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Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business

Walmart's foray into urban format stores officially begins today, with stores on H Street and Georgia Avenue opening for business. The H Street store marks the first time in 18 years DC has had two downtown department stores.

I stopped by the downtown store and snapped a few pictures.

H Street Walmart. Photos by the author.

The main entrance leads into a small ground floor lobby. The actual store is one floor up. I was surprised to discover that aside from the lobby, the whole store is a single level.

Walmart layout. Photo by BeyondDC.

Up on the store level, it looks like any other Walmart. Perhaps with slightly narrower aisles.

Walmart interior. Photo by BeyondDC.

Outside, smaller stores will line H Street. A Starbucks and a Capital One bank branch will be first.

Walmart front sidewalk. Photo by BeyondDC.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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The inside looks dreadful. Is being ugly a competitive advantage for walmart?

by JJJJ on Dec 4, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport


The utilitarian nature is what made Walmart the cost leader in the 80's, ironically it is what will kill them in the end. Get ready for a Walmart implosion.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 4, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Wish it was closer to the traditional downtown shopping core at Metro Center.

by LoyalColonial on Dec 4, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

What is the exact address for both locations?

by JDC Esq on Dec 4, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

@JDC Esq: According to WaPo--5929 Georgia Ave. NW and 99 H St. NW.

The H Street location is pretty crowded right now--and a little strange: there's a guy walking around dressed like Batman, and I'm not entirely sure if he's promoting anything.

That neighborhood is a little weird right now, but if they get on that freeway cap, sell off some of those dirt parking lots, extend the streetcar to NJ Ave, and throw in a bike lane or three...all in all, it's not half bad.

by Steven H on Dec 4, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

Would the H Street store be considered NOMA? Or is it too far south/west?

by JDC Esq on Dec 4, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

I do believe the building was designed by Robert A.M. Stern. Not sure if he did anything with the inside of the WM space itself but once I heard his name I realized why that building looks so much better than 90% of anything else being built in DC. Almost always heavy on brick and classical materials.

Love or hate Wal-Mart, that's a really great looking building. Wish he'd do more down here outside of his home base of NYC.

by Steve D on Dec 4, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

99 H street nw, washington dc. I'm not a fan of WM but props to the streetscape. This was what was there before. That's a huge improvement! Am I correct in seeing that they reunited first street nw? Because in that street view it's just a dirt road going into what looks like a parking lot of 80s & 90s legend, when Chinatown to Union Station was pretty much boarded up housing or Parking lots.

by dc denizen on Dec 4, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

SteveD +1,
The H street building is absolutley great. Show's how such a straight forward approach can produce such an urbane building. The Georgia Avenue site is ok, but it should have been built with apartments above. It still has a big store suburban feel to it.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

FWIW, the building design has nothing to do with Walmart. They are a tenant.

The building design owes everything to JBG and presumably is much better than what the Bennett Group proposed. I can't remember what they proposed, although I did deal with a PUD extension as a member of the ANC6C Planning and Zoning Committee back in 2005.

Brick is used because of the GPO across the street, which is the same reason that the building at the NW corner of North Capitol and H Street uses that material, even though the building was constructed in 1988.

I don't know if the GPO is landmarked. If so it would have triggered some HPRB review, which could have contributed to design choices.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

Is that so? I heard that his office had three projects in DC: the First Church, at the Navy Yard, and one by Union Station, but the site doesn't seem to have it up.

Stern is very involved in the office, but it's a 300+ person firm with 12 partners, so the output varies a lot. They've started branding the firm RAMSA to anticipate his retirement, like SOM/HOK/HKS/NBBJ. This isn't atypical for starchitects, but I think you'll have better luck getting good architecture in DC if you see architects like this as organizations, rather than lone geniuses.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 4, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

I figured it was a quality building because Walmart smartly wanted to put its best foot forward in its first urban DC location. I guess I gave Walmart too much credit... If JBG is responsible, then kudos to them.

I wonder if there are any plans to repurpose that GPO building anytime soon? That location is going to be way too valuable for an industrial block-killer like that. Selling it could make the Gov some serious money while paying for a new facility somewhere. Would make some some incredible $$$$ lofts!

by Boris on Dec 4, 2013 1:47 pm • linkreport

General thought: calling walmart a "department store" is a stretch. without getting into whether it's a net positive or a net negative, I don't think anyone can argue that it's the same thing as the hechts or woodies of the past.

@JJJ: being ugly per se is not a competitive advantage. Minimizing the variety of fixtures and layouts is.

@Bill the Wanderer: you're dreaming--most people will not pay a significant premium to shop in a nicer-looking store.

by Mike on Dec 4, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

FWIW, the building design has nothing to do with Walmart. They are a tenant.

Walmart is responsible for picking what buildings it leases. I don't believe they own any of their buildings anywhere. They deserve equal credit for the good design of the H ST store as they deserve blame for the bad design of some of their other DC stores in the pipeline.

by Falls Church on Dec 4, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

"FWIW, the building design has nothing to do with Walmart. They are a tenant. "

That is not true. JBG, like any other developer for a national tenant transfers a portion of the cost to the anchor/main tenant because the building is designed and built specifically to their requirements. Walmart gets to have a say in the design, but they also have to pay a portion of development costs.

Same deal for Target built at Columbia Heights. A typical deal such as this would have the anchor / main tenant contribution covering ~30-40% of all design, sitework and construction costs specific to their portion of the development, and 100% of interior fit out costs and exterior signage.

At ~84K SF, Walmart probably had ~8-10 million or so into the project before interior fit out.

by Walmart on Dec 4, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport


My point was this, the physical presence of a store, much like a Target, Worst Buy, Giant, Wegmans, you name it, will be a significant financial liability in a matter of decades, not centuries. The future is cost leadership customization, as in a pair of shoes precisely designed for my feet, at a far lower cost than any department store could ever display. That is the future.

Walmart will be at the losing end because that 'was' the bedrock of their low cost strategy[and it worked for about two decades], mass proliferation of real estate stores and a heavy presence of distribution centers, but in the end, it will burn them. It will burn all of them, any store that invests in brick and mortar physical real estate is assuaging the short term strategists of their board. I'll say again, physical retail is the worst long term investment one could make, but it will take decades for the incompetence to work itself out. Just look at Crappy City, it took another 9 years after numerous missteps for them to finally die out.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 4, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

I wonder if there are any plans to repurpose that GPO building anytime soon? That location is going to be way too valuable for an industrial block-killer like that. Selling it could make the Gov some serious money while paying for a new facility somewhere. Would make some some incredible $$$$ lofts!

This is a very complicated issue. First off, the GPO is supposed to be a self-financing operation of the legislative branch. It earns revenue by charging its clients (other government agencies) for printing services and by selling some items to the public (small revenue). Thus, the GPO and some in Congress feel that if the GPO buildings were to be sold, GPO should get to keep most, if not all, of the revenue. Other disagree and want that money in the general treasury.

Second, the reality is that except for the daily printing of the Congressional Record (which is declining each year), there is no reason for the GPO to be located in DC anymore than in Omaha or Dallas, or anywhere else. Thus, DC officials and Del. Norton want to ensure that if the GPO sells its buildings, it remains in DC. Others will likely fight to have the GPO and its government jobs in their districts or in areas with better highway access and lower land and labor costs.

Right now those are two fights that Congress and the White House aren't willing to engage in so the buildings just sit there, filled without obsolete equipment and empty spaces.

by dcer562 on Dec 4, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Falls Church -- not true that they don't own their own buildings. They do in many places. Not in DC. Their involvement in the Georgia Ave. store is at a scale significantly different than the JBG buildings in Fort Totten or on New Jersey Ave. In the JBG situations, they are mostly a tenant, with very little impact on the overall design and building program.

As I keep mentioning in my own writings, Walmart's decision to have stores in cities doesn't necessarily make them pro-urban design, just willing to be in urban settings, as the discussions in Baltimore over the Remington proposed store merely confirms.

Cities shouldn't expect Walmart to be pro-urban design and instead should ensure that they have robust design and planning systems of their own that they can be leveraged to get better results.

fwiw, Walmart in the New Jersey Ave. store was matter of right and OP had no input into the planning for the store at all.

Boris -- GPO, like FBI, wants a new facility in the suburbs, paid for completely by a developer in return for a trade of the current property. This isn't financially likely, and given the state of Congress at present, the ability to come up with other funding is remote, so the building is likely to remain in stasis for a long time.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

being ugly per se is not a competitive advantage. Minimizing the variety of fixtures and layouts is.

Costco and Aldi have this down to a science, in fact they have largely gotten rid of store fixtures altogether.

WalMarts are ugly, loud, crowded, hideous places to shop. But they've been that way from day one and their customers don't seem to mind. It works for them.

by dcer562 on Dec 4, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

Walmart may suck on the inside (I wouldn't know) but they left us with some nice buildings. Like Woodies and others who've come and gone, it's their built legacy that one hopes will be good. Why did Walmart go for broke on the aesthetics? Good press. As for wether brick and mortar stores are doomed, I think that's a bit overstated. Even independant book stores are having a comeback since Amazon sucked the life out of the bigger stores. Until people stop craving eachother's company, there'll be streets with stores for them to interact. Why else would the ultra-suburbanized internet savy millenials be flocking to cities?

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

@Layman -- you're right, they do own some of their stores. Just not the ones in DC, as you pointed out.

by Falls Church on Dec 4, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Even independant book stores are having a comeback since Amazon sucked the life out of the bigger stores.

Abolutely no evidence at all.
Powells is struggling.
Strand's is struggling.
Politics and Prose has Obama spending himself making up a good portion of the sales.
Kramerbooks again helped by Obama...struggling, the cafe makes up for lost book sales.
Borders, out of business.
Barnes and Nobles, five years from now OUT OF BUSINESS.
Books a millon [#2 USA bookseller] third quarter results, DOWN! Anything to back up that claim?

Why else would the ultra-suburbanized internet savy millenials be flocking to cities?

Unique experiences like le diplomate, H street festival, etc... These folks aren't clueless to theit bottom line, even if they are paid 125K annum with full bennies....

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 4, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

bill most of what you listed are chains, not indies.

The notion that BHOs personal spending is keeping a book store afloat is - well Im not sure what to say.

PLus that cafes are important, is neither here nor there. That may well be the new business model - books to browse get people in - they pay for coffee and food - then they buy the books online.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 4, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

Just look at Crappy City

I finally figured out the reference here, but at first all I could think was "Take a look at banner, Michael!"

by worthing on Dec 4, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

"Unique experiences like le diplomate, H street festival, etc... These folks aren't clueless to theit bottom line, even if they are paid 125K annum with full bennies...."

Unique? We must get our news from polar sites. I'm all for progress, but certain things change and others don't, at least not in perceptual time. There are many things in people's lives where their decisions can't be measured down to the penny. Why pay a premium for a small house in Silver Spring if I can get a mansion in Germantown? Why go to the movie when I have access to 2000 movies at the touch of a button? Walmart will eventually die off, but not becasue they built an attractive and pedestrian friendly urban building.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D (and Dan) before arguing that "Walmart" has built, _on their own_, "an attractive and pedestrian friendly urban building" I ask to be shown one.

In DC, at the behest of JBG that has happened once and will happen well enough at Fort Totten. Both projects were underway before Walmart happened along. There is the Georgia Ave. store, which I argue is deficient.

In other cities, Walmart has gone in some mixed use buildings or is planning to, again, in buidlings that they aren't designing, and in others where they are more involved in, the buildings are fitted up a bit, but not particularly memorable or urban, excepting having underground or structured parking, and maybe zero lot line setback.

I want to see the good buildings...

Although not as Bill the Wanderer points out, it necessarily matters because they will be there forever. Why having a good building matters is that it can be repurposed as circumstances warrant. As we know, the old time department stores have been very much repurposable.

As someone pointed out, the modern buildings (a la the fixtureless Aldi or Costco) are built to be torn down.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

WalMart from a British perspective:

by Frank IBC on Dec 4, 2013 8:47 pm • linkreport

I am not horribly opposed to the way 99 H addresses the street, but I really wish the apartment stories weren't all stick construction. It's unnecessarily impermanent and short-sighted, imo.

by Craig on Dec 4, 2013 9:42 pm • linkreport

"Why having a good building matters is that it can be repurposed as circumstances warrant." Amen.

That's why doing it right the first time makes sense. Because if we value place making rather than consumerism, if we value recycling rather than built-in obsolescence, then we should value "good buildings", whoever is building them. Maybe this building will be torn down in ten years, but if we build a disposable environment, it will be treated as such, and consequently those things that make a place great will be diminished.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2013 9:51 pm • linkreport

I agree about the construction, but that's the industry standard for this size building around here. Unless the codes dictated differently that's what you get, and in this case at least the wood frame apartments have a 4" masonry veneer with some nice articulation that blends in. What goes on all to often is a dryvit veneer which can be cut with a razor blade or cement siding.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2013 10:00 pm • linkreport

Cool individualized experiences may get a lot of local dollars but for many of us that have kids, it is not an option. So unless we are going for a Brave New World I am guessing some of these chains and even stores like Politics and Prose will survive. Besides, no reason to go to Kramers for food, if you don't have the book shop to pretend you are an intellectual.

by DC Parent on Dec 4, 2013 10:00 pm • linkreport

@ Frank IBC might try looking up ASDA. As I recall from the couple of years I lived in the East of England, TESCO was considerably more 'corporatized' than Walmart. Tesco had all the vegetables wrapped in plastic, an obscene amount of frozen meals,like; bangers and mash, beef wellington, indian foods. I just recall a massive frozen food section, larger than anything I seen in a Wally world. The 'Brits' depicted in the video must live in the London sewers, because it's worse there, trust me.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 4, 2013 10:07 pm • linkreport

@ DC Parent

Look it boils down to this, Producer meet Consumer. Intermediaries like Crap Mart have existed since the town square became disused. Amazon is extremely interested in 3-D printing technology, why? because it will eventually produce what you need, in an on demand basis and the path between producer and consumer gets shorter. Physical stores increase the path between producer and consumer.

This trend to reduce the cost between producer and consumer will only accelerate as America falls further off its dominate perch, which will hamper America's ability to produce nothing and derive money out of thin air. I know this is a development blog, so I will just say the focus on retail is short sighted and foolish. For instance everybody is fawning over the possibility of a Wegmans just up the street at the Walter reed site, never mind the fact that physical grocery shopping is becoming more obsolete by the day.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 4, 2013 10:28 pm • linkreport

Bill the Wanderer -

Thanks for the perspective.

I realized that the funniest moments weren't related to WalMart specifically, but to certain food items - lunch ham with embedded cheese, frozen pizza with chocolate chip cookies, iced tea bottles the size of oil cans - which are available in most stores.

by Frank IBC on Dec 5, 2013 12:13 am • linkreport

Bill, I also appreciate your perspective, and I agree with you that some things will indeed become custom, printable, and deliverable with-in 24 hours. But I also see more farmers markets than ever before, main streets coming back to life, and manufacturing becoming more localized. More and more the actual costs of our disposable society are becoming apparent. When and how this will be factored into the actual cost of a product will depend on a variety of factors, but already, things like carbon taxes are being levied about.

When it comes to pollution, if you can't bury it in a land fill and grow crops over top in 20 years, we shoulnd't be producing it. Clearly that wouldn't be true for many medical and high tech products that we depend on, but for everyday things like toys, food wrappers, and the like, there's no reason we need to keep killing of our children's future for the luxury of can get more plastic crap instantly. Physical stores do indeed increase the path between producer and consumer, but some other things I can do on that path is get exercize, socialize, and see my town, in 3-D. Consumer, meet life.

by Thayer-D on Dec 5, 2013 5:59 am • linkreport

I was overall impressed with the GA Ave location. Parking was built in an appropriate amount (funny, when you make a company pay to build underground parking, they don't overbuild) and even though I was there at 7:00pm, there were still a couple of dozen empty spots.

Store looked fine inside. Was happy to see a whole bunch of my neighbors get jobs, and happy that an extra 300 people will be getting paychecks this week. There were numerous MD license plates in the garage, so in addition to stopping a lot of retail leak to MD, we will be encouraging more MD and VA shoppers to do that in DC.

Overall I am quite pleased. Was nice to see the investment Walmart was willing to make in my neighborhood.

by Kyle-w on Dec 5, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

Three things I noticed immediately upon visiting the H Street Walmart:

1. The facade of the building is nice, with a mixture of glass and brick.

2. Functionally, the interior is extremely cramped. As soon as you get up the escalator you are met by a cluster of shopping carts directly across from the elevators. The walking area between the carts and the elevators was jam packed with people waiting to get on the elevator (at 3:30pm on a Thursday). The aisles are very narrow, so it takes forever to get around people with shopping carts.

3. The traffic signals directly outside the Walmart are set up terribly from a pedestrian standpoint. You have to push a button to get a walk signal, and even then you have to 100 seconds (I timed it) to get the walk signal to cross H Street.

I really appreciate the Target in Columbia Heights now that I've seen the H Street Walmart.

by fit882 on Dec 5, 2013 6:50 pm • linkreport

@dc denizen

Yes, the H St WM project did re-connect 1st St. As a stalwart anti-WM type, I do have to give that development props for that, at least. Also cool to see 10th re-connected at City Center. I was hoping W would be re-connected at Howard Town Center, but it looks like that won't happen (yet)

by wylie coyote on Dec 6, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

Not all of us have the big paychecks that the newcomers around DC have. I, for one, am thrilled to have the new GA Ave Walmart in my neighborhood. It fits my budget. Stores like that are few and far between in the "new" Washington.

by nottheredbaron on Dec 7, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

The building at 77H Street was designed by MV+A Architects, a DC based architecture firm.

by ColumbiaHeights on Dec 10, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

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