When Eastbanc President Anthony Lanier talks about the state of Georgetown retail and real estate, it always worth a listen. And on Tuesday night, Lanier spoke of both during the July ANC meeting. The soapbox was offered to him as part of the ANC’s monthly effort to hear from commercial tenants and landlords about how they view the outlook for Georgetown’s retail corridors.
And despite the doom and gloom that many are observing and/or predicting for the neighborhood, Lanier is mostly sun and opportunity. He started off the talk with an overarching theme that wove through his whole brief discussion: “rather than looking at all the vacancies as a black mark on Georgetown, we should look at it as an opportunity to escape sameness.” To escape the homogeneity that our commercial corridors have largely succumbed to (i.e. it’s just an outdoor mall) Lanier hails “new and innovative retailers, so few of which exist” that Georgetown should try to attract with all the empty space.
Lanier then gave some examples of how Eastbanc was trying to put that advice into practice. He cited Showfields, which is moving into the former Brooks Brothers. It is essentially a small department store, where new and small retailers are giving a small space in the building with short leases in order to test the DC market. He also mentioned Glossier, a cosmetics store that is moving into the old Sephora at 3065 M St.
Most excitedly, Lanier announced that the refurbishment of the Zara building at the corner of Prospect and Wisconsin will be done by the end of the year and five new tenants will move in, where two were before. (Lanier didn’t mention who the new tenants were, but signage on the building already is promising Wolford, an Austrian clothing store.)
“Georgetown emerged from the pandemic a success story,” Lanier concluded. He offered a couple reasons for that. For one, he argued that a lot of those empty buildings that make people worry about vacancies are actually now newly refurbished and ready for new tenants. Moreover, he believes that for better or for worse, people feel safer in Georgetown than they do in other neighborhoods, and businesses looking to expand notice that.
Much of what Lanier said rings true to GM, taken with a couple grains of salt. The idea that Georgetown is attracting new and innovative tenants is basically true, as was well described in a recent article. These tenants are largely small “direct to consumer” companies that are transitioning from selling over the internet to selling in bricks and mortar.
But is it an escape from the sameness that has cursed Georgetown for decades? That’s hard to say. When you look at the other locations of these new shops, they indeed are typically short lists of cities and neighborhoods that Georgetown would be frankly flattered to be amongst. And that’s a departure from when, say, the Ann Taylor Lofts of the world were opening here.
But these stores surely have ambition to be as large as Ann Taylor someday! While their other locations may now just be a couple other places like Beacon Hill or SoHo, the money behind these ventures is pushing them to expand further. Just take a trip to Bethesda Row. Practically every new shop that is planning to open here is opening there too. It’s quite likely that eventually Georgetown will be stuck with sameness regardless. It will just be a new generation of it.
But that’s better than the old sameness, not to mention how it compares with strips of empty storefronts. So maybe Lanier’s cheerfulness if justified. It’s certainly more fun to listen to than the typical doom and gloom.