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Archive for April, 2010

How to Get Rid of Slugs

The other night on the Beverley Hills list serv, someone wrote and asked how to get rid of slugs – you know, those pesky, slimy creatures that love to eat holes in anything with a broad green leaf.

Our backyard is full of hostas and we learned early on to take preventive measures. 

For those of you who are new to gardening however or are just beginning to deal with the issue, we’ve done a bit of research.  Here are a few things to keep in mind*:

(***Thanks to FamilyMatters.tv for this)

But our favorite tips come from organic gardener Barbara Pleasant:

Happy slug free gardening!

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Cheesetique, Caboose and Let’s Meat on the Avenue Star in Chamber of Commerce Video

Three Del Ray businesses – Cheesetique, Caboose and Let’s Meat on the Avenue are the local stars in a Chamber of Commerce video contest designed to promote free enterprise.

In January the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s American Free Enterprise: Dream Big campaign launched the “I Am Free Enterprise” contest to honor America’s current and future entrepreneurs.

Contestants were asked to create a 3-minute video explaining their free enterprise story – the successful launch of a business, the invention of an innovative product, or how their idea will generate new jobs to boost the economy. 

The incentive?  Over $100,000 in prizes and great bragging rights!

Local videographer Meredith Bragg, a long time resident of Del Ray, now living in Parker Gray, jumped at the chance to showcase three of the independent businesses that have found a wildly successful home on Del Ray’s Mt. Vernon Avenue – Cheesetique, Caboose and Let’s Meat on the Avenue.  Acting as producer, director, casting agent, voice coach, sound technician, make-up artist, animal wrangler, 1st, 2nd and 3rd ‘grip’ (and just about anything else), Meredith has perfectly captured the spirit and enthusiasm of these entrepreneurs.Meredith has written, shot, edited, and produced video on a professional level for many years. His work has appeared on national and local television and he has sold a web series to Warner Brothers television.  In 2008 he concluded post-production on a feature-length documentary following the 2006/2007 post-graduate football team at Hargrave Military Academy. 

We’re thrilled to showcase Merediths’ work and will let you know the minute the contest results are announced.  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed. 


Other Del Ray businesses:

The Purple Goose Children’s Boutique in Alexandria, VA
Eclectic Nature Gift and Garden Center in Alexandria, VA
Potomac West Interiors and Antiques in Alexandria, VA
Pork Barrel Barbeque (BBQ) is Coming to Alexandria! Part Three
Exotic Planterium, Card & Collectorama in Alexandria, VA

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Northern Virginia’s First Bike Box Located in Alexandria’s Del Ray Neighborhood

Northern Virginia’s first bike box has been “installed” in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood and is located at the triangle shaped intersection where Commonwealth and Mt. Vernon meet.

 photo by BlindPilot

If you are like me, you may well be asking, what IS a bike box?

According to the Portland Office of Transportation, a bike box is “is an intersection safety design to prevent bicycle/car collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and bicyclists going straight.

It is a green box on the road with a white bicycle symbol inside. It includes green bicycle lanes approaching and leading from the box.

Bike boxes are installed to “prevent collisions between motorists turning right and cyclists going straight. It’s all about visibility and awareness.

At a red light, cyclists are more visible to motorists by being in front of them. At a green light, the green bike lane through the intersection reminds motorists and cyclists to watch for each other. 

Click here to see what WashCycle has to say about Alexandria’s bike box and how it’s working. 

Ummmmm, looks like I may have to get out my two wheeler and give this thing a try. 

Do you bike to work or on the weekends for recreation?  Give me call at 703.927.4554 and let’s see about finding you a house where you can make the most of Alexandria’s bike paths.


P.S. Thanks to our friends over at the Arlandrian for the heads up on this.

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Customer Service – Small Investment, Big Return

This morning on my way to church I was listening to National Public Radio and was struck by a story about Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport in Holland.

Amsterdam is a major hub in European air transportation and, being in the northern climes, is accustomed to weather challenges.

When the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland (my birth place!) caused wide spread panic, threats of lawsuits and over the top anxiety levels, Ad Rutten, chief operation officer of Schiphol approached the unexpected shutdown in terms of hospitality rather than crisis management.  

What did Rutten do to make stranded passengers as comfortable as possible?  In addition to making sure there was adequate food and drink available – served in “a proper manner” –  the airport bought shower capacity at local hotels and from airline lounges so passengers, even in days old clothes, could feel somewhat refreshed.

The airport also brought in entertainment – dancers, musicians, and even clowns for the children.

As he so astutely noted, “customer service is a small investment with a big return.”

I appreciated this story from a number of angles. First, I’ve been stuck in airports because of weather delays and second, I know how important customer service is – no matter what business you are in. 

As a Realtor® I do my very best to provide the kind of service I would want to receive.

For one client that meant meeting the moving van and supervising the delivery because the husband was on alert at the Pentagon and his wife and 3 week old son had not arrived from Hawaii. 

I’ve shoveled snow, cut brush, put down mulch, loaned my truck, met clients at all hours to sign contracts, dog sat, baby sat, brought in repair people, picked up relatives at the airport, talked to anxious parents of young first time buyers, and the list goes on and on.

I have yet to sing or dance and most would agree it’s best that way but, if needed, I’ll do that too.

It’s really very simple – I will do whatever it takes to make sure my customers are satisfied.  After all, I’m in this for the long haul and customer service, while a small investment, has big returns. 


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria, VA

The Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria, VA may be one of the best kept secrets in our area or at least it was for me.  I admit that I was not familiar with it until just the past month or two.

Once again, it was our local list servs that provided the pertinent information.  Seems this tranquil, 44 acre property devoted to preserving Potomac Valley flora and providing free environmental education for students in Alexandria City Public Schools, or at least part of it, was slated to become a new interstate exit!

But first, a bit about the Winker Botanical Preserve.  The Preserve exists thanks to the largess of local philanthropist Catherine Winkler Herman who was also an avid environmentalist.

For many years Mrs. Herman walked her dog Lilly on the property which was an abandoned pig farm.  After her husband died in 1970, she wanted to create “a place of beauty” in his name.  Her children added the “Catherine Lodge” a lovely natural stone and wood building used for programs and for Camp Winkler.

There are gentle hiking trails, a lake, waterfall, Hobbit House and a mountain climbing training tower.

Towering cranes from nearby construction and traffic noise from adjacent I-395 are initially jarring to the senses but soon fall aside as you begin to appreciate this special city get away.

There is even a Camp Winkler during the summer where children build forts in the woods, climb nature trails, challenge the ropes course and experience great ‘no tech’ fun.

Word has it though that getting into Camp Winkler is almost as tough as getting a ticket for the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Now, back to the controversy.

The new BRAC 133 complex at the junction of I-395 and Seminary Road will bring 6,000 workers into the area and transportation (local and interstate) concerns are real for this already busy area.  This complex will be part of on-going base alignment that will turn Ft. Belvoir into a ‘small city’.

VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation), despite protests from Alexandria City Council, seemed to focus almost exclusively on Winkler as the site for a new exit and would take the land via eminent domain.

Once it got out that Winkler was in danger, the community rallied with a Friends of Winkler Web page, and a fan page on FaceBook.  The biggest component of the push though were petitions and meeting alerts circulated by list servs and blogs all over Alexandria.

One of the most active groups were our friends on the Lincolnia Hills Heywood Glen blog.  Thanks to those petitions and with support from U.S. Congressman Jim Moran, VDOT has taken a step back.

The controversy isn’t over but now that I know about Winkler and its contribution to the community, I’ll be circulating those petitions too!

Want to know more about homes in this area?  Give me a call at 703.927.4554 and let’s see what we can find near the Winkler Botanical Preserve.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

Going Green – Cut Back on Water Usage

Going green doesn’t have to be hard but it does take a ‘reordering’ of thought.  Here are six easy tips for going green by cutting back on water usage:

1. Turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons a month.

2. Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap, then reuse the water for indoor or outdoor plants.

3. Reuse bath water on plants (this is a favorite of my mother-in-law, something about the soapy residue keeping pesky insects away).

4. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap to get cold water (get a Brita and that way you get cold and filtered at the same time).

5. Limit the amount of bottled water you consume, because it takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.  Recycle your bottles using the filtered water per #4, we do it all the time.

6. If your dishwasher is new, cut back on rinsing. Newer models clean more thoroughly than older ones. I’ve also heard that not rinsing makes the dishwasher work better?!?!?!

Told you it didn’t have to be hard –


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

Spice and Tea Exchange Opens in Old Town Alexandria

Imagine over a dozen flavored sugars, 30 kinds of tea, 150+ spices, 20 varieties of sea salts, at least 9 varieties of pepper, special blends and more – and you have just imagined yourself into the newly opened Spice and Tea Exchange in Old Town Alexandria.

Normally we don’t write about franchise operations, preferring to focus on locally owned and operated businesses, but the Alexandria store is just the 13th outlet for this Florida based retailer and we couldn’t resist.  Besides, they are located right next to my Coldwell Banker office at 320 King St

Like many good business stories, it starts with two long time friends who have an ‘entrepreneurial itch’.  Enter Joy Quinn and Taruna Reddy.

Joy was in Florida on a business trip and, taking advantage of a few free hours, wandered into the Spice and Tea Exchange in St. Augustine.

Not only did she leave laden with spices and sugars and teas, she had all the information for opening a store. 

Soon after, Taruna, minding her own IT career, got THE call.  Joy said, “let’s do it.”  Taruna said ok and that was it.  Lucky us!

Whether you are a novice cook or a devotee of Top Chef, the Spice and Tea Exchange is a place to learn and experiment. 

Because all the spices, sugars and teas can be bought in small (1.5 oz) quantities, it’s a great way to try, say, the Thai Coconut rub on chicken or pork.  For seafood there is the Teriyaki Ginger rub or the Northwest Salmon rub.

What about Lime Sugar to rim a margarita class or Espresso Sugar to top a creme brule?  And then there is the Black Truffle Salt, the Pinot Salt or the Jalapeno Salt.  The possibilities and combinations are endless.

Did I mention the spices?  If it’s available, Spice and Tea Exchange will have it.  Like Annato Seeds, 5 kinds of Cinnamon, Fenugreek, Hibiscus Flower, and the list goes on .  .  .

Round out your shopping with nutmeg graters, tea infusers, pepper mills and more.

The motto of the Spice and Tea Exchange  – freshness and variety – is evident the moment you walk in the door.  This is absolutely one of our new favorite places and we think it will be one of yours too. 


Other Old Town Businesses:
The Market Square Shop in Old Town Alexandria
Diva Consignment Boutique in Old Town Alexandria

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

First Annual Service Day for the Campanga Center’s Junior Friends

Buffeted by blue skies and perfect temperatures, the Campanga Center’s Junior Friends turned out in force today for their first annual Day of Service.

(l-r) Joy Trejo, Sr. Director, Early Childhood Programs, Emily Passmore, Programs Chair, Laura Fortsch, incoming Chair, Junior Friends

One of our readers, Jeannine Ginivan Hyde, invited us to come by the Head Start site at Jefferson Houston Elementary School in the historic Parker Gray neighborhood to take in the good work of this very dedicated group and we’re glad we did.

The Campanga Center has a long history of providing resources and programs in Alexandria to strengthen families and help children become caring, productive adults. 

The Junior Friends, about 120 strong, provide necessary volunteer and fund raising support with The Scottish Walk Weekend (one of our favorite events), the Toast of Alexandria, and Toast to Fashion as highlights of their yearly calendar.

(l-r) Anne Culbert, Laura Niswander, Brandi Rensoneau, Ashley Shelton

But today was all about the kids.  Working in two locations, Jefferson Houston and Tiny Tots at T.C. Williams High School, volunteers were painting, digging, planting and assembling.

Landscape timbers, top soil and mulch turned an otherwise somber outdoor play area into a cheerful, inviting spot and a metal roll door will sport a colorful mural (yes, this calls for a follow up article). 

All of the plants and materials were donated and the professional landscaping fell under the very capable domain of Junior Friend Laura Niswander.

< Karen Hughes, President and CEO, the Campanga Center and Noah

In front of the center, mosaic stepping stones, a product of last summers artist-in-residence program, will add a distinctive personality to the center while featuring the children’s art work.

What we really liked about today though, was that we knew it was NOT just a photo opportunity.  The Campanga Center, its members and especially its Junior Friends, make a vital contribution to our community – year after year after year.  

Many thanks to each of you, 


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 3 Comments »

5 Ways to Add Condo Curb Appeal

5 Ways to Add Condo Curb Appeal was the topic of a recent article in Realtor® Magazine and we liked it so much we wanted to pass on.

Condominiums and co-ops accounted for nearly 13 percent of all home sales in 2009 according to the National Association of Realtors® and the number is even higher in many urban markets. 

At the same time, there are challenges in selling units that usually cannot be seen from the street, share common areas with lots of other people or depend on a Home Owners Association for improvements.

Let’s look at some suggestions for overcoming those challenges and adding condo curb appeal to your unit:

1. Make the front door shine. Keep it simple, clean, and attractive.  If the front door is exposed to the outside, remove knickknacks such as wind chimes or a tired wreath and add a healthy potted plant and a fresh welcome mat.

 2. Get buy-in from the neighbors. A friendly smile from a neighbor can be just what a buyer needs to make an offer.  Make sure neighbors know your home is going on the market and what you are doing to insure a good price and a swift sale.

3. Show off hidden treasures. If the front of the building is blah, then suggest another view for the main property photo.  For instance, focus on the back of the building to show off attractive amenities such as a pool or garden.

4. Tidy up the mail. Our friend Elizabeth Bolton in Cambridge, Mass says that in multifamily buildings with a central area for mailboxes that it is a nice idea to add an interesting basket for overflow mail.  Be sure hallways and stairs are swept or vacuumed and shoes aren’t left outside the doors.

5. Team up with the Home Owners Association (HOA). When there are many units for sale in the same building, work with other sellers to make sure the building is looking its best.  Brisk sales are good for the overall health of the HOA and sprucing up the lobby, planting flowers, or adding flattering external lighting benefits everyone.

Gives you something to think about doesn’t it?


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March 2010 Alexandria Real Estate Market Report for Del Ray, Rosemont and Temple Park in Zip Code 22301

The March 2010 Alexandria Real Estate Market Report for Del Ray, Rosemont and Temple Park – those neighborhoods in zip code 2301 – is not pretty.  Seriously folks, the numbers are so bad that we think a squirrel must have gotten into our computer.

The actual number of sales is down 72% from 14 in 2009 to 4 in 2010 and the average price is down 14% for the same time period.   The good news?  The days on market (DOM) dropped from 46 in 2009 to 33 in 2010 or about 29%.

Truthfully, we aren’t too worried about the price drop because there were three million+ houses in the 2009 numbers while March 2010 didn’t see anything above $850,000.  

It’s just the number of sales that has us shaking our head.  But, we’re totally bullish that the number of sales will rebound next month.  We’ve seen too many sold signs in the neighborhood to think any other way.

March (22301 zip)
Av. List Price
Av. Sold Price

Low List Price
Low Sold Price

High List Price
High Sold Price

# of Home Sales
Av. Days on Market

If you want more information about houses in zip code 22301, one of the great areas of Alexandria, give me a call at 703.927.4554, I’m waiting for you.


Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently No Comments »

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