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Old Town fun and Christmas cheer for sick kids

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When Fay Hobbs Carter saw a “50 percent off everything” sign in the window of a neighboring store last year, she knew something was wrong.

“Small shops don’t put things on sale unless we have to,” said Hobbs Carter, the co-owner of The Christmas Attic, a family-owned holiday decoration boutique in Old Town Alexandria.

It had been a year of flattened revenues for many boutiques in the area and she knew “we all had to work together to help this store.”

She decided to organize an event that would draw shoppers to Old Town’s Union Street boutiques during the typically slow month of July while raising money for charity.

For the second year, families recently celebrated a summer Christmas in the boutiques along Union Street, decorating ornaments, painting Nutcracker trinkets and taking pictures with a bagpipe-playing, bathing suit-wearing Santa and Mrs. Claus.

More than a dozen shops participated, half of which held 20 percent off sales. Ben & Jerry’s offered scoops at a discount, Firehook Bakery & Coffeehouse distributed Christmas cookies, Union Street Public House held a Christmas cocktail party and Alexandria Archaeologist gave free historical tours of Union Street.

Sales spiked at eight of the businesses, including the Christmas Attic, which experienced a 25 percent increase.

Through proceeds from the merchandise sales and donations, the stores together raised $1,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s mid-Atlantic chapter, which honors the wishes of local children with severe medical conditions.

The foundation said that the average cost of a wish is $7,500 but the businesses’ gift still makes an impact.

“Smaller businesses can make a huge difference for us because any partnership, large or small, helps grant a wish and does great mission awareness for us,” said Mary Martinez, a regional director for the foundation. “[The Christmas Attic is] like our backbone.”

Hobbs Carter, who took ownership of the store with her sister after their mother passed away five years ago, connected with the foundation last year after feeling like its “scattershot” philanthropy was not making an impact. She and her sister began looking for a single cause to support.

“I remember waking up one morning and saying, ‘Hmm, how about Make-A-Wish?’ ” said Hobbs Carter. The Christmas boutique has since raised $1,000 for the foundation.

“Their philosophy is incredible,” said Hobbs Carter. “Christmas is all about making wishes come true, too.”

The Union Street businesses have extended the fundraising to the end of August.

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