As office-centric downtowns struggle, suburbs cater to the laptop crowd

As office-centric downtowns struggle, suburbs cater to the laptop crowd

From The Washington Post

In North Bethesda, Zoom breaks take place at a dog park “social club” steps from trendy eateries and shops. Elsewhere, suburban shopping centers are adding WiFi to new outdoor plazas and, in at least one case, a bocce ball court.

While central business districts like downtown Washington continue to struggle as more than half of office workers stay away, many suburbs have rebounded by courting suburbanites who have settled in after more than two years of mostly working from home.

The pandemic also accelerated long-standing pre-pandemic trends toward walkable suburban developments and the “third place” — public gathering spots like coffee shops and bookstores, where people can connect beyond home and work.

The less frequent commute also prompted some city dwellers, particularly younger people and young families, to move farther out for more space and outdoor living during the pandemic, bringing new customers to the suburbs.

Stuart Biel and Mike Ennes of North Bethesda-based Federal Realty, said suburban developments also benefit from Americans reconsidering during the pandemic how to better control their time,including by commuting less and making shorter trips to shop and socialize.

Weekday foot traffic this year has been up about 10 percent over pre-pandemic levels at two of Federal Realty’s major developments in Montgomery County: Pike & Rose in North Bethesda and Wildwood Shopping Center in Bethesda, Ennes said. Customers also are spending 6 percent more time during visits, and tenants’ sales are up in the “high single-digit range” over 2019, he said.

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Amy Ginsburg

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