Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sometimes a bad idea is just so obvious: MOM organic grocery on New York Avenue NE

New York Avenue is a major traffic thoroughfare into and out of the City of Washington.  It isn't lined by neighborhoods and it isn't served by transit.

Image from Twitter.

While the old Hechts Warehouse is an awesome art deco building, it's not well placed within the city in terms of being proximate to activity centers and neighborhoods.

So making it a retail center seems like a big stretch to me, as it will require car trips for virtually every customer.  While plenty of people in DC drive, they are more accustomed to traveling west and north to shop, not east.

I can't see the MOM organic grocery store making a success of the location as what the store carries isn't so special--especially since so many of DC's highest income neighborhoods are served by Whole Foods stores (DC has four Whole Foods stores in the northwest quadrant, two on the way in Capitol Hill and on H Street, and two stores in Montgomery County are located just over the DC line), which carry the same type of merchandise, but more of it, and comparatively speaking, more cheaply.
Washington Post photo of the original Hecht's Warehouse on New York Avenue NE by Ray Lustig.

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At 9:10 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The bad idea is putting luxury apartments in there -- why in gods name would anyone want to live there. Espcially at those prices. The methadone clinic? Ivy city?

Presumably the MOM's is being given a sweetheart lease so you can claim a supermarket is below you and charge more in rent.

You made the excellent point earlier about creating places. Developers are bad about this not because of cars -- because they have fomulas they rather blindly apply.

And it goes back to financing - I can get a project approved now if I say walkable, supermarket, luxury, microunit.

It is nice to be in fashion but that doesn't create places.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I have a book about planning with the title "Did someone say participate?" and for 18 months I've been meaning to write a post called "Did someone say activate?" about the "activation" trend in real estate, and the difference between place building and making versus gussying up a real estate project.

I mentioned a couple times my butting in on a conversation between the property manager of Lake Forest Mall and an Australian night market creator.

I said that LFM needs to be torn down, that a market won't be a successful activation device there because the problem is "lack of there" not so much lack of activity.

... the same issues of course are present with New Carrollton. It's about how to build the "there" or place value, not to put up a bunch of events. Why I listed Crystal City as an example is that they have the physical there but not the place value and they are going about repositioning and place value building in a purposeful way.

2. And yes, all this stuff comes back to financing.

3. And yes, building apartments there is at best "ahead of the market." The would work _if_ most all of the other places this side of the river were already built out and there were no other options.

But we aren't at that point. And for spatial reasons, only the craziest would choose to live there, especially at premium prices, even if the building is cool.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

although in this piece I forgot to mention Costco. People are willing to drive there, to shop "east", but Costco is a destination with a devoted customer base strongly motivated by price.

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will do fine. MOM typically locates in lower rent shopping centers in more suburban areas anyway. NYA has tons of traffic (car), with a right-in and a right-out during the peak commute time when the most traffic is passing in that direction, and maybe the people who pass by it will find it convenient, and a place to buy things that can't get where they live. Those people might not have a Whole Foods in their neighborhoods, and its an apples/oranges comparison anyway. I don't think they have the same customer base, and most MOM shoppers probably see it as the anti-WF anyway (semi-local ownership, not corporate, not a mega chain, etc.). I was an infrequent shopper at the MOM in Alexandria, and I know people shopped there from well outside the immediate area. The fact that DC already has WF in high income neighborhoods is beside the point.

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Note Richard you were skeptical about Union Market when it was first introduced, and it has done incredibly well. Now this development won't be the same type of draw, of course, but I think they should do fine. Not sure why you are so skeptical about the apartments also, I'm sure they will be priced to reflect the location (ie significantly lower). If they are priced lower than nearby apt buildings (which are in much better locations) they will definitely rent imo.

I just Google Mapped it and it's 1.2 miles to the NOMA metro. To far for short errands, sure, but no problem for commutting to work and back, especially if you utilize bikeshare.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Was I skeptical of Union Market? I was skeptical of the original plan, pre Edens, and I was skeptical of Edens ability to be innovative. I was definitely wrong about Edens and their ability to be innovative, which you must admit, is atypical of their peer shopping center operators.

But they have proved beyond my ability to imagine, to be imaginative. Even if I don't think the array of vendors _within_ the Union Market is all that great, with some exceptions.

And that kinda proves the point. If Union Market weren't a couple blocks from the NoMA metro and across the street from Ward 6, down the street from Capitol Hill, I am not sure they'd be experiencing the same level of success.

2. My point about MOMs isn't that they are a bad firm. It's true that I don't feel compelled to spend extra money on organic foods or vitamins (companies such as MOM or Yes make a significant proportion of their profit from vitamins).

But people are like water (transpo planners often use water as an analogy for traffic), it seeks to flow the easiest way possible.

You don't need to flow toward MOM on NY Avenue if you already have the equivalent options in your neighborhood already. I mentioned Whole Foods, I didn't mention Yes Grocery, which is comparable and they have a number of stores across the city.

3. And that goes for the housing too. That area is gnarly from a aesthetic standpoing, and from a comfortability standpoint from the perspective of people willing to pay market rents.

People do it at Atlas Flats because it's right there on H St. and at the other end, because of proximity to Metro.

If you have to pay the same amount of rent either way, people will flow to where they get more place-amenities value in return.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... if the Arboretum Place development had gone through, it'd be a different story. Now don't you think they are considerably ahead of the curve?

2. wrt MOMs choice of location, the description by anon is what companies do in the suburbs. But DC isn't the suburbs, it's a city, and people shop differently.

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

The company certainly seems bullish:

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Note that I don't want retail businesses to come into DC and fail...

Is this the kind of store you would go out of your way to patronize? Especially once the Whole Foods opens?

As it is I think the new natural foods store on the 800 block of H St. NE won't last very long after Whole Foods opens.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

All very true. And personally unless I was in the area for another reason (very unlikely for the MOM's) I would almost never go to any grocery store that is not a short walk.

I agree the WF will possibly make H St Organic store obselete. I would still shop there though because even tho it's only 2 blocks closer to my house that is still a savings (esp. in bad weather). Plus, you can get in and out of there way quicker than any large grocery. I hope they can make a go of it, honestly their downfall may be that they don't sell any alcohol. That seems to be a huge seller of course.


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