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For Falls Church, a Tight Retail Niche

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 24, 2005

The city of Falls Church has a major self-image problem, according to Heather Arnold.

"No one knows what Falls Church retail is today," said Arnold, president of District-based Retail Compass LLC, which was hired by the city to help fashion a plan for the high-density, mixed-use development project known as City Center.

According to the numbers, at least, the quaint-looking, incorporated small city wedged between Arlington and Fairfax Counties should make retailers salivate. Its primary shopping district includes approximately 14,000 households with a median income of $79,149. But there's a big bully down the street, by the name of Tysons Corner Center, the 2.3-million-square-foot shopping mall a few miles to the west on Route 7 that recently expanded with new restaurants, retail stores and a 16-screen movie theater.

"If you were out in the middle of Nebraska, without the sixth-largest shopping center in the country at your doorstep, you would be an incredibly attractive retail market to any tenant in the country," Arnold told a group of about 50 people gathered at George Mason High School on Nov. 15 to hear the consultant's findings.

There's another big problem standing in the way of people getting to know the real Falls Church. The two Falls Church-named Metro stations aren't actually in the city itself: The East Falls Church station is in Arlington County, and the West Falls Church station is in Fairfax County. There are proposals for high-density development around both of those stations, too.

City Center is in the heart of the small city's downtown, at the corner of Broad and Washington streets, which is miles from either station. "If there was a Metro station at City Center, this would be a completely different discussion," Arnold told the audience.

So Falls Church needs to have a slightly different retail development strategy, focusing on niche food markets such as Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's, with specialty retailers who want to be in settings other than big shopping malls. Arnold's statistical analysis showed that Falls Church residents spend as much money dining out as on groceries, so restaurants should be a big part of the mix, too.

The retail consultant fielded questions from concerned residents who asked about how to attract the right retail mix and how to retain the locally owned businesses in the area of City Center.

Arnold had another warning for the close-in suburb, which faces competition as smaller mixed-use developments sprout up in other parts of the Route 7 corridor. "If we keep building mixed-use projects that have retail on the ground floor, every new chunk of retail takes away from the demand potential that exists for City Center. We have to cut that out because if you go that way, it's like death by a thousand cuts," said Arnold.

Web Network Goes for Golf

Chantilly's TV Worldwide Inc., which operates the Web-based global TV network TVWorldwide.com, has announced that it will develop and eventually launch an Internet TV channel featuring live and archived golf events.

"By creating and deploying community-based 'lean-in' interactive content for golf enthusiasts as we've done for our other Internet TV channels, we believe we can effectively compete with conventional broadcast and cable golf offerings," said TVworldwide.com chief executive Dave Gardy in a statement.

Movers and Shakers

John Federman has joined eStara Inc. of Reston, which creates communications products to link buyers and sellers, as its new chief executive. Previously, Federman co-founded Dotomi Inc., a Boston marketing services and technology company, where he served as president and chief executive.


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