Retail establishments in Northern Virginia have their challenges. With the high
price of real estate, the dot coms breathing down their backs, and the expectation for 6-8 percent of sales to cover rent, a lot is riding on the flow of customers through the front door every day.
These points were presented to a breakfast audience at the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation’s recent presentation “Is Retail Doomed?” The guest speakers were Heather Arnold and Bruce Leonard of Streetsense, a Bethesda-based organization that enhances brands and places, drives consumer demand, and fosters community. Arnold and Leonard related a lot of their discussion to situations they worked on in Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, D.C., as well as Potomac Yards and Old Town, Alexandria.
When looking at the commercial value of a mixed use sector, there are three categories that the space needs to contain: they have to market neighborhood goods and services; food and beverage availability; and “GAFO,” an industry term for “general merchandise, apparel and other. “This is the sexy category everyone looks for in a mixed use space,” said Leonard, but is also “getting annihilated by the dot com industry,” he added.
“Not every node of Richmond Highway can be a GAFO, ground floor space needs to have flexibility,” added Arnold.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck was at the presentation, and related the retail recommendations to an area on Richmond Highway just south of Penn Daw, near Fairview Drive, by Wendy’s, Walmart and the Ranch House restaurant that is slated for redevelopment. The Wendy’s is still selling burgers but there are a few abandoned buildings that look dated. Back from the highway, an older neighborhood of single family houses is impacted by the streetscape that is there now.
“They [surrounding community] understand that this will protect their neighborhood, fixes the blight and addresses some of the environmental problems this development brought,” Storck said.
On Tuesday, July 25, Storck’s mixed use, redevelopment plan was presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who accepted the proposal with Novice Properties, which will incorporate a mixed use development. According to information released by Storck’s office, the board approved RZ 2016-MV-002 and FDP 2017-MV-002, commonly referred to as NOVUS Kings Crossing, which proposes to redevelop a 5.3 acre site in the Penn Daw Community Business Center to allow for the construction of a mixed use multi-family building with approximately 350 units.
Located in the Richmond Highway Revitalization District, the proposed site is currently home to a Wendy’s, a martial arts academy and two vacant buildings.
This new development with Cafritz Enterprises and Novus Residences is part of the revitalization on Richmond Highway that Storck looks at as an “economic investment in our community.”
Across Richmond Highway from this area, there is already a project in the works to redevelop the Penn Daw Shopping Center, which is in Lee District under Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay.
“It’s representative of what we’re doing on the highway,” Storck said.
MIXED USE was used by Leonard and Arnold more than once to describe a successful retail set up as well. When selecting a site, retail criteria needs 35,000 people located within a three-mile radius, and then they look at the education level and the average household income. “Retailers are very data driven,” said Leonard. “Place” and “authenticity” are important factors, and this works with a mix of national and local tenants, and trees. Big parking lots with no greenery could be trouble. “Getting these components together is really important,” Leonard said.
Big box stores aren’t as attractive as they used to be, and instead of storing goods on site, retail products are now ordered in the store and delivered at a later date. Best Buy and Home Depot use this tactic frequently. “Stores that used to require 1,800 square feet now require 400 square feet,” said Arnold.
Price per square foot has become an issue on King Street in Old Town, Alexandria too. With expensive real estate like that, the 8 percent of sales going to rent can be up to 10 or 12 percent in areas like that. “There’s always this disconnect between rent and sales per square foot,” said Leonard. “On one level, let the market take its course and rents will come down,” he said.