“You go from a Dress Barn to Burberry and it makes you scratch your head,” said Margaret McCauley, a principal at retail consulting firm Downtown Works. “City streets can’t be all things to all people. Having like-kind uses together will make sales stronger for everybody.”
Enter Susie Tanis, the newly hired retail recruiter for the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District. Starting in November, she is setting out to turn the disparate collection of stores into a retail destination.
“Having the right tenants in the right spaces will be key in creating a thriving retail corridor,” she said. “The Golden Triangle is already primed to be a high-end destination.”
Tanis, who previously worked for designers Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera, said she hopes to engage retailers with concepts that are unique to the market. She said she is working toward a merchandise mix of quality apparel, shoes, accessories and home goods stores — a vision born out of a study Downtown Works conducted for the improvement district.
The organization commissioned the report in May to determine the best strategy for breathing new life into the corridor, especially along Connecticut Avenue. Because the street is already home to several upscale stores, it has the potential to become a hub for high-end retailers, said Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District.
But what about the Dress Barns of the world? Plenty of working women rely on such shops for affordable suits and accessories. Where will they go, if the avenue is dominated by budget-busting retail?
Agouridis said the organization is not trying to alienate those consumers, but the market dictates the best uses and “our retailers at the higher end are doing substantially well.”
Officials from Dress Barn declined to comment on the district’s plans.
Sharron Moore, general manager of the Brooks Brothers at 1201 Connecticut Ave., confirmed that the store is one of the company’s highest earners in the region. She attributes those sales to the lawyers, lobbyists and tourists that frequent the area.
There are 86,000 workers in the corridor, 94 percent of which hold private sector jobs, earning an average $89,600 a year, according to the study. Household income within the trade area is $114,000, compared with the national average of $71,400.
At Tiny Jewel Box on 1147 Connecticut Ave., president Matthew Rosenheim has noticed a greater influx of customers on weekends. Years ago, the store, a neighborhood fixture since 1958, wouldn’t open on Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“Now, it’s one of our best days,” Rosenheim said.
McCauley of Downtown Works suspects many retailers are unaware of the Golden Triangle’s compelling demographics, making Tanis a critical actor in executing the retail plan. Beyond building relationships with retailers, she will have to get landlords on board with the organization’s vision. That may mean convincing them to forgo above-market rents from banks to sign a tenant who could draw other top-notch retailers.
Tanis said she will keep track of retail leases and have a Rolodex of replacements as they come due. Agouridis said at least 10 percent of such leases turn over at any given time.
Last year, the corridor took a bruising with the closing of Talbots and California Pizza Kitchen, but Italian restaurant Casa Nonna took over the pizza kitchen within months. There is a smattering of vacant retail spaces throughout the Golden Triangle, one of the largest being the former Borders bookstore on the corner of 18th and L streets, according to Bill Miller of Transwestern Retail.
“Adding more food service that works in the evenings and weekends to complement shopping would be good,” he said. Miller said the opening of upscale Russian bistro Mari Vanna at 1141 Connecticut Ave. next summer should be a step in the right direction.