The Decline and Fall of Georgetown Park

In September 1981, the Shops at Georgetown Park opened to much fanfare: 100 stores (including 128 condominiums), such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Garfinckel’s, Ann Taylor, Scan Furniture, Conran’s, Davisons of Bermuda, Mark Cross and Godiva Chocolatier. With such memories, any longtime local walking through the 30-year-old place in 2012 is saddened by its fall.

Today, none of those stores remains. Indeed, few remain in the 317,000-square-foot shopping complex at 3222 M St., N.W. Leases have expired, and others are set to expire Jan. 31. Consumers’ reaction to the now-disliked concept of an enclosed urban shopping mall are to blame, just as are a few of Georgetown Park’s business decisions through the years. A slow economy seems a minor factor here, but a legal fight between developers Herb Miller, whose Western Development Corp. created Georgetown Park, and Anthony Lanier of Eastbanc over the property do not help, either.

Not even angels could save it. A la Charlie’s, the Georgetown Angels — owners Heidi Kallett of the Dandelion Patch, Stephanie Fornash Kennedy of Fornash Designs and Kassie Rempel of Simply Soles — held events and launched promotions to gain exposure for the shopping center. They will be soon gone, too, as the mall is emptied to be prepared for renovation.

The new landlord of the property, Vornado Realty Trust is vague about its bigger plans, because it is still finalizing new arrangements. A Bloomingdale’s store coming? Heard about that often, but do not know. Hmm, how about a Target? Perhaps, New York’s hip food shop Eataly showing up here? Mere speculation.

Advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels, whose district includes the shopping complex, sums it up: “We are all hoping that these persons from New York will not just restore Georgetown Park but also bring it into the 21st century.”

“They took something wonderful and destroyed it,” says Alex Shirazi, vice president of Rush Hour Printing & Graphics, a Georgetown Park tenant, whose lease extends through March. A sales rep visiting him Jan. 12 said she was shaken by the sound of the fall of a panel onto the canal-level tiled floor, according to Shirazi. Janitors quickly cleaned up any mess. No one was hurt; no one else was there.

Also, on the canal level, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles still operates its Georgetown branch, but it has put out a request to lease new space elsewhere. With entrances on M Street, J. Crew, Sisley and Intermix have locked their back doors to the mall, even as the original Clyde’s Restaurant leaves open its back entrance to the M Street level. In a bit of irony or carelessness, Georgetown Park’s website incorrectly lists many stores as they existed a year ago or more and are now gone.

Meanwhile, life goes on as usual in Georgetown Park’s condos. And for all its collapsed empire of retail, a kind of renaissance — indeed, a redesign and reconstruction — is anticipated for the Shops at Georgetown Park. The neighborhood’s merchant space remains a gold mine.

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