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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is Annandale getting better or worse?

Loan Max took over the old Trophy Mart building on Little River Turnpike.
During the past year, several long-time Annandale businesses have closed (Fuddrucker’s, Sunset Grille, Trophy Mart, and Annandale Florist, to name a few). Other relatively new places shut down, including Bloom and Pelican Seafood.

We’re gotten a few new businesses in central Annandale (Buenos Grill; Joseph’s Coat; Parilla’s, a Bolivian/Argentian steakhouse on Annandale Road; IMM, a Thai restaurant on Columbia Pike; and Try, a part of a chain of underwear shops based in Korea, which moved into the old Something Special spot between Petco and Safeway). A few more are slated to open in 2013 (Walgreen’s, Paisano’s Pizza, and Goodwill.) Also, a  couple of long-time businesses, AnnSandra and the Party Co., are expanding.

There haven’t been any major redevelopment projects, though, and many of the new businesses, like high-interest loan companies and thrift stores, are not that great for Annandale’s image. Meanwhile, the traffic seems to be getting worse. With all that in mind, we asked a bunch of random people who live or work here this question: “Is Annandale getting better or worse?”  The results were mixed.
Parilla's, a new restaurant offers Bolivian and Argentinian specialties.
Annandale is improving

Among those who said the community is getting better is longtime Annandale resident Helen Winter, who chairs the beautification efforts of the Annandale Commercial Business District Planning Committee. She cited improvements like less litter and fewer illegal signs.

Annandale resident Gerry Yun said “better,” because Annandale has gotten more dynamic, there are more services here, and lots of people are involved in community events. George Kresslein Jr., an accountant with an office in Annandale, said “better,” because the Asian community is putting more money into the community.

Bradley Rothermal, a employee benefits specialist who works in the Annandale office of Danaher-Skewes & Associates, said pedestrian and infrastructure improvements have made Annandale better.

Susan Hilaski, the manager of the newly opened Pro Maxx Fitness on Columbia Pike, said  “better” because more people are attending community events, like the recent tree lighting ceremony and the National Night Out celebration at the Annandale Shopping Center in August. Hilaski, who is also a volunteer firefighter, noted that the Annandale Fire Station was recognized for having the best open house in October.

Commercial trucks line Daniels Avenue.

A downward spiral

Michael Pyne, owner of a home remodeling company, said Annandale is getting worse because “too many rinky-dink businesses are coming in,” there hasn’t been any major commercial development, and there’s no mass transit. “Annandale is a forgotten suburb,” he said, with all the redevelopment investments going to other places like Merrifield and Tysons. 

Carol Turner, who works at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College, said Annandale is “totally worse,” citing “all the title and loan places taking over every vacant building.”  She said: “There’s no reason to go to Annandale for anything, except maybe a drug store. It’s ridiculous. It’s falling apart.” 

Mike Magill said he’s a little disappointed in what’s been going on in Annandale, although business “is better than ever” at his restaurant, Magill’s Famous Pizza & Buffet on Little River Turnpike. The increasing numbers of commercial trucks parked in front of Pep Boys and all over central Annandale make it “seem like a city in decline,” he said.

Mixed reviews

Pat Sawhney, an Annandale realtor with Re/Max, said some things in Annandale are worse, such as too many car loan stores, like the new Loan Max in the old Trophy Mart building on Little River Turnpike. Some things are better though, she said: There are more pedestrians, fewer day laborers, and people are friendlier.

Peggy Barr, who works at Danaher-Skewes & Associates in Annandale, said new crosswalks, new dining spots, and the diversity in Annandale have made the community better, but it’s been sad to see businesses close, like Bloom and Fuddrucker’s.

So readers, what do you think? Is Annandale getting better or worse?

29 comments:

  1. I have lived here for 6 years and came because Annandale seemed like a quiet place with good neighbors and a clean family environment. The spiral downward has been mind-boggling indeed. My neighborhhood has become a code compliance nightmare with illegals overrunning the place and leaving their rentals in disrepair. The town has become a junkyard for ugly, foreign businesses which have no interest in becoming part of the American melting pot. It also has become Penny's go-to town for social services and good will stores; where she can over-ride current zoning laws and neighborhood sentiment and pack house upon house on too little land; where she can ignore the crumbling stormwater systems; where she can reign supreme over the junk heap that Annandale is becoming. I am planning my get away, not just out of ANnandale, but out of FX County, because Penny wants to be the next BOS Supervisor and we all know what that will mean.

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  2. I think portions of Annandale are getting better and portions are getting worse. In my neighborhood, the re-establishment of the Ravenworth-Bristow Civic Association has been a great benefit to the neighborhhod. There is now an active Neighborhood Watch group, there are activities for families, including the National Night Out cookout and an Egg Hunt in the spring, and the civic association is doing a great job of getting out newsletters. They even setup an online group using NextDoor at the recommendation of one of the presenters at the West Springfield Police meeting. Thanks to their efforts, I feel much more in touch with my neighbors and my community.

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  3. It does appear as if Annandale is declining. As others have pointed out -- loan sharks and second-hand stores do not reflect well on the community. Neither do store front after storefront of foreign-language signs. Sadly, there seems to be no leadership at the helm. Citizen groups and advisory committees can only do so much. If their advice is dismissed and the volunteers drop out in frustration, the future looks pretty bleak.

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    1. That is exactly what has been happening. Especially about the volunteers getting frustrated and dropping out.

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  4. Although I have not lived in Annandale in 20 years, I still like to keep up with things since I grew up there and went to Masonville Elementary, Poe and AHS. It does seem a shame that all the old busineses are closing up and Annandale is losing its identity as a hometown. I remember Annandale day, the parade and the pancake supper sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. Good years in Annandale.

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  5. Certain businesses hurt your image and property values. Those are the types of businesses that Annandale is attracting now. We're one step away from getting rent a centers and an adult bookstore. Why would someone from another part of Fairfax County want to come here? For some Korean BBQ or to hire some day labor?

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  6. Lets face it: Annandale inside the beltway is a dump. I used to live in a neighborhood off of Heritage drive for 10 years but moved 11 years ago outside the beltway to the Wakefield area. What a difference! I know that some day Inner Annandale will spill over outside the beltway and that's when I'm moving out of Annandale. We all hope that some big developer will convert Annandale Into a RestonTown center, but It will never happen. The only reason I read this blog is to monitor how bad things are getting in Annandale.

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  7. chris stevens1/3/13, 8:53 AM

    Well my wife and I just bought a house in Annandale in October and so far, we love it. We moved here from California where Title Loan places are ubiquitous. So no issues there. We love all the thrift stores. We have two small children so cheap house goods/furniture is essential for us. As for the poster that says they want "Reston Town center" redevelopment, PLEASE NO! Reston is nice if you like overpriced, boring chain stores that every other mall and town center in America has. We like Annandale because of it's unique stores, we enjoy the foreign food immensely. I agree, it is a bit of bummer the metro is so far away, but we have decent buses. I think it's a shame you quote such unhappy people about Annandale. If they want to move to a more cookie cutter town filled with lame big box stores, then don't let me stop you. Maybe we could look like the Potomac Mills area, so full of commercial development, but sooo ugly.

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  8. It is not getting worse, but it is certainly not getting better. It would be wonderful to see a new development to take over the nightmare one on Little River Turnpike right off 395. It would be wonderful to see fewer drug stores and foreign-language shops and more American restaurants (actual restaurants, not pizza or sub places). It would be fantastic and would probably help significantly if a Target or a Whole Foods popped up in the area, but they won't. Not with the new Target in Merrifield. We need a developer to come in and change the face of Annandale to make it what it could be. Perhaps instead of opening yet another cute boutique or restaurant in Clarendon, someone could take a chance on Annandale.

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  9. Instead of just whining, bring your concerns and ideas for improvements to the Mason District Town Hall, co-sponsored by the Annandale Blog. It's Jan. 15, at the Annandale United Methodist Church, on Columbia Pike at Gallows Road, 7:30 p.m.

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  10. Great comments. Hang in there folks, it will get better, everything is cyclical. Here is some good news...

    We live inside the beltway in one of the last sleepy southernish towns that exist ANYWHERE inside the beltway. Our commutes are reasonable (thanks to more lanes on the beltway – and we CAN and WILL pave our way out of it!) homes are reasonably priced, and violent crime rate was never a concern in Annandale’s history. I agree with the guy from California. In a few years everyone will be complaining about overdevelopment and congestion, so enjoy the charm while it lasts. Like it or not, the Walgreens transformation of THE and I mean THE prime junction or real estate in this town will begin to transform that key corner. Several key old things on that block like the Sunset Grill, old ABGC club, and the florist make the next block are primed for redevelopment, and it will come one block at a time as the economy slowly recovers. Just take a drive out Columbia Pike (our “Main Street”) from the Pentagon and watch your jaw drop what’s happening there one block at at time. It is amazing, and headed our way.

    The trolley is coming. Once they build the streetcar rail out to Baileys it is just a matter of time before it comes out to us. That attracts a completely different sort than ride the bus. Yeah, the illegal thing and flagrant disregard for our laws is a downside, but the fact people are here looking for work is some small way is a sign there are things going on behind the scenes, and things are happening here. Businesses will come and go, that’s natural. But each time a new business opens somebody has to physically refurbish it, somebody has to get a license, somebody has to get an electrician, hire a part time accountant, a few full or part time employees, etc, and it all adds up. Bloom failed but now we have a turn key refurbished solution ready to go where as before we had an outdated 1950’s era structure. Don’t be afraid of what is going away – look to what is redeveloping, that is where the hope is. Just a few observations from a lifelong resident. We’re good, and Happy New Year to all.

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  11. all the people above who want more so-called American restaurants should try to get out of your comfort zones once in a while. There is GREAT food in Annandale and only one such restaurant is "American" (ie Silverado), the rest are Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Bolivian, Peruvian, Guatemalan, and whatever the heck that Kabob place next to Shilla Bakery is from.

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    1. The Kabob Corner is Afghan. Good food at a reasonable price.

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    2. I just want to note that I eat at all the different restaurants but I too want more American style restaurants around.

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  12. Definitely mixed, leaning towards downward spiral for the Mason District in general. We love the diversity and relatively easy access to DC, but we've been here almost 20 years and don't see it getting better over time. Development has been haphazard with the only constant theme being building stuff on top of more stuff. I mean, just compare the Mason District to Arlington and other parts of Fairfax County outside the Beltway. Looking forward to retiring to a saner place with less congestion and a lower cost of living.

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  13. HA!! AGree! Wish I could get out.

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  14. Remember, its not trash on the ground and service vehicles being illegally parked/stored.....its diversity! Those illegals harassing people by loitering out on Little River aren't just non-taxpaying workers....they're a sign that somebody is saving $$$ by cutting out the honest, legal, income tax filing workers.

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  15. Your idea of a "dump" is my idea of a nice place to live with GREAT schools. Just had to say this for anyone else who might be reading the blog to see the state of Annandale! (I'm a 3rd generation Annandale resident too)

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  16. Treading water

    Its easier to get to Tysons than while the construction was going on - too bad we dont have an entrance to the HOT lanes at LRT though.

    As an autocentric suburban area, the decline is inevitable - the housing stock is aging, and prices are held up by the regional strength. And yes, our commercial space is unappealing - that's not a knock on any ethnic group, or the hard work of civic minded people - its a result of poor infrastructure and poor, outdated, design.

    Annandale's future is density, per the form based zoning code. And that's not happening until we get better transit (there's nothing wrong with the people who ride the bus, but the service isn't good enough to propel growth) AND we rebuild the street network per the transport plan. And no, Pike Rail will NOT be extended to Annandale - the area around lake barcroft is too low density. More likely we will get a BRT line down Little River, after City of Alex builds one down Beauregard.

    Meanwhile I will try to get to Pennys meeting - to push for the Annandale transport plan, and for more bike lanes.

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  17. I have lived in Annandale for 6 years now and love the location. I can get anywhere in Northern Virginia relatively quickly. I love the diversity and have tried many of the local Korean restaurants. The only thing I have trouble with is all the tiny shack like businesses. I'm not looking for strip malls though, so there is the rub. I am one who thinks the Walgreens will actually make the place look a little better, but if we could clean up Columbia Pike and make the business more like those in Del Ray, we would vastly improve the look of Annandale. I think the new Foundation Fitness is a start in that direction.

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  18. It is all relative. Compared to 25 years ago parts of it are considerably better. McWharters shopping center (where Silverado's is located) is vastly improved. Eventually someone will move into Bloom's as they spent a fortune remodeling it. The biggest change should be the K-Mart shopping center. A few years ago the owner, a Korean developer from Potomac MD said he wanted to put in some upscale stores; guess the recessession killed that idea for now. But, Broyhill Crest has had about one third of their houses "expanded" and updated. Columbia Pike Animal Hospital has done a marevelous job with their expansion. 25 years ago, Evergreen was a "forest" behind K Mart. Now there's a thriving small business community in those condo townhouses. The location is just too good to keep it from eventually being built out with style. Remember where we came from. The Methodist Church expanded and the old delapadated farmhouse accross the street from the church is now an upscale development. The old Dr's hospital across from Magruders is now a beautiful large home. It's improving; maybe not as rapidly as Ballston as Columbia Pike lost the "metro" battle to Wilson Blvd. (partly bc it needed development more than Annandale did). Eventually location will triumph over everything else. 8 miles to DC; eight miles to Alexandria and 5 miles to Tysons. Hang on.


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  19. Develop with more density and I am afraid, you'll uproot the character and attractiveness of the area. And where some people see "aging" housing stock, others see better constructed homes.

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  20. James Albright1/5/13, 12:56 PM

    I have been in Annandale for almost 25 years and still am happy I made the move. Change is inevitable in urban environments - what used to be a gas station became a Three Chefs became a Fuddruckers will become a Walgreens. Everyone misses something. My perspective on Annandale's business district is that there has been a significant level of private investment in new and renovated retail spaces - there are few, if any, decrepit buildings anymore. I never went to Trophy Mart, to the Sunset Grills, to Tom Westons, to lots of places that are late and lamented. I have reviewed the Annandale Redevelopment Plan, and am not impressed by its approach asking for a large development to "fix" Annandale. Lots of small, infill retail makes the place interesting - and means that other, quirky outfits can set up shop here, too. As soon as a big building goes in with a Panera, an eyeglass place, and a real estate office, we will be just like everyplace else in northern Virginia. As a homeowner, I see $700K+ homes being built all over the place between 395 and the Beltway - someone believes this is a growing area. With Springfield Mall being redone and Landmark Mall someday converted to a better streetscape (it's in the plan), Annandale's central location (10 minutes to DC, 15 minutes to Tyson's), I see great potential for increasing values without tearing out our neighborhoods. Finally, I am tired of the endless posts on this and other blogs (I know, I don't have to read them) about how horrible it is to have day laborers looking for work. They are LOOKING for WORK. They are human beings. They are our neighbors and our families. Annandale is great because it fits all of us, not just some of us. That's why I moved here 25 years ago and why I am glad I have stayed.

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    1. 10 minutes to DC? In what, a helicopter?

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    2. From the side of Annandale with easy access to 395, plus 395 at non-rush, I can imagine 10 minutes. From Gallows and Columbia Pike, I am sometimes at the Nats ballpark in only 20 minutes. But you're straining at gnats while overlooking the rest of James's observations--ones I generally agree with.

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  21. Hookers on the side of inner city roads are also just looking for work. These illegals are not licensed, bonded, nor insured but yet many still do work on homes. They also don't pay income tax because its a cash business. You can't have a society where people just decide that paying tax on the money they earn is too much of a burden for them to undertake. I know that people want them here because that way they can avoid paying a legit wage to legal workers from a business. Pretend that you care about the less fortunate, while just hunting for cheap labor. We don't know who they really are since they are here illegally. Maybe they're a nice person, maybe they're wanted back home for some serious crime, we don't know because they just snuck into the country. Its time to have some standards, like other countries including Mexico have when it comes to illegal immigration. The "they're human beings" applies to everyone, nobody gets to use it as an excuse to decide which laws apply to them and which don't.

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  22. Beltway improvements are a plus, Lacey is a plus, Baileys is tanking (nice new laundromat! Yay!), a vacant Bloom paying rent is a minus, a Walgreen's does nothing for community development (nice try though), day laborers and zoning violations are two minuses, a business community that is not nearly aligned with its civic base and diverging is a minus, commuters speeding through subdivisions at increasing rates are a minus... Slightly worse. Just waiting for something to happen is not the solution. Hopefully the feedback from the town hall meeting will be productive, perhaps leading to some solutions from Penny Gross. If history is any indicator, we will be heard for two weeks and then forgotten again. Don't fall for any recession baloney, the regional economy is among the best in the nation. Let's put our government to work on January 15th!

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  23. The people who cannot deal with the changes in Annandale should just move to Loudoun and take advantage of all the cookie-cutter blandness that places like Ashburn have to offer. Annandale is a 21st century suburb that is fascinating and has a great deal to offer - we love it here!

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  24. Yeah god forbid we want laws enforced, we should just get with the "anything goes" 21st century Annandale. It's no wonder why this area is declining.

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