Retailers, Restaurants Roll Open at the Shay off U Street Corridor

Ted Eytan

A flashy new development in Shaw, the Shay, is buzzing with life as retailers and restaurants open their doors and residents begin to move in to condos upstairs. To many, though, the new, modern buildings, replete with pricey condos, luxury stores and millennial-friendly eateries, seem out of place. At the busy and crime-ridden corner of Florida Ave. and Georgia Ave. NW where the development starts, a giant unfurled banner depicting a modern version of a big-haired Marie Antoinette caricature announces, “She Has Arrived.” It’s not clear who she is exactly, but recent openings provide a clearer picture of what the Shay will bring to Shaw.

Just across the street from popular gay sports bar Nellie’s is Warby Parker, the eyewear brand that opened its first D.C. store at 3225 M St. NW in Georgetown. The space is a bit larger than the Georgetown store with a more modern aesthetic and a bright, nearly-neon mini marquee that shouts the brand’s name from the corner of 9th and U streets NW.

Another formerly online-only retailer Frank & Oak has also moved in over the past few weeks. The Montreal-based company is known for its reasonably priced, fashionable menswear, which is designed in-house, and has been expanding its brick-and-mortar operations over the past few years with store openings in Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Montreal.

A few doors down from Warby Parker, Chrome Industries, an outfitter specializing in durable apparel and messenger bags, opened last week. On Wednesday, over on the corner of 8th street and Florida Avenue NW, employees from Steven Alan, were moving in merchandise, stocking the shelves with what appeared to be mostly luxury menswear. This chic retailer also has a presence in Georgetown with their storefront in Cady’s Alley.

Other highlights at the Shay include a newly opened Compass Coffee and a huge, window-front space for Kit and Ace, a new brand from the family that owns Lululemon. Much of the relatively hip apparel is made with what the company calls technical cashmere, a machine-washable blend of fabrics that mimics cashmere but requires little maintenance.

There are a few tenants that have yet to open, but those that already have provide a clear picture of what the Shay is aiming for: to become a new center of gravity on U Street. Not only will restaurants bring in the millennial cavalcade but also the new retail outlets will likely make the Shay a fashion mecca, particularly for men. (It’s not a coincidence, then, that the development is located across the street from two of the most popular gay nightlife destinations in D.C., Nellie’s and Town Danceboutique.)

Until foot traffic moves in though, the Shay, will mostly turn heads and cause Washingtonians to wonder about the direction this city is headed. They won’t need to think about it too hard though as Atlantic Plumbing, another luxury-focused development up the street, comes online in the coming weeks too. First to open there: a lavish movie theater-cum-cafe-cum-cocktail bar on the street level.

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