When Liz Kamp opened the New Trail Cycling Studio at Reston’s Lake Anne Plaza this past November, she found a thriving community eager to support local businesses, particularly ones run by women.

About 75 percent of the businesses at Lake Anne Plaza are owned and operated by women, and the mixed-use community will shine a spotlight on those female entrepreneurs on Mar. 8 as part of its first annual International Women’s Day Celebration.

“Part of the establishment of Reston, the goal was to create a diverse community where people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic, religious, education, ethnicities,” said Kamp, who serves as president of the Lake Anne Merchants and Professionals Committee. “I think to honor that, it’s important for us to not only honor women, but honor the community that has grown here and now exists today.”

The idea for an International Women’s Day celebration grew out of discussions about the strong presence of female business owners at the plaza during a meeting of the Lake Anne Merchants and Professionals Committee, which regularly organizes events at the plaza, according to Kamp.

In addition to music performances, book signings, and special promotions from plaza shops and eateries that will continue throughout the weekend, the celebration will kick off on Mar. 8 at 7:30 p.m. with a reception for a gallery featuring the work of local photographer Charlotte Geary and vintage photos provided by the Reston Historic Trust and Museum.

The reception is scheduled to take place in the Reston Community Center’s Jo Ann Rose Gallery at Lake Anne Plaza and will include light fare and refreshments.

Limited-edition commemorative posters will be sold at the reception with donations going to Shelter House, a Reston-based nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and other services to families who are homeless and victims of domestic violence.

“Shelter House is an organization that looks to assist women…who have unfortunately suffered domestic abuse and helping them get back on their feet,” Kamp said. “I think it’s sort of a pay-it-forward for a lot of us that we want to help women in the community who could use help.”

The centerpiece of the Lake Anne Plaza International Women’s Day Celebration will be a panel of former and current female merchants assembled by Reston Historic Trust and Museum director Alexandra Campbell.

Founded in 1997 as a nonprofit dedicated to preserving local history, the Reston Historic Trust operates the Reston Museum at Lake Anne Plaza and hosted a program in March 2018 at the Reston Community Center to celebrate pioneering women who contributed to the development of Reston as a community.

This year, the trust’s panel will highlight the stories and experiences of female business owners who have helped turn Lake Anne Plaza into a commercial and social center of Reston.

Panelists include Small Change Consignment owner Susan Gerstein, Reston Used Book Store owner Susan Burwell, former Lake Anne Florist owner Linda Fuller, and former Lake Anne Nursery Kindergarten director Ann Potts.

Gerstein says that Lake Anne Plaza has been a welcoming space for female business owners ever since Small Change Consignment opened there on Nov. 21, 1981.

A young mother with two children at the time and a third who would come a few years later, Gerstein started the consignment store with a pair of friends to help parents buy and recycle clothes, maternity wardrobes, toys, children’s books, and other child-rearing items.

The three women took on the venture despite skepticism of its fiscal viability from their accountant and lawyer at the time, both of whom were men.

“We knew it’d be a wonderful community space, and it’s turned out to be just that,” Gerstein said. “It’s been a delight to keep this shop going and watch the second, third, and even fourth generation of kids come in here. It’s really been lovely.”

Gerstein says Lake Anne Plaza has established a sense of community since it opened in 1964 as one of Reston founder Robert E. Simon’s seven planned village centers that makes it easy for her to bond with customers as well as her fellow merchants.

In contrast with the chain stores and restaurants that populate the newer mixed-use communities that have cropped up around Fairfax County, Lake Anne Plaza still boasts independently owned establishments.

The plaza’s network of trails made balancing work and parenting easier for Gerstein, since when they were young, her children could simply walk to her store after school without having to cross any potentially treacherous streets.

“It’s a creative space for entrepreneurial women,” Gerstein said. “You can really sort of see your dreams come true in a place like this. It’s not a traditional commercial space.”

Though she is a relative newcomer, Kemp says she was able to quickly find her footing at Lake Anne Plaza in part because when she reached out to other merchants before opening, they readily offered to guide her through the process of starting a new business.

Lake Anne Brew House and Nordic Knot owner Melissa Romano in particular sat down with Kemp to talk through her business’s mission and goals, and helped publicize her impending arrival so that she could establish a customer base.

“One of the most appealing parts of coming to Lake Anne Plaza with my business was knowing that there was a group of female business owners that would be here and be supportive,” Kemp, a 10-year resident of Reston, said.

The Lake Anne Merchants and Professionals Committee saw International Women’s Day, which occurs annually on Mar. 8, as the perfect opportunity to acknowledge how critical women have been and will continue to be to the plaza’s success.

“I hope that [attendees] get that we have a strong sense of community here,” Kemp said of the upcoming International Women’s Day celebration. “…Women can come together and lift each other up and do a lot of good when we work cooperatively and have a space that’s welcoming to other women of all backgrounds.”

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