Bad for Property Values: Our Retail Blahs

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The following letter to the community was submitted to The Georgetowner by Michael Brennan, Jr., vice president of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.

Georgetown’s shopping and dining scenes have lost their luster. What does that mean for the value of your property?

Take a stroll down M Street or Wisconsin Avenue and one loses count of the number of “For Lease” signs in storefront windows. Vacancies abound on Georgetown’s most prominent commercial blocks, sitting tenantless for months on end. What’s more, countless institutions — classic restaurants like Sea Catch and Nathan’s, watering holes like Chadwick’s and Rhino — have shuttered in recent years, and bigger draws in dining and nightlife have not filled the void.

This transition in our local economy, while unsettling at first glance, is representative of nationwide trends, especially for retail. Online shopping has all but taken over traditional brick-and-mortar transactions. According to a recent Forbes article, the industry’s most successful retailers understand the importance of “showrooming”: maintaining physical presences for customers to try on, explore and build a relationship with a brand, with less of an emphasis placed on in-store purchases. Marquee anchors Apple and Nike are prime examples of this tactic.

To maintain relevance as a consumer destination, Georgetown is in the process of “out with the old, in with the new.” Mid-market chains like Levi’s and HomeGoods, European fashion brands like Benetton and Lacoste no longer fit into the picture. The most successful newcomers have a distinctively upmarket, smaller company image. Think Kit and Ace for high-end activewear, Design Within Reach for contemporary furnishings and Rag & Bone for urban fashion. Georgetown need not provide shoppers with every type of store; with a curated and cohesive array of retail options, shoppers will still flock to M and Wisconsin in droves.

What remains our neighborhood’s most critical element to address? Not enough restaurants and bars. Daytime dining options — Chaia for vegetarian fare, Grace Street Collective’s three trendy eateries, fast-casual &pizza — have slowly trickled in, but choices for dinner and libations have not expanded significantly in years. This scarcity directly affects Georgetown residents, who live in a neighborhood that does not adequately support their entertainment needs. If the staleness continues, it will affect our property values negatively.

Our community must continue to voice its support for incoming businesses through our local advisory committees. We Georgetowners are hungry (and thirsty) for new establishments to complement the green spaces, residential streets and important architecture that we all love.

As a proud Georgetown resident for more than 20 years, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working in our dynamic neighborhood.

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