Where We Shop: Specialty shops a hot spot in Fairlington

By Sharon McLoone
Monday, June 14, 2010

Fairlington Shopping Center in Alexandria is not exactly a strip shopping center. It's more a shopping block, with stores that wrap almost all the way around the neighborhood hot spot near the intersection of several of the city's main thoroughfares -- upper King Street, North Quaker Lane and West Braddock Road.

Pull into the Fairlington parking lot and the smell of freshly baking bread wafts out of Great Harvest Bread. The franchise bread bakery is popular with the locals for offering free bread slices all day long, and many stop by to pick up coffee to go with their freebie.

Many of the stores have been here for a number of years. Charles Studholme, the owner and manager of One Good Tern, a shop for birders and nature lovers, said the secret is that many are "passion shops" that gain repeat customers through quality and service.

"There's nothing in my store that anyone has to have," he says with a laugh, looking down at the rows of birding binoculars, socks imprinted with penguins or cardinals and bags of seed that are packaged in the store.

But just then Sharon Winkler who lives about 75 miles away in a small town near Solomons Island, Md., walks in.

She used to be local and frequents the area to visit friends and family -- and always comes into A Good Tern to pick up birdseed and other goods.

"He has a wonderful shop, and the quality of seed here ... is incredible," she says as she heaves two huge bags of shiny black sunflower seeds onto the counter.

She also makes sure to visit the florist, the bakery and Reunions, an antique store, every trip to Fairlington.

"Quality matters," says Studholme. "I've been in retail for 40 years, and the biggest deal is that we try not to have any junk. This is not a mall. It's a neighborhood shopping center."

There are plenty of other passions to be indulged here.

One Good Tern is just a couple of doors down from Spokes Etc., a bike shop that likes a good pun -- its employees are referred to as "spokes" people. It's a go-to place for local bike enthusiasts, but also gets a robust business fixing busted baby stroller tires.

Foxglove Flowers has been at Fairlington for 16 years. Not only does it offer a wide variety of cut flowers, but the cozy store also carries brightly colored planters and eye-catching decorative items such as a wooden goose and gold figure that sail below the ceiling.

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