It’s a typical Thursday night in Shirlington, a growing neighborhood in South Arlington. The sound of live jazz fills the air outside Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 703-820-9771). The little round tables that have been set up in the middle of Campbell Avenue in front of the theater begin to fill up quickly, as thirsty patrons line up for their $5 wine tastings from nearby wine and cheese bar Cheesetique (4056 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 703-933-8787).
Behind the makeshift stage where the jazz musicians have set up, children play alongside a water fountain as their mothers sip iced lattes from the Caribou Coffee down the street. The recently remodeled Shirlington Branch Library (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 703-228-6545) has just closed for the day, but bookworms still crowd the bistro tables outside of it, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi or soaking up the last of that day’s sunshine, book in hand.
Jewel Plummer enjoys the music as she sits on a bench outside Johnny Rockets, waiting for a friend to join her and for their “regular” bench to open up. Plummer, who has rented in Shirlington for 10 years, has witnessed its transformation from a suburban ghost town to a pedestrian-friendly, urban oasis.
“When I moved here 10 years ago, none of this was like this,” says Plummer, who rents a condo at the Windgate a few blocks down from the bustling commercial district. “The neighborhood has completely evolved over the years. And it’s still growing.”
Shirlington, which gets its name from its location just off Interstate 395 (also known as Shirley Highway) in Arlington, is just minutes by car from downtown Washington, D.C., or a short bus ride from Pentagon Metro station. About 265,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the commercial core, with I-395 serving as the main north-south artery. It’s bordered by King Street and Four Mile Run Drive.
When Federal Realty Investment Trust purchased the 261,000-square-foot retail property along Campbell Avenue, now officially known as the “Village at Shirlington,” in 1995, there were a few stores sprinkled on the west end, and the AMC Loews Shirlington 7 was showing a variety of indie flicks. But the cafe-culture that makes Shirlington so popular among young professionals today didn’t exist, says John Tschiderer, vice president of development at Federal Realty.
Today, the Village is thriving, with 26 restaurants, bars and coffee shops. You can indulge in some fresh guacamole and a pitcher of margaritas at Guapo’s Restaurant (4028 Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-671-1701), go for classic American cuisine at the Carlyle Grand Cafe (4000 Campbell Ave., Arlington, (703) 931-0777), or get in touch with your more artistic side at Busboys and Poets (4251 South Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-379-9759).
The small-town vibe mixed with big-city convenience is making the area, which once catered to the 30- to 50-year-old demographic, more attractive to the 25- to 34-year-old crowd.
“It’s a popular place for first-time buyers,” says Pat Shannon, a real-estate agent with Long & Foster. “I’d say price is the No. 1 factor.”
A one-bedroom condo in Shirlington costs between $250,000 and $375,000; a two-bedroom ranges from $275,000 to $600,000, she says.
Rachel and Jamie Auslander rented in several different Arlington neighborhoods before purchasing their four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse in the Shirlington Crest development, just around the corner from the commercial corridor. They paid roughly $660,000 for a new luxury townhouse in 2010 but say the same home in almost any other neighborhood would have cost upwards of $1 million.
“We don’t really want to go much farther outside the city than this,” says Jamie Auslander, 33. “You just get a bigger bang for your buck here, and it’s an easy commute.” It takes Auslander, a lawyer, about 40 minutes to get to his downtown D.C. office.
Those who invested in the area early love how their neighborhood has grown. Rita Becker, 68, has lived in Shirlington for 18 years. She purchased her two-bedroom condo on South Walter Reed Drive for around $140,000 before Federal Realty started building up the neighborhood.
“There was no charm, no diversity and really no place to eat when I first purchased,” Becker says.
That’s not the case anymore. Today, she says, her condo, which is located in the Heatherlea complex, is worth between $320,000 and $340,000.
“I see jumping dogs, happy babies, little kids, people exercising and older couples walking,” she says. “It’s a nice mixture.”