After years of selling shoes and accessories at department stores, Sarah Jessica Parker announced this week that she is opening her first stand-alone boutique, a shoe-centric shop with $240 heels and $695 handbags.
But the location — inside a casino in Prince George’s County, on the outskirts of Washington — has left some, like market researcher Pam Danziger, stumped.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Danziger, whose work focuses on affluent consumers.
Why not New York? she wondered. The city has become synonymous with Parker since her run as the star of “Sex and the City.” Even a dozen years after its airing, the show remains so popular that people still line up to take tours of the characters’ hot spots around town. Parker herself lives in the West Village.
“It is a bit surprising,” said Michael Isen, senior vice president at NAI Michael, a commercial real estate brokerage in Lanham. “That someone like Sarah Jessica Parker wants to open their first store in Prince George’s County speaks volumes.”
The SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker store, which debuts next week at the MGM National Harbor, will open alongside restaurants by prominent chefs including José Andrés and Marcus Samuelsson. The property will also have a 125,000-square-foot casino, a spa and salon, and 308 hotel rooms.
“I’m sure it boils down to: MGM just made an incredibly good deal,” Danziger said. “She’s getting prime real estate with the potential for a lot of traffic, likely for very little money.”
To understand why Parker might have ended up in Prince George’s County, Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute says it makes sense to look at the state of the retail industry. Luxury retailers, from Burberry to Prada, are struggling to get people into their stores. Spending is down, and traffic to high-end shops has slipped 20 percent.
“In short, there is a crisis sweeping the premium and luxury retail market today,” Pedraza said. “So why not go out on a limb and do something paradoxical? Consumers are tired of the same old, same old.”
There are, he said, a number of factors in Parker’s favor: The Washington suburbs are home to six of the country’s 10 wealthiest counties. And the casino, which opens Thursday, is likely to draw large crowds of locals, as well as tourists, looking for glitz and glamour.
“She will have a high-end, captive audience that is looking to splurge,” Isen said.
To be sure, Parker isn’t the first to open an inaugural store in the outskirts of Washington. A number of big-name companies, including Apple and Spanx, opened their first local retail stores outside of the District. (Both chose locations at the Tysons Corner Center shopping mall.)
It isn’t uncommon for retailers to test the waters in a lesser-known suburban market before opening up in a more-visible location such as New York or Los Angeles, says Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst for market research firm NPD Group.
“If it doesn’t work, very few people will notice,” he said. “You can just close up and move on and nobody is the wiser.”