Books-A-Million closed in 2011. Now America's most literate city is bereft of a place to buy books — creating an opportunity for anyone brave enough to consider striking out and creating a new business. Business leaders say several entrepreneurs have considered the idea of opening a bookstore in Alexandria, one outfit was looking at opening a store at the northwest corner of Cameron Street and North Royal Street for a while. But that fell through. That leaves a giant untapped market — if there's still a market for hard-copy books, a question that remains unanswered for the time being.

"Nobody's been through our doors lately," said Stephanie Landrum, vice president of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. "If there's anybody out there who wants to open an independent bookstore, we will get them in to the Small Business Development Center and we will help them with their business plan and we will help them find a good storefront."

Balancing the Burden

Everybody knows that entrepreneurs hate taxes. That's why the Alexandria City Council's recent decision to add four cents to the tax rate — a historic increase unparalleled modern history — has caused some uneasiness in the business community.

"Our members are taking a deep breath," said John Long, president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. "We have to really start looking at ways to increase commercial real estate."

Residential property taxes are the city's biggest source of income, constituting 32 percent of the money that comes into the coffers at City Hall. Commercial property taxes, on the other hand, represent about 26 percent of the city's revenues. That's an imbalance that has plagued the city for years, and candidates for City Council have promised to work toward creating a better balance. But the disparity has only grown worse over the course of the last decade — despite all the talk on the campaign trail. Now city leaders must figure out how to balance the books next year, when federal and state revenues are forecast to shrink yet again.

"I always try to look to what I do at home," said Long. "If I don't have enough now for my spending, I try to bring in some additional income. And the additional income for the city, we believe, is additional commercial opportunities."