The Georgetown Park mall has been a depressing place to visit for a long while now. And if it’s possible, it’s getting even more depressing as Vornado, the new operator of the mall, is summarily kicking out long standing tenants like the Hattery, seen above.
GM’s heard many rumors of what Vornado plans to do with the space once it kicks out every last one of the tenants. But none of the rumors have been substantiated. Both CAG and the Georgetown Park condominium association have reached out to Vornado and received no information.
Most of the rumors revolved around several large anchor stores. And it’s GM’s prediction that Vornado is much more interested in a building with a couple large tenants than a bunch of small ones. And the callous manner that they have been kicking out the tenants, giving them notice measured in weeks not months, would tend to support that prediction.
But if it is indeed the case that the mall will become just a couple big box stores shoehorned into a city, what does that mean for the retail landscape of the neighborhood?
GM can’t say for sure, but he can tell you what the numbers might look like. Every year GM takes a survey of every single store in the neighborhood. Last February he counted 530 stores (“store” for this purpose means retail, restaurants, salons, etc. Pretty much everything commercial except office space.)
There are no fewer than 75 retail spaces in the mall (not counting stores with M St. entrances). Thus, the mall represents almost 15% of all retail store fronts in Georgetown.
As of last February, there were still 56 stores operating within the mall. Last year there were 44 stores to close in Georgetown, including 29 non-mall stores. Even if the number of non-mall stores that close reduces by half, the closure of all the remaining mall stores would mean 71 stores closing in a year, a 61% increase over 2010.
And most of the mall stores are independent shops. As of February 2010, there were 47 independent shops operating in the mall. There were 380 independent stores in all of Georgetown. So with Vornado gutting the mall, they’re taking out over 12% of Georgetown’s small independent businesses.
GM probably has taken the mall for granted. He doesn’t care for its faux-historicism. Who needs to walk around in a pretend Victorian village when there’s a real one just outside? What GM didn’t realize until now is how the hulking and aging mall fit into the Jane Jacob call to preserve old buildings. She advised this because old buildings with smaller retail spaces tend to be cheaper to rent and thus can house stores that can’t afford prime rents. This leads to more retail diversity.
While the mall is not terribly old, it has in recent years certainly satisfied the low rent part of the equation. Stores that could never afford M St. or Wisconsin Ave. rents can live in the mall. And that was a good thing. At least for us residents. It was less good for the mall owner.
And so Vornado will now sweep away a haven for Georgetown’s small independent shops. This is well within their rights, and as one shopkeeper once put it too GM, sometimes even free is too expensive. In other words, while the small shops could stay open in the mall, most of them were hardly thriving and the situation was not endlessly sustainable.
But there’s a difference between working within your rights and being a good neighbor. So far, Vornado has shown no interest in doing the later. GM predicts that all they want to do is gut the property, put in three or four large tenants (whoever they can sign, GM doubts they care much) and turn around and sell it. It would come as no surprise that they’re not interested in the long haul seeing as they’re simply acting as an agent for the mall’s actual owner: Angelo, Gordon & Co. This firm specializes in distressed properties, an investment strategy that normally involves buying a property cheap, tarting it up and turning around and selling it for quick buck.
GM’s only hope is that they don’t do too much damage, and that either Herb Miller or Anthony Lanier can come back and start over again once Vornado/Angelo Gordon takes their check and leaves town.