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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

High incomes vs. wealth as an indicator of what might be more or less successful retail: CityCenterDC


A few weeks ago, the Washington Post Magazine had a long article, "D.C. got everything it wanted out of CityCenterDC — except the crowds," about the CityCenter development, a four-block mixed use retail development on the site of the old city convention center, well located in Downtown.

The RFP for the site specified unique retail targeting high income segments of the consumer market and luxury brands. But so far, the retail there isn't performing particularly well. From the article:
D.C. officials spent more than a decade turning the site of a failed convention center south of New York Avenue, between Ninth and 11th streets NW, into a luxury emporium filled with brands that could help reestablish downtown as a place to be.

Over two square blocks, CityCenter offers 30 stores and nine eateries, a pedestrian alley, fountains, a courtyard with a permanent video installation and an outdoor plaza. Most of it opened two years ago after it almost wasn’t built because of the financial crisis, and it has survived bumps like a salmonella scare.

... but for high-end retail to work, CityCenter would have to capture wealthy international tourists from Europe, Asia and the Middle East who are used to dropping tens of thousands of dollars in Tysons Corner after landing at nearby Dulles International Airport. ...

On a recent weekday evening, Peter and Rhoda Trooboff are walking through CityCenter on their way to a meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, laughing arm-in-arm.

Peter has the most Washington of jobs, as a senior international trade attorney at the white shoe law firm Covington & Burling, in the offices upstairs. They’ve been to a couple of the restaurants, they say, but they have never bought anything from a store nor plan to. “Who is buying these things?” Peter says. “Is it enough to keep these stores going?”
I think this comes down to how commenter charlie admonishes me on occasion to better distinguish between wealth and high income when I write about certain things.

People who are wealthy buy luxury goods--aren't fazed at all by the price of a $4,000 dress or bag. People who are high income but not extraordinarily wealthy don't buy large quantities of luxury goods on a regular basis.

Since the DC area is marked more by high income households and less by wealthy households, and because international tourists aren't thinking of DC when they are making big shopping trips, unlike the motivation for trips to cities like New York, London, Paris, and Milan ("How can fashion brands leverage shopping tourism?," Luxury Daily), it shouldn't be a surprise that the high end retailers at CityCenter aren't doing so well.

Still, the article makes the point that CityCenter has attracted luxury retailers from Friendship Heights -- maybe that has contributed to the upcoming closure of the Saks Jandel store there ("Saks Jandel, a legendary Washington boutique, will close after 128 years," Washington Post), Hermes is closing their store in Tysons in Fairfax County Virginia in favor of Downtown DC, and such stores don't need to have large crowds to be successful because they are selling high ticket items.

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At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the architecture is also forbidding & super sterile and does nothing to make the place feel warm or approachable- modernism as a whole fails miserably with this sort of effect- you just cannot live with the crap and it has to be torn down every 20 years or so because it ages so badly. It is odd that rich people from Islamic countries seem to be duped and fall for modernism when they have their own fabulous traditional styles of building and yet they ignore them for the most part- but not completely. Islamic architecture is not dead like classicism is in the west- they do enough of it to keep the old crafts alive but it is only a token gesture.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think the architecture is fine as it is, they do a nice job for modern architecture. There is nothing wrong with it.

Plus I like that 10th St. was brought back, they have the right storefront pacing and window treatments etc.

The problem is that the buildings are internally focused and referent. They are not designed to activate H Street and 9th Street, let alone 11th St.

They are designed to activate the spaces on the inside/the interior of the site, not the outside spaces that normally connect the street grid. There, the focus is on the in between, the newly created (and we can't call them faux) alleys and laneways.

In short, they are about capturing people and whisking them off the street, much like what Georgetown Park tried to do.

So from an urban design standpoint, expecting the complex to contribute and strengthen and extend the Greater Downtown, I would have to say it fails.

At 9:50 PM, Anonymous hstll said...

If I understand correctly high end retailers aren't supposed to have a lot of foot traffic. Instead they may have just a few customers a day, who each spend 2 to 10k. Which is profitable for them. The model isn't to have a lot of shoppers (who can't afford the goods) come through the doors.

I was told of this by someone who worked at the Saks in NOLA (one of the highest performing in their chain, allegedly)

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The retailers may not care about crowds - although most of City Center isn't that high end. (Paul Stuart,Burberry Longchamps, etc). Loro, Hermes, CH are.

The owner of City Center clearly are worried about foot traffic -- the bit about really wanting the Apple Store and losing it to the Carnegie Library is rich.

DC is, as Richard pointed out, not a high end shopping destination. However the power of Arab wives who are bored is not to be underestimated. We do get a lot of that traffic thanks to the government.

Those must be some sweet leases. I know when I go to Paul Stuart I've never seen another customer there. I'd say the real subtext of the piece is the owners are freaking out because City Center is become "black". Del Friscos and Fig and Olive and heavily AA, and I've also seen that at the stores. (Moncler is the new Helly Hansen). That will scare away Arab diplomatic wives very quickly.

At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the architecture is OK and non- offensive BLAND if that is what you mean. Again- all of this goes back to " why can't we have nicer[ nicer] things".

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your last statement is appropriate and on the mark- yes- this architecture fails to attract walkers or shoppers and does nothing to create dynamism or visual interest. It is very undistinguished and empty looking in that it is so square and rigid looking- relentless and Bauhaus militaristic in feel.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The architecture is not the problem its the program and the tenant mix.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

architecture might not be the problem, but the urban design is, as it aims to suck people off the street and whisk them away to the interior of the site where they are hidden.

But I do understand the point about high value transactions being the point rather than volume.

With Apple Store I think there are a bunch of dimensions. Foot traffic, diverse customer base, yes high average transaction, but it also lends a more marketable/semi-everyperson cachet compared to Hermes.

Years and years and years ago, to get the project going, I know they were aiming for Nordstroms as an anchor, but Nordstroms was never interested in a city location here. Now of course, Nordstroms is on the wane itself, and while it is still expanding, it has eschewed center city locations like DC in favor of expanding in Canada.


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