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Study Shows $54 Million Retail Gap Along Richmond Highway Corridor

Supply is not meeting demand in Mount Vernon.

Dollar

Dollar

Retail Gap

General Merchandise: $147.7 million

Clothing Stores: $47.9 million

Electronic Stores: $22.1 million

Limited Services Eating: $20 million

Special Food Services: $17.5 million

Furniture Stores: $14.4 million

Sporting Goods: $13.8 million

Shoe Stores: $10.3 million

Jewelry, Luggage, Leather: $8.4 million

Automotive Parts: $6 million

Books and Music: $4.4 million

Building Materials: $4.3 million

Lawn and Garden: $4.2 million

Drinking Places Alcoholic Beverages: $4.2 million

Beer, Wine, Liquor: $2.5 million

Full Service Restaurants: $1.6 million

Retail Surplus

Health Care Supply: $185.6 million

Department Stores: $68 million

Grocery Stores: $14.4 million

Office Supplies: $4.5 million

Used Merchandise: $2.4 million

Home Furnishing Stores: $1.9 million

Supply is not matching demand along Richmond Highway, according to a new study from the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. The report, which uses data from Californa-based Esri, shows a $54 million retail gap. That means people who live in this part of Fairfax County could be expected to spend $54 million more than they currently spend, an indication that the corridor lacks supply of certain kinds of retailers.

"The way people shop has changed over the decades," said Edythe Kelleher, executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation. "Without the opportunity to build malls and town centers, there are certain parts of the market that the Richmond Highway corridor is not going to capture."

The numbers put a scientific spin on a topic that has long captured the imagination — and frustration — of residents in Mount Vernon for years. The corridor has long suffered from a reputation that it's little more than urban sprawl, an endless parade of big-box stores and corporate chains with little in the way of character.

"We have too darn many fast food joints and too darn many drug stores on every corner, and they're wanting more," said Katherine Ward, Wellington resident who sits on the board of the development corporation. "What we are lacking is quality restaurants, and that's defined by good mom and pop places that make you feel like you are in a neighborhood and not in a seven-mile journey up a strip mall."

THE REPORT compiles information based on the amount of money people would be expected to spend in a variety of categories. Then it compares that information with how much people are actually spending. The disparity reveals the relative imbalance in supply and demand for everything from clothing to groceries. Kelleher said that a variety of circumstances could explain the $1.9 million surplus in home furnishings, for example.

"That could be because people are coming in from other areas and making purchases," she said. "Or it could mean people here are buying a lot of home furnishings."

Kelleher said consumers don't always purchase goods based on where they live. Sometimes they buy things near where they work. And recent years have a dramatic increase in online purchases, especially for books and music. Nevertheless, the study shows more of a demand for book stores and music stores than the corridor offers. That may be one of the reasons by Books-A-Million will remain a key tenant of the redeveloped Penn-Daw Shopping Center.

"We're not going away," said Jay Johnson, co-manager of the Books-A-Million. "They are just going to have to temporarily relocate us while the construction is going on, and that's the responsibility of the landlord so we don't have any worries about that."

THE RETAIL GAP analysis could play a role in determining land-use questions in the near future, a frequent source of tension in the community. And it comes at a time when the process for making tweaks to the comprehensive plan has changed. A plan known as Forward Fairfax is in the works that's designed to streamline the process of making nominations to the plan, a process that many viewed as unnecessarily burdensome.

"A lot of what was done in the past was that if one neighborhood objected to something then we could go along with that because we wouldn't want it to happen to our own neighborhood," said Jim Davis, co-chairman of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations. "What we have now is the ability to plan a little better with this new process."

For many people who have been frustrated by the corridor, the retail analysis and transformed planning process is offering a glimmer of hope for the future.

"Richmond Highway continues to look like one long strip mall, and that is not the vision," said Ward. "That's why everybody is working so hard to get the comprehensive plan changed and allow some increased density so developers who can afford to buy up some of this stuff and make it better than it is so we have true neighborhoods."