Big Box Stores Are Shrinking to Fit Smart Urban Neighborhoods

Dan Reed (Dan, by the way, used to write this blog you are now reading) in the August Washingtonian writes about how big box stores are shrinking their square footage to fit walkable communities like Bethesda and Rosslyn. He also discusses how the mix of retail is changing in urban and urban-lite communities, focusing on stores where shoppers hunt for bargains and interesting wares (i.e. Marshall’s and Nordstroms Rack) rather than more traditional department stores like Macys.

“As young, upwardly mobile Washingtonians flock to urban corridors such as 14th Street as well as town-center-style developments around Metro stations like Tysons, national chains—many of them traditionally wary of stores that didn’t come surrounded by ample parking—are trying to follow them. And they’re trying to do so via buildings that fit into their environments,” writes Dan in Why Washington’s Big Box Stores are Shrinking.

I (Executive Director Amy Ginsburg) have said for years that the transformation of the Pike District re-creates the Main Street life of the 1950s when most folks lived close enough to walk to their friendly neighborhood corner store and movie house. Dan confirms this theory when he writes “The future of retail in Washington looks a lot like shopping did 50 years ago, when city dwellers and close-in suburbanites headed to the open-air shopping streets that prospered before the rise of the mall.”

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The Pike District (and our executive director) Featured in Washingtonian Magazine

Why, yes, it is kind of cool to wake up and find executive director Amy Ginsburg and Friends of White Flint quoted in Washingtonian Magazine.

“Stable doesn’t mean stagnant. Just look at what’s happening in some of Montgomery County’s most family-friendly communities. Take Zip code 20852, between Bethesda and Rockville proper, where the median home price was $397,850 last year and, on average, has fluctuated less than 1 percent over the past decade. Even though its real-estate prices haven’t, the neighborhood has changed drastically. In the last few years, county planners have torn down many of Rockville Pike’s aging strip malls and replaced them with mixed-use developments with modern features. The idea was to lure millennials with the area’s easy walk to Metro and the notion that suburban living can be just as cool as anything in DC (or at least Arlington).

Younger residents are indeed moving there, but not necessarily to glitzy new properties like Pike & Rose, a complex of condos, shops, theaters, and cafes. Go a few blocks off the Pike and you’ll find 50-year-old subdivisions of single-family houses that are being bought up by young families for the usual reasons—they’re affordable and come with good schools and parks. Meanwhile, it’s often empty-nesters who spring for the new luxury high-rises.

Both demographics, though, are attracted to the fact that the neighborhood is now within walking distance of amenities that used to be reserved for urbanites. “Before, if you bought a house in Luxmanor or Garrett Park, all you got was a house and you had to drive down to Bethesda or up to Rockville,” says Amy Ginsburg, executive director of Friends of White Flint, which keeps track of the neighborhood’s redevelopment. “Now you have places to walk to—compelling places, terrific restaurants, gyms, public events.”