"Mike [Anderson] and I get a lot of credit for helping make Del Ray great, but the truth is that we stand on the shoulders of giants of our community. Friends and neighbors like Gayle Reuter, Pat Miller, Jen Walker, and Carol Bailey are the true heroes, and the entire Del Ray Mafia is an incredible powerhouse of neighborhood vitality and economic drive.
I feel part of why I was selected for this honor is because of my ties to Mount Vernon Avenue. I'd like to talk a little more about what makes Del Ray special, because there are lessons for every neighborhood and for the entire Alexandria community.
Twenty years ago, Del Ray wasn't the place to be. There were lots of empty storefronts, poor maintenance, high crime, and in general, it wasn't a place you would want to take your family for cheeseburgers on a Friday night.
So how did we get to where we are today as one of the most desirable places in the country to live or do business?
No one swooped in an saved it. There was no BID. The local government didn't do this. Our representatives in Richmond didn't spur this change.
Who turned things around? We did. And when I say we, I mean the small businesses. Nora Partlow at St. Elmo's and the folks at The Evening Star took a chance and started doing business here when no one else would. They started taking care of their block, creating energy, and bringing good people with them.
Other businesses followed, and brought with them more positive energy and ideas. Neighbors responded by taking pride in the neighborhood, supporting shops and restaurants, and volunteering for events and projects. The pride that came from these businesses was contagious and the residents soon followed.
In fact, a year ago, some folks from the Arlington planning department came to Del Ray to meet with the Del Ray Business Association and figure out the "secret" so they could create a Del Ray-type neighborhood in Arlington. After everyone talked for awhile about Del Ray, here's what I told them: This isn't something any type of government can create. Government is an important partner, but the magic in Del Ray is not a formula and there's no secret except a lot of wonderful people working hard to ensure their own success.
It's the people of each neighborhood that makes them special, and small business is the hub. Coming together through business associations, the Chamber, and in coffee shops and kitchen tables, it's all the people in THIS room that create the magic. The energy and creativity that is needed to make a neighborhood or community desirable comes from small business. It has to be natural and real, and it won't work if it's contrived or forced. Consumers are smart, and they want something real. And this can only be created organically.
To put it simply, business must be led by business. I am here today on behalf of every small business leader who wakes up early, works into the night, earns the loyalty of customers and staff, and provides the best products and services possible. I'm here because I didn't whine and I didn't wait. Like so many of my colleagues, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. When I see an opportunity to grow my business or contribute to my community, I take it. And it's because so many here tonight have done the same that Alexandria is such an incredible place."