Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where's all the street-level retail on 14th?

Retail/office space for lease at View 14, 14/Fla.
Over the past couple of years, a number of new condo and apartment buildings have been built on 14th Street in southern Columbia Heights and the U Street area, from about W Street to Clifton. Most of them have included spaces for street level retail, and as you go farther north those spaces are empty. And more new buildings with more retail are to come.

Around W and V Streets there's the Yes Organic Market and Eatonville, but that's pretty much it; the other spots in those buildings and in others like View 14 are empty. Solea at 14th and Florida has street level retail, all of which is now offices for the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a non-profit which tries to bring the area together via sports.

This sounds like a worthy cause, but it's maybe not the most vibrant tenant. Or is it?

I think part of this is a chicken-and-egg problem. There isn't much foot traffic because there isn't much to do, but in order to get more businesses (and thus more things to do), you'd need more foot traffic. Restaurants are good for foot traffic, of course, but you don't see much from one or two isolated ones. I don't see people walking around from Eatonville, they basically go there to eat then leave.

So how do you get more people? Offices will provide some daytime traffic, as those folks need to eat and conceivably could shop or get drinks after work, but there'd need to be more offices to generate enough traffic for lots of businesses, and of course those would be empty on the weekends. Banks, dry cleaners, cell phone stores and such, which seem to be easy tenants to get, wouldn't provide much foot traffic.

It's almost like there needs to be a critical mass of interesting stores and restaurants to generate that traffic. I'm not sure I see that happening for some time. Thoughts from anyone else? It's a confusing and complicated issue.


  1. As a retail business owner who has looked for space within the past year, I can say... the rent is too darn high! Many small businesses can't afford to lease in these buildings. It's unfortunate.

  2. Thanks for that comment. I've thought that's an issue. Did you look at these buildings or in general? If it was these buildings, can you email me? - Thanks!

  3. Me again. I looked in general from Columbia Heights down to Logan Circle. I should add that square footage is also an issue. These developers tend to build larger spaces, much more than an independent retailer would need. Me thinks they would prefer chains or restaurants.

    Rent seems to be the #1 reason small businesses can't get in or... sadly, the reason they're getting kicked out.

  4. Thanks Desire, that's a good point, and it's worrying. To me, small businesses are exactly what we'd want in those spaces.

  5. Grocery store. Brings day and night traffic. Foot and cars. Weekday and weeknight. Would be good for the nemiah center development which should be big enough. There is a reason why there are clusters of stores around grocery stores in the suburbs.

  6. Solea actually has 3 additional "live/work" retail units on the Florida Ave side, and as of this month, 2 of them will have tenants - a photographer's studio and a law firm. Still doesn't add significant foot traffic, but the more we fill in these spaces, the more desirable the 14/Florida intersection becomes for larger restaurants/grocers/retailers.
    And with earth finally moving at 2400 14th (UDR Building) and 14W, the long-awaited arrival of nearly 1000 new residents should help to turn the tide in lower Columbia Heights over the next 18 months.

  7. If you look at main CH you see a similar issue. Look at all of the empty spaces in the lower level of DCUSA. It seems these new buildings require too much rent, hich apparently only major chains can afford, but the new residents don't want to go to major chains, so they have no business. Catch 22.

    I can't understand why these places think carrying empty spaces at $0 income is better than lowering the rents to at least break even. Maybe the tax write off?

  8. My boyfriend and I were walking from Logan Circle to Columbia Heights last night and commented on this... We surmised (and thanks for confirming Desiré) that a large part of the problem is that rents are too high for small retailers. Does anyone know if there is some sort of coalition that brings together local would-be retailers so that they can share retail space (and leases)?

  9. What this likely shows is that speculative gentrification is not a sound nor sustainable community and economic development strategy for most neighborhoods. The businss structure and costs of real estate eventually reduces retail to banks, restaurants that depend on liquor and bars. In Ward 1 all compound by CM Graham's "pay to play" political machine.

    W Jordan

  10. It just seems the Columbia Heights is trying to be something that it isn't. I don't know about everyone else, but the food prices at The Heights, CommonWealth, Meridian Pint, Eatonville and just about everything else is way too expensive. I'm just never going to eat there on a regular basis. This isn't Dupont, nor is it even U street. Make it better but stop trying to make it upscale.

    Besides, look at how some neighborhoods transfer into upscale ones. It's usually a slow stepping process. Stop trying to leapfrog.

  11. I completely agree that rent is a key issue, and there need to be ways to create local-retail and local-service incubators with low rents and shared services.

    But here's another, larger part of the problem: Developers' retail analyses don't seem to have kept up with changing retail trends. Retail has changed tremendously, and cannot be planned for like it always used to be. It's no longer a case of "if you build it, they will come" -- but too much retail is still being allocated because that's what looks like "mixed-use."

    I'd love to see the retail analysis that was done for 14th and Florida or for DCUSA, to see what demand was projected. I just can't imagine it was as great as the allocated retail would suggest, and if that's true, the plan should never have been approved.

  12. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see a Kramerbooks-like bookstore on 14th. The larger spaces are great for something like that. What kind of retail lease rates are we looking at on 14th street?

  13. These are all excellent points. I'll try to look into them.

  14. The 14th St. corridor is still searching for an identity.

    I'd like to see some family-oriented stuff move in: a bookstore, a party supplies store, a pet store, urgent care center, a family friendly coffee shop/diner, an office supply store, bike shop (to replace Bicycle Stations), and a children's haircut place like Yellow Balloon or Cartoon Cuts.

  15. there is the CVS just north of Yes! as well. (just to be completeist)


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