This Black Friday, new retail areas look to food, music, luxury brands for help

November 17, 2013

How do you create a successful shopping destination?

That’s the question developers are racing to answer this holiday season as a variety of new retail centers, local markets, and even an outlet mall, take on longtime Black Friday strongholds.

Holiday sales — which can account for up to 40 percent of annual sales — are a crucial source of revenue for retailers. Last year, the average shopper spent $423 during Thanksgiving weekend alone.

Here is a snapshot of three up-and-coming developments in the area that are working to create a distinct identity ahead of the holiday season. Each is targeting a different kind of shopper in order to stand out and secure sales before the new year.

Homegrown retail

In the year since Union Market opened, Jodie McLean and her team have had one focus: Food. They have created a foodie’s playground, bringing in local butchers and merchants offering fresh oysters and artisanal cheeses. Restaurants such as Ris, whose menu showcases foods from local farms, and the chocolate boutique Co Co. Sala have opened outposts at the market, which sits on 45 acres in Northeast Washington.

The emphasis was by design, to create a reason for people to come to an area in Northeast better known for its warehouses and wholesale operations.

“I knew I had to have something really seductive to get shoppers to feel comfortable coming out here,” said McLean, president and chief investment officer of Edens, which developed the market.

This Black Friday, McLean is expanding into retail with the introduction of Thread, a three-day shopping event featuring local brands such as Saint Clair Jewelry and men’s suit-maker Hugh & Crye.

But, she says, she couldn’t have done it without a hip food market.

“The market has been a tangible harbinger of what’s to come,” McLean said. “We can introduce anything now — retail, offices, residences — and people will know what to expect.”

In addition to food, the center has begun hosting weekly drive-in movies and kids’ cooking classes. Last week, Angelika Film Center, which specializes in international and independent films, announced it would be opening a movie theater at Union Market in 2015.

Even so, Black Friday may be a risky time to introduce retail to Union Market. For one, there is plenty of competition from shopping malls and big-name stores such as Best Buy, Macy’s and Toys R Us announcing door-buster deals and opening times as early as 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving day.

“Everybody begged me not to do it that weekend,”McLean said. “First of all, people say, nobody’s in D.C. that weekend. Or if they are, they’re all out shopping or watching football. But I do think — as somebody who has four kids — that people want that weekend to be about family.”

In addition to the market’s food offerings, there will be exhibits by local artists and a Saturday night concert by Washington natives the Walkmen.

McLean said she expects up to 10,000 people to stop by each day of the retail salon.

“I don’t want another place that looks like everything else,” McLean said.

McLean says she’s not sure if, or when, the market will add permanent retailers. But Black Friday weekend, she said, will be a good indication of local demand.

“I hate to say it’s being offered as an alternative to the malls — I think the mall is wonderful,” McLean said. “But there are a lot of people who want quality over quantity, who want items with meaning.”

Regional destination

Tanger Outlets at National Harbor aims to bring high-end discount retail to Prince George’s County when it opens Nov. 22. It is wooing a different market than those who cater to shoppers who happen to live nearby. The idea, the company’s chief executive says, is to find customers who are happy to spend an entire day — or more — hunting for bargains.

“[The mall] is located on the confluence of many different interstates and major roadways: The Beltway, I-95, 495, 295, Woodrow Wilson Bridge,” said Steve Tanger, president and chief executive of Tanger Outlets. “We are a regional destination with a catchment area of probably 25 or 30 miles, so it’s not just the Washington customer.”

The mall will open for holiday festivities at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving day with 20 percent off purchases at many stores. (That discount rises to 30 percent off between the hours of 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Black Friday). For many area shoppers, Black Friday weekend will be their first introduction to the new outlet mall.

“Of course it was planned that way,” Tanger said. “We have a short holiday shopping season this year, so the deals will be very robust.”

Tanger said the National Harbor location, which is already 97 percent occupied, will be more upscale than many of the company’s malls, which are generally tucked away in the outskirts of town. Luxury retailers, he said, have been eager to open up shop in the area, especially because of proximity to the Gaylord National, a sprawling resort and convention center managed by Marriott International.

“The younger crowd especially, they’re very excited for the mall to open,” said Romona Poteat, who lives in Oxon Hill and has been hired to work at the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store. “I don’t have my schedule yet, but I know I’ll definitely be shopping there that first week.”

Tanger Outlets, which oversees 43 outlet malls throughout the country, has managed to weather the economic downturn. Funds from operations, a key measure for real estate investment trusts, have been rising steadily at the Greensboro, N.C.-based company. During the most recent quarter, funds rose 34 percent to $56.19 million.

“Our business model has really sustained itself over the years,” Tanger said. “In good times, people love a bargain. And in tough times like these, they need a bargain.”

Community hub

Instead of focusing on door-buster deals, Merrifield’s Mosaic District is helping customers solve more elusive holiday dilemmas: Wine pairings, tea and cookie selections, and artisanal hostess gifts.

Since its opening, Mosaic has tried to carve out a niche as a community stop that fills a range of needs for nearby residents. In addition to Target and Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Mosaic also has a number of local retailers: Capital Teas, the Lou Lou clothing boutique, and Swirl & Sip wine store. The idea, developers say, is to get local shoppers to stop by three, four, five times a week.

“We obviously don’t think people are going to go to Neiman Marcus or Anthropologie every day,” said Jess Bruner, vice president of leasing for Edens, which oversees Mosaic. “In addition to boutique shopping, we have a grocery store, butcher shop and fish market. We want this to be a community hub where people can come every day.”

The first step, Bruner says, was securing art house theater Angelika Film Center. There are also a variety of fast-casual eateries such as Taylor Gourmet and Cava Grille, as well as specialty shops, an eye doctor and an Eagle Bank branch.

“There was a real need for a mix of national and local brands,” Bruner said. “This is the most educated place in the country but the retail and merchandise level has been very mediocre, frankly.”

Mosaic will host Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 1 and screen weekly movies in the park. There will also be holiday carriage rides and photos with Santa, as well as discounts for Small Business Saturday.

Last year, during its first Christmas, retailers offered discounts and sales, but Bruner said there were fewer stores — and no restaurants. Now, with 10 new eateries, the shopping center has become a place where holiday shoppers can spend the day.

“Black Friday will be the ceremonial kickoff for us,” Bruner said. “We really want to make this the holiday destination for familes to come to year after year.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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