Gregarious Alexandria resident Valerie Ianieri has taken it upon herself to help preserve the distinct culture of Old Town Alexandria through The Old Town Shop. “I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I’ve always been frustrated that we didn’t have Old Town-branded products,” Ianieri says of the vision that compelled her to launch a career in retail. “As historic as this town is, there needed to be a space where locals and visitors could come to get a flavor of Old Town.” The success of the store is obvious when Ianieri mentions that the popular OTX bumper stickers, Old Town’s take on the Outer Banks’ OBX paraphernalia, were conceived of and are custom-made by her store alone.
The store is split up into themed sections that offer patrons the opportunity to both learn about Old Town’s past and purchase locally crafted wares. Among them is a sizable display of Old Town-branded apparel, a nautically themed area in honor of Old Town’s history as a port city, a wall of dish towels printed with art by local sketch artists, a children’s play nook and a learning space where visitors can read the store’s 12 framed Virginia state mile markers for the city of Alexandria while thumbing through a wide variety of historical literature.
Since the store’s opening in March, Ianieri has teamed up with an impressive amount of Alexandria-based artisans and food companies. “For over 260 years Old Town has hosted this farmers market, and today there’s about 70 or 80 vendors that exhibit on Saturday mornings from 7 until noon,” she says. “What we did was ask vendors of nonperishable products if we could sell their products permanently in our store.” At The Old Town Shop residents have the opportunity to purchase locally crafted honey, olive oil, pickles, jams, candles and popcorn throughout the week.
Ianieri’s engagement with cherished Old Town favorites is part of the reason why the tourist-to-local ratio of her patrons is about half and half. “I wouldn’t say that we cater only to visitors because we don’t; it’s really a local, centralized gift shop for residents who want to access their favorite Old Town products if they’re traveling or to give as gifts,” she says. Ianieri is currently in search of more local businesses to promote within the shop and looks forward to hosting in-shop food tastings, demonstrations on soap-making, establishing a weekly educational program for children ,and obtaining a liquor license so that she can begin selling wine from local wineries.
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