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How to encourage retail?

This afternoon is the second meeting of the Retail Strategy group of the DC Zoning Update. This group is discussing how zoning codes can encourage retail in DC, including where retail is allowed, and how to encourage smaller retailers as well as large.

I'll be there pushing for zoning that fosters as vibrant a retail environment as possible. What do you think we should do? Here are some general questions to get you thinking:

  • Requiring retail. Should we require buildings to have ground-floor retail? What if the owner tries to rent out the space and can't? Should they be able to switch to offices, or should they have to lower their prices to get something?
  • Consolidating retail. Some areas like Georgia Avenue have long strips of shops, but the population really isn't enough to support quite so many stores, so you end up with a lot of check cashing places and some unprofitable businesses that don't maintain a nice appearance. Should we push to consolidate retail in more defined districts?
  • Downtown. Maybe we should require retail uses more strongly downtown? There, the office rents are so high that we may need zoning more urgently to make sure there is also enough retail.
  • Neighborhood stores. Many neighborhoods are residentially zoned even on main streets, preventing convenience stores, cafes, and dry cleaners. Should we allow some of this? Do we need to create little commercial zones everywhere, or could we just let businesses under a certain square footage locate anywhere along larger streets?
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


I'm all for encouraging more retail, but something needs to be done to DISCOURAGE banks and CVSs from taking the prime retail spots. Its completely out of control. I'm thinking of that renovated theater in Shaw near 7th and Florida that is now a Wachovia, or that beautiful building with the domed roof at 7th and I thats now a Commerce Bank, and that renovated theater in Brookland that is now a CVS.

Banks and big national retailers have money to burn and want high visibility and high traffic, so its their prerogative to take these prime locations. Fine. But as planners, we need to put limits on this and reserve some of these spaces for unique, local, quality retailers that actually improve the fabric of the city and encourage street life. We also need to find ways to subsidize the rent for these kinds of retailers, who cannot afford to pay what the big guys can.

Any ideas?

by Chris Loos on Mar 27, 2008 12:29 pm • linkreport

can you send me an email...? what happened. I need to sit down with mr. rice.

by Richard Layman on Mar 28, 2008 11:20 am • linkreport

Chris: this was discussed somewhat at the meeting in the context of Cleveland Park. Some people really liked the Cleveland Park overlay which allows them to limit the number of restaurants; others spoke of problems with the overlay, alluding to issues in the past with which I'm not yet familiar. But in general, participants seemed to agree that we need some zoning tools to avoid a retail corridor becoming overrun with any one type of business.

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2008 6:44 pm • linkreport

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