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December 31, 2010 Published in Business, Top Stories

Pat Miller Chosen 2010 Alexandrian Of The Year

By Carla Branch

Pat Miller, 2010 Alexandrian of the Year. (Photo: James Cullum)

When Pat Miller moved to Del Ray in the early 1980s, it was not the highly sought after place to live that it is today and Mt. Vernon Avenue was not the pedestrian-friendly business location that exists now. There was no Del Ray Farmers’ Market, no Art On The Avenue, no Del Ray Halloween parade, no First Thursday and the Torpedo Factory Art Center was pretty much the only art destination in Alexandria. But shortly after moving to town, Miller got involved in the arts and the business community and things began to change. For her dedication to the community she loves, is proud to select Pat Miller as our 2010 Alexandrian of the Year.

“When one thinks of the promotion of Arts in Alexandria, and witness the many successful community-wide events and celebrations in Del Ray, it is without a doubt , that Pat Miller’s name is at the top,” said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. “She has helped in many ways to give the City it’s recognition as an ‘Arts Destination’, and to help promote the success of small business interests throughout the City in her own small way. She is a very humble person, yet, she is deserving of such recognition for a job well done. I often refer to her as one of Del Ray’s three neighborhood Mayor’s. Thanks Pat and congratulations!”

Miller was born and grew up in Iowa. “I lived in a town of about 90 people and, until sixth grade, went to a school where there were three classes, with my class having about six students,” Miller said. “After sixth grade, I went to a consolidated school in a nearby town and there were about 35 in my graduating class.

“After graduation, I went to the big city to attend college at the University of Northern Iowa. I got a degree in math because I thought I wanted to teach. I did some preliminary teaching and knew that wasn’t for me. But if you had told me then that I would be running a shop in Alexandria, I would have said ‘huh?’,” Miller said.

So, instead of heading for the classroom, Miller went to work in the newsroom of a television station in Waterloo, Iowa. “Those were the days when every TV station wanted to have a woman reporter in their news room so I got to cover politics and the school board and other local things,” Miller said. “There were three Democratic candidates running for governor and I was assigned to cover one of them – probably the one who had the least chance of winning – and I got interested in politics.”

She worked on Iowa Governor Robert Ray’s campaign and then on his staff. She had the opportunity to work on some national campaigns and did some traveling for the Republican National Committee. She took a job with a national political advertising firm in Washington, DC, and moved east.

“I lived in the District at first but didn’t like it. A friend of mine lived in Alexandria and suggested that I move here. I lived on S. Washington Street for a while and then moved to Del Ray and that’s where I plan to live forever,” Miller said.

Less than a year after moving to Del Ray, Miller got involved in local affairs. “The Potomac West Business Association was trying to re-constitute itself and I was asked to help with the marketing,” Miller said. “We started the Del Ray Farmers’ Market and, while a group called the Avenue Partnership still runs it, they kind of stepped aside once Potomac West got going again.

Pat Miller in her shop "A Show Of Hands" in Del Ray. Miller is the 2010 Alexandrian of the Year. (Photo: James Cullum)

“Potomac West used to include Arlandria and Del Ray. A few years ago, Arlandria started their own business association so we decided to focus solely on Del Ray and we are now the Del Ray Business Association,” Miller said.

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne has known Miller since she first moved to Del Ray. “Years ago, Pat and her friends had a vision for Del Ray (I think Mayberry, RFD). Through their hard work and determination, they transformed this community to the vibrant place that it is. Whether it’s Farmer’s Market, Art on the Avenue or the Halloween Parade, and others, Pat is always at the center of it all, making it happen,” he said.

The Arts

Art On The Avenue, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, began as a block party. “Gayle Reuter used to host a kind of arts block party and, when we knew that was going to end, we got the idea to start Art On The Avenue,” Miller said. “That first year, just a few days before the event, we only had 13 artists registered. We panicked and started talking to every artist we knew. In the end, 76 artists participated.

“It has grown unbelievably and takes a huge amount of planning and costs a lot of money. We pay for police support but they used to cap the amount we had to come up with. They aren’t going to do that anymore so we have to raise even more money,” Miller said.

Eight years ago, the Alexandria City Council appointed Miller to the Alexandria Commission on the Arts, which she has chaired for seven years. “I am thrilled to be a member of the Commission and enjoy working on arts issues citywide,” Miller said. “During the recent economic troubles, we have had our budget cut by $30,000 a year, to $180,000. That $30,000 was a lot of money to us and meant that some of our smaller agencies had to close.

“We are continuing to lobby for more funding for the arts and are working very hard on a public arts funding policy. We would like to see art treated just like affordable housing and ask developers to make a certain contribution to public art when they have a project in Alexandria.

“Some of the developers have been great. We have “Three Eggs In Space” and the new developer of The Calvert is committed to public art. We would just like to see every developer show the same commitment,” Miller said.

The Commission is working on a proposed public art funding policy and will present it to the Planning Commission and to City Council in March.

A Show Of Hands

Miller has always been interested in marketing and the business side of the arts. About ten years ago, in an effort to bring more traffic to the Mt. Vernon Avenue businesses, she and a group of friends began First Thursday.

“We really just wanted to bring more people into the businesses here and it’s become an event of its own,” Miller said. “This year we’re going to spin off “Taste of Del Ray” into its own thing because it was so successful when we held it last year. We have so many wonderful restaurants on the Avenue now and it’s good to showcase them.”

Owners of A Show of Hands, Maria Wasowski and Pat Miller. (Photo: Regan Kireillis)

While Miller has been involved in marketing Del Ray businesses since she moved to the area, five years ago, she and Maria Wasowski started their own business, “A Show of Hands”. Located at 2301 Mt. Vernon Avenue, the shop features the work of local artists.

“We have a little bit of everything from jewelry to paintings to sketches to baby clothes to even some potholders that someone crocheted,” Miller said. “About five years ago, just after the nonprofit I was working for closed, I got a call from Maria who asked me how I would like to open a shop with her. I knew her from my other involvement in the community.

“Maria is an artist and wanted to open a shop where other artists could show their work without having to go to weekend shows. While a few of our artists aren’t local, our primary focus is on providing an outlet for our own artists,” Miller said. “Maria is one of the best business partners around. When I’m down she’s up and it just works.”

In April, 2010, “A Show of Hands” was named the small business philanthropist of the year by Volunteer Alexandria. In 2009, the Del Ray Business Association presented Miller and Wasowski with the “Heart of Del Ray Award” for the business that best represents the spirit of Del Ray. In 2007, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association presented the shop with the Virginia Retailer of the Year Award – chosen from more than 5400 retailers and merchants throughout the Commonwealth.

“Pat is one of the most selfless, dedicated civic leaders we have in Alexandria,” said Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka. “Her leadership has helped make Alexandria and her neighborhood of Del Ray a better place for small businesses, has improved our City’s quality of life and has helped make Alexandria a national leader in the arts. I can’t think of anybody more deserving of being named Alexandrian of the Year.”

Miller loves Alexandria because of its people. “So many people are so willing to give their time,” she said. “Of course there are some people that, even before they speak, you know what they are going to say. But that’s part of what makes this such a wonderful community. People are involved. I love it here.”