Will Tiffany & Co. give downtown D.C. a chance?


This downtown Washington store front , at left, was built to house a Tiffany & Co. store, as evidenced by the architectural similarities that store front shares with a Tiffany outpost in Philadelphia. (Jonathan O’Connell; Associated Press)

The storefront looks like a piece of jewelry — there’s a shimmering, silver-colored door surrounded by stately, polished stone. All that’s missing is the robin egg blue from a certain company’s famous gift boxes.

Which makes sense because the retail space at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW was designed to attract Tiffany & Co. to open a store there.

Instead it’s a bank. One of a half dozen facing Farragut Square.

The building’s brokers made a years-long pitch to Tiffany that downtown Washington — in the midst of a demographic boom and a cosmopolitan resurgence — was perfectly suited for the world’s most famous jeweler. They branded the space “Washington’s Premier Retail Corner,” and showed off data about how close it was to so many $120,000-plus salaries, a spot that 36,900 cars pass by on Connecticut Avenue on weekdays.

But Tiffany representatives walked away from talks, allowing Citibank to open a branch there last month.

As real estate pros from around the country gather in Las Vegas this week for the world’s largest retail conference, held by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a lingering question for locals is whether Tiffany and other luxury retailers that have favored Tysons Corner and Bethesda for years will give downtown another chance.

Tiffany is leading the discussion because of how closely it considered the Connecticut Avenue building and because two other projects promising new levels of luxury are said to be possible landing spots. Developer Hines is pursuing high-end retailers (including Apple) for CityCenter DC, which is under construction, as are Donald and Ivanka Trump for their planned remake of the Old Post Office Pavilion, with Trump dropping the Tiffany name last month.

“We’ve obviously reached out to them for the Trump project. I know CityCenter has reached out to them and had conversations with them,” said Jeff Pollak, managing principal of the Bethesda firm StreetSense, which represents the Trumps. “I think it’s a tremendously underserved market, and they need to be in Washington.”

In this case, the “underserved” refers to the law firms, lobby shops and other corporate offices in the city. “A very significant percentage of [Tiffany] sales are corporate sales gifts to employees and awards and the like,” D.C. broker Bill Miller said.

In years past, Miller pitched Tiffany on Pennsylvania Avenue space that ultimately became the restaurant Central Michel Richard. He had pointed out that private equity giant Carlyle Group had offices nearby. “Where do you think they’re going to get their gifts? Do you think they’re going to drive out to Tysons?” Miller said.

Why Tiffany wouldn’t pull the trigger on 1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, a brand-new building with law firm Arent Fox upstairs, isn’t clear. Neither Tiffany representatives nor Henry Fonvielle, president of the McLean-based Rappaport Cos., which leased the Connecticut Avenue space, would share details about why a deal didn’t happen. The corridor has had some difficulty attracting high-end shops.

In 2012, Tiffany added 28 stores, bringing its total to 275, but most of the growth was abroad: There were 13 in the Americas, eight in Asia, five in the United Arab Emirates and two in Europe. In recent years, the company has opted for smaller stores in the United States, “which have contributed to higher store productivity,” according to public filings. Sales in the Americas were up 2 percent, based on higher prices but fewer items sold, but increased more quickly in other markets, including Japan.

“When they did a search and saw the site online, they loved the building, they loved K Street and Connecticut Avenue, but Tiffany does not want to be across the street from Dress Barn,” said Keith Sellars, president and chief executive of the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, a District-backed economic development group. (Dress Barn operates across the street; calls to store officials were not returned.)

“I cannot blame them,” he said. “They have to protect their brand.”

Sellars and others think that Tiffany will open a store in the District, but in the meantime, Washington is far from bereft of fine jewelers. Just up Connecticut Avenue from the Citibank branch, Tiny Jewel Box has been a go-to place for fine jewelery for 82 years. Owner Jim Rosenheim said he had the best first quarter in the company’s history this year. When he heard of Tiffany’s interest last year, he said he didn’t fear the competition at all — quite the opposite.

“If Tiffany’s wanted to move next door to me, I’d be thrilled,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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