Old Town Strong: Giving Businesses the Opportunity to Succeed During the Pandemic

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By Rachel Nohe

Community is not something the city of Manassas takes for granted. Residents enjoy gathering at local bars
and restaurants and attending the First Friday Festival at the beginning of each month. Shopping at their favorite local businesses on the weekends and socializing in Old Town Manassas bring a unique camaraderie that cannot be quantified.

“Although we are so close to D.C., Old Town kind of has a small-town mentality,” says Allison John, co-founder of Old Town Strong.

New Beginnings

As the pandemic forced local businesses to shut down, residents lost that sense of community. What was once a time to network and socialize with others, now became a time of quarantining and isolation. The members of Old Town Whiskey Club recognized this phenomenon and wanted to do something about it. Greg Cook, president of the club, and a few others came up with the idea for Old Town Strong. Not long after, they reached out to Allison John to execute this idea. The team then began creating t-shirts with the organization’s name.

“I said if you give me the design, we can figure it out from there,” said Allison John. “They came up with an amazing design. We made some shirts, and we kind of just created a marketing campaign to get it out to everybody that we could. We all pitched in our own money…and it took off.”

With plans to donate the proceeds, the first campaign exceeded the founders’ expectations significantly. “We wanted to sell 100 shirts, and we [ended up selling]1400,” says John.

Community Collaboration

After the first three to four rounds of production, the team began collaborating with local print shop Hard Hits. OTS also partnered with Sinistral Brewing Company to create a pale ale named after the movement. The proceeds from the beer went to supporting businesses through Historic Manassas Inc., as well as the Safe Haven Room Project at the Social Service Building.

“[The Safe Haven Room] is where kids go when they get split up from their families,” says John. The room looked a bit muted and needed to be updated. “So, we had a local artist come in and donate her time to the mural. We raised money and bought new furniture, rugs, lights, books and games.”

Recently, OTS partnered with four businesses that funded its new monthly happy hour events. Residents from Prince William visit various restaurants to network and eat food at a reduced price.

In addition, the organization has partnered with Calico Jack’s to sell Old Town Strong shirts in their local shop, meaning the money raised in Manassas goes directly to Historic Manassas, Inc. to help promote the city. It is a self-perpetuating promotional opportunity.

“[Historic Manassas Inc.] runs all of the First Friday events, they coordinate parades and street festivals,” says John. “Their main mission is to bring business engagement and boost the economy in the city of Manassas.”

Since April 2020, OTS has raised around $40,000.

Old Town Strong logo

Although Old Town Strong has created its own campaigns, the organization’s focus is to collaborate with existing fundraisers. John says, “We like to find existing campaigns in Manassas and see how we can put our team together to either amplify the message or share it on social media.”

For example, New City Fellowship Church collaborated with Georgetown South Housing Community to provide tutors to students attending virtual school during the pandemic. “We partnered with them one Wednesday a month and brought dinner and dessert for 60 kids while they had tutoring,” says John. “We provided [dinner]once a month from September to January. We are looking to do the same in some capacity… whether it’s with something similar or it’s partnering with them to adopt a couple families at Christmas time.”

For folks interested in getting involved, Old Town Strong is working on creating more volunteer opportunities for the public.

“In-person events have been a bit different, [there have been]a lot of restrictions, especially on volunteers. So, I don’t think we’ve had the ability to utilize volunteers like we will be able to in the next year moving forward,” says John. “The way people could really get involved is to engage and to share our content online… People sharing on social media is a lot more powerful than they think.”

Help Us Help You

Old Town Strong is all about networking and reciprocity. John says, “We want to make sure that local people are the ones getting those opportunities instead of someone just blindly going to Google. If there’s anything going on in the community, the way people can help us is to let us know and give us the tools to help promote it.”

“[We] appreciate every single person who has supported Old Town Strong, the City of Manassas, the restaurants and the shop owners. It has just reassured us that this is an amazing place to be. We’re so grateful for that.”

To learn more, visit their website at oldtownstrong.com or contact oldtownstrong@gmail.com for more information.

Rachel is a senior Media Arts and Design major, concentrating in Creative Advertising, at James Madison University. In her free time, she enjoys game nights, spontaneous jam sessions and restaurant hopping with her friends


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