“Every day I am grateful for my commute,” said Chovanec, who can leave her apartment shortly before she is due at work and still have time to grab breakfast on the way. She can also up pick up groceries and run other errands without driving.
“We essentially don’t use our car all week,” she said. “We sometimes wonder if we need it.”
Chovanec’s penchant for walkability isn’t unusual. It’s what draws many residents to this three-block strip off Interstate 395, southwest of the Pentagon.
It hasn’t always been that way. Fifteen years ago, Shirlington was a mostly deserted shopping center kept barely alive by a few good restaurants, a movie house specializing in independent films and a now-defunct catalogue retailer. Despite the seemingly ideal location at the mouth of a major highway, many businesses were put off by the absence of steady foot traffic. Those that did open tended to shutter quickly.
Things began to change in 2000 when Arlington reached an agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust to reinvent the shopping center and turn it into a neighborhood where people could live, work and find entertainment without getting into their cars. Today, Shirlington Village’s approximately 2,000 residents live in five rental buildings and one 11-story condo building.
To help lure visitors, Arlington officials aggressively wooed the Signature Theatre. With financial help from the county, Signature reopened in Shirlington Village in January 2007 alongside a new, state-of-the-art public library.
Irma Wheeler, who opened her hair salon, Illusions, in Shirlington in the early 1990s when many of the neighboring storefronts were empty, says she always believed the once-struggling downtown could be more than it once was. Today she delights in the diversity of businesses nearby and urges her clients to do the same.
“If I’m running late, I say, go get a massage. Go check out the olive oil place,” she said.
Her biggest complaint — inadequate customer parking — stems from the area’s success, and she has asked her landlord to be less aggressive about towing.
But her own parking hassles are over. Following the advice of her sister, a real estate agent, she bought a condo in the high-rise six years ago. When her car was totaled this year, she didn’t replace it. “Everything I need is here,” she said.
“Shirlington is to me a nearly ideal urban community,” said Raymond A. Warren, Arlington’s deputy commissioner of revenue, who moved into a top-floor two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Shirlington Village with his partner, Tom Bond, shortly after the building was completed in 2005.