After a drop in Old Town's holiday sales last year, Alexandria city and business officials have joined forces to market the historic district more aggressively this holiday season.

The city, which has been working closely with the Old Town Business Association, the Alexandria Hotel Association and area businesses since January, has spent nearly $25,000 to attract holiday shoppers and tourists. One hundred thousand white lights were bought and strung on trees along an eight-block stretch of King Street between the waterfront and Columbus Street, and an electrician who specializes in urban holiday lighting was brought in to oversee the installation.

The city also sent a color brochure describing the seasonal highlights, shopping opportunities and special hotel packages in the city to area residents and people living as far away as New York and Pennsylvania.

"We don't know what the total cost will be," said Judy Hansen, assistant to the city manager. "But we felt very strongly as a city the need to support our retail community and the hotels."

Hansen, who headed the holiday planning committee, said the city expects the Chamber of Commerce to reimburse the city for most of the expenses associated with the lights and the brochure. The chamber has begun a series of fund-raisers to bring in the money.

The holiday planning committee was assembled at the beginning of the year after Old Town business owners saw crowds thin out in front of their shops during the last holiday season. The opening of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City last year and inclement weather during much of December were blamed for the slowdown.

Holiday sales figures for the city in 1989 were not available, but Richard Flaherty, executive director of the city's economic development program, said there has been a flattening of sales growth in Old Town. Sales figures are not broken down according to area. "We were not experiencing the growth last year that we experienced in the mid-'80s," Flaherty said.

The lack of free parking in the area, as well as the reopening in August of a refurbished Landmark Center in the west end of town, may not make things any easier this season.

"Traffic is definitely down," said Phyllis Kennedy, owner of the Enchanted Florist flower shop. "We're in competition with the malls, {where} parking is an easy thing, and we have tight parking."

"We were definitely affected last year," said Jeanne Graef, owner of Why Not Inc., a children's clothing and toy store on King Street. "There was snow on the ground practically every day last December. And the Pentagon City mall opened. That was a blow. But I think that the novelty of the mall has worn off, and I'm not worried about this season. We're off to a good start."

Along with all the lights and added publicity, the city has expanded special events to lure shoppers and tourists to the area.

Besides such traditional events as the lighting of the Christmas tree, the Scottish parade and a tour of historic homes, highlights this year include an evening outdoor concert series, a lighted boat contest at the city pier and an ice-sculpting contest. Area hotels will feature special holiday weekend packages and special events as well.

To combat the parking situation, the visitors center on King Street offers out-of-town visitors passes for 72 hours of free parking. Some stores also validate parking tickets.

City administrators hope their efforts will be successful. "Because there are so many shopping opportunities in the D.C. area, we need to make ourselves very visible and be well-positioned for the future," said Barbara Janney, executive director of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Center. "This is a long-term plan that we will continue."