What coffee, sweat and fine dining are doing for D.C. retail

With the barrage of headlines about store closures, it would be easy to assume that Washington, D.C. retailers are stressed.

With the barrage of recent headlines about store closures and challenging market dynamics, it would be easy to assume that Washington, D.C., retailers are feeling stressed. 

However, a recent report from JLL Research has found that as of mid-May 2019, overall retail openings in the District of Columbia have outpaced retail closings nearly four to one. That factor is a massive improvement over 2018, which showed 1.3 retail closings for every opening.  

What makes 2019 different? One thing is a flourishing dining industry. The District’s food and beverage boom has continued into 2019, accounting for over 70% of all new retail openings this year. 

“The continued notoriety of D.C.’s food scene has been spurring this growth,” JLL Retail Vice President Arris Noble said. “We have some of the top chefs and concepts right here, and they have been a catalyst for driving growth in some of the city’s emerging neighborhoods.”

And it’s not just the innovative foodie spots that are driving retail growth. Fast-casual concepts and coffee shops are also on the rise. Restaurant openings accounted for 77% of all retail openings in 2018. Of those restaurant openings, coffee shops accounted for 15%.

“We are one of the top cities in the nation for workforce talent,” Noble said. “They are working smarter, better and faster and, in turn, require easier options for dining while on the job, including lots of options for a quick caffeine jolt.”

D.C. residents’ passion for fitness is another driver behind this retail growth. The District was ranked one of the three fittest cities in America and the boutique studio market in the area is thriving. 

 JLL Research found that 77% of downtown D.C. fitness centers are specialty studios like solidcore, Barry’s Bootcamp and Barre3. JLL estimates that in 2010, there were fewer than 30 fitness options in D.C. proper. Today, that number is above 120, with fitness retail growth far outpacing the city’s 9% population growth over that same timeframe. 

“Boutique studios appeal mostly to younger generations,” JLL Retail Senior Vice President Greg Ferrante said. “Millennials and Gen Zers want to be part of the next craze, so they hop from one hot new concept to the next. There’s less commitment on their end, but a bigger investment, and when it comes to their health and the latest trend, they’re going all in.”

The majority of the city’s fitness tenants are located in the center of the District, where residential and office populations converge. But like retailers, these businesses are also taking advantage of recent population shifts. JLL predicts that neighborhoods east of 16th Street will see 80% of D.C.’s population growth over the next five years.

Of the announced retail openings in 2019, two-thirds have occurred in these eastern neighborhoods, with 10% of these concentrated in the Union Market District alone. Mount Vernon Triangle, Columbia Heights, the Capitol Riverfront and Shaw have all accounted for 4% to 6% of net openings. Looking ahead, JLL projects that leasing activity will continue to follow population growth. 

 JLL Research also predicts that, in addition to Union Market, which will be a leader in net openings over the next few years, openings near Nationals Park will outpace closings at a rate of nearly five to one.

Additionally, JLL expects neighborhoods east of the river, particularly Congress Heights, to see a dramatic increase in new activity over the next two years.

“There’s a lot of change happening in the District, but it’s all good news for retailers,” Noble said. “The next time you’re walking to the Metro or headed out to lunch a few blocks from the office, count the number of food and fitness retailers you pass.” 

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