Does Ross & Marshall’s @ DC USA = Low-Rent Columbia Heights?

DC USA Construction

Over on the Columbia Heights listserv there is a flame-tastic email exchange going on over the revelation that the DC USA retail center might be leasing space to Ross Dress for Less now that Whole Foods has pulled out.

That somehow the addition of Ross to a retail mix that includes Target and Marshall’s, both discount retail chains, will bring down the mall and the neighbourhood.

Or in RJ Mauch’s words:

I think most people would prefer NOT to see Ross and Marshals. We need that like we need another damn CVS in this city. Enough unless you’re interested in experiencing a Silver Spring City Place disaster, because that is where this headed with all this dumping of low-end retail junk.

The fine citizen of Columbia Heights want DC USA, the multi-million dollar retail extravaganza in the center of their community to be uplifting and diverse as it was in the past. Or as Adam Aaronson says:

The issue is that we are getting retail that isn’t best suited for the neighborhood, and that much of it is redundant – all the banks, all the drycleaners, etc etc. Marshalls and Ross are the same store. I’m sure if Safeway or Harris Teeter opened up across the street from the Giant, the uproar would be the same.

But would it? Could this really be an issue of class? Of the socio-economic desires of a “transitional” neighbourhood to have a Logan Circle effect with DC USA? A transformation of image (and residents) from working class to high class through retail establishments? I think I have to agree with batboy8686’s conclusion:

The debate about Ross Dress for Less in Columbia Heights REALLY comes down to peeps thinking they could make 10% annually on a real estate investment.

You have a Starbucks. You have some condos that have presumably sold. The anti-Ross campaign really comes down to people thinking they were going to move to Logan Circle – no more, no “less”.

And yet I think Columbia Heights should not be ashamed of this hope, this desire to increase property values through an increase in the demographic target market of DC USA’s stores. As Adam Aaronson continues,

First of all, anyone buying property is always in it to make money. That’s why you buy in the first place. Whether they want to sell in 2 years or twenty. Assuming you own a property, don’t you want to pull a profit?

Yes, Adam, I sure do. While I am not in Columbia Heights exactly, Petworth would love to have the third Logan Circle effect in DC with a revitalized Georgia Avenue, and we’ll take a high-rent DC USA in the mean time. Yet everyone directly involved, and the commenters that are itching to jump in, needs to remember Richard Layman’s advice:

In a similar thread months back I suggested someone organize a workshop in your neighborhood featuring Carol Felix and the other people who successfully recruited Whole Foods to 14th Street. It wasn’t letters and calls that made the difference, but a solid business case.

I am not a big fan of letter writing campaigns, as I’ve written before. To repeat, it’s the business case that makes the difference.

That it sure does. And that’s why CH residents should prepare for Ross, not Ralph Lauren, despite their (and my) dreams.

16 Comments so far

  1. Brian (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 11:11 am

    When I first moved to DC about 11 years ago, I lived in Mt. Pleasant. It was said even then “There’s a Target coming to where the soccer field is, any day now.” Since then I moved to the Alexandria burbs, surrounded by retail and then back to the District in Logan Circle and now back in Mt. Pleasant for the past few years.

    I’m on the anti-DC USA side, I don’t feel that the neighborhood is enriched by a strip mall of stores that the area doesn’t really need. Sure it would be nice to have a Starbucks near the metro (since that’s just become part of daily life) but we have a great grocery store, plenty of nearby places to eat new and old, that seemed to be enough. My co-workers keep asking if I’m pleased about the upcoming shopping center and are always surprised when the answer is no.

    I’m not a native, but living in the Mt Pleasant/Columbia Heights area for so long, I don’t think it needs a strip mall. I’ve been able to find all that I need while living in DC without needing it to be a block from my front door. I *like* traveling around the city to run errands. I can’t imagine living in a condo that’s right across the street from a Best Buy or a Target, that’s just disgusting: “Do you have a nice view in your new place? — Sure, you can maybe make out the Basilica just beyond the big glowing red Target sign.”

    I can’t even understand the Whole Foods thing, considering so many of the new residents have cars, is it really so difficult to head down to P Street by car or bus? This “world on my doorstep” attitude just smacks too much of entitlement.

  2. dcguy (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

    “This “world on my doorstep” attitude just smacks too much of entitlement.”

    or just the history of healthy cities around the world…..
    there was an urban life pre 1960’s you know.

  3. Jenn L (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 2:36 pm

    Ugh. I just hate development in this city. Always the hat in hand, begging for big retail, allowing them to promise the moon, bulldoze historic buildings, build ugly boxes, and then, the realization it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, a deal with the devil, and the hangover hits.

    Big box retail doesn’t care what residents need or want. They care about the bottom $$. Want retail that cares? Allow it to grow organically. Look at 14th or 9th right now. Small biz stores, bars, restaurants, all cropping up because that’s what people in those neighborhoods want. Not Target, Ross, BB&B, etc. I’ll take Home Rule or Go Mama Go over Pier One anyday.

    Anyway, this is fascinating stuff to me so thanks Wayan for posting about life in your new ‘hood!

  4. Wayan (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

    I love that we are getting some big box stores. For as much as I love me mom & pops, the reality of America is that there are whole segments of supplies that can only be found in mass market retailers.

    I want me a Target for the basics, like socks and such, as well as for odd items like closet organizers that no one on U Street sells.

    But I don’t want Marshals or Ross as both are deep/cheap discounters that are not gonna bring decent follow-on retailers as they cater to people at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum.

    Better to have those spaces cut into smaller, local stores that can grow off a Target base of shoppers. First hope for me: a fish-supplied pet store

  5. jeff (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 7:24 pm

    Its not like the big box stores aren’t already accessible. Most, if not all, of these stores can be found at PG Plaza. Its only a short metro ride away folks….like 3 stops even!

  6. otavio_dc (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

    Hey, I see that you’ve linked to my photo on Flickr! Nice!

    Well, Columbia Heights is a diverse neighbourhood, economically and racially. I can absolutely see a need for a Target. People need to buy socks, hangers, shower curtains, shoe organizers, etc without having to go to to the suburbs to be able to do so. I don’t know many specialty retailers where you can get the basics in this city. We can start thinking of DC as our place to live, shop, and play. For a long time, people just settled with the notion that would just have to drive out to the burbs for groceries, to go buy their TVs or telephone or a video game for you kid (or you), and other basic items. Now, is the time for DC to enjoy the same. Retail is part, not the only, of what makes the suburbs attractive. And, yes……. stores like Target, Best Buy, Bed, Bath and Beyond contribute to that.

    It would be nice if more neighbourhoods could be kept diverse. There are tons of people currently living in Columbia Heights and close-in neighbourhoods that could use and will be using the services of a Best Buy, a Marshalls, a Bed, Bath and Beyond, and a Target. No doubt about it.

    And, DC USA is not a suburban-style mall. It is integrated into the urban fabric with most entrances to be accessed from the street. yes, you will find these types of stores in the suburbs, but the configuration of DC USA is not suburban.

    If you can’t find exactly what you want in DC USA, you are free to hop on the subway or drive to another neighbourhood in DC to get it. U Street is right down the street. You are already on 14th street. Adams Morgan has some specialty retail. et cetera.

    Everyone is not pleased with a Marshalls or Ross, but I can guarantee you that some currently in the neigbouhood will be pleased, and some will be shopping there. That is an almost certainty.

    I guess this place will have to open before more people realise this.

    And, lastly, it is nice to be able to make a profit on a condo or a house. But, have we gotten away from the idea of our primary residence being your permanent residence first and investment second. Or, do you think more people are out to make a quick buck and then leave.

    I for one was born and raised in DC, and when I buy more place, it will be the place that I will see myself in for a long, long time. A need may arise when I may want to sell and move on, but that is not going to be the first thing on my mind when I decide to buy a place.

    I want more people to become permanent residents of DC for themselves and their families. We need you to be a part of these neigbouhoods with a somewhat sense of longevity and dedication in order to see a continued turnaround in DC services and sustainability.

    I know money is important. But, money is not everything. We need you to make a commitment to be a part of the solution, and your higher standards will continue to cause DC Government services to improve.

    40 percent of DC residents were born in DC. Let’s make that number even higher. And, let’s continue to sustain a mixed-income neighbourhood like it is today.


  7. otavio_dc (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

    But, I don’t want to go to PG Plaza to shop for this stuff. The city is pushing this type of development from an economic standpoint as well as for people to be able to buy their TVs, phones, socks, and shower curtains in the City.

    The economic sustainability of the City is at stake. More retail tax revenue that stays in the city or comes into the City, the better. Space is limited. DC has an underserved retail market. It is a statistical fact. Keeping revenue producers out of the City because you think it is ok to drive out to the suburbs or take the subway out to the surburbs is not the answer!

    And, if you’d like to discover a little more specialty retail (Independent) shopping in DC, their is a nice book out called “Unique Places in DC: An Insider’s Guide to Shopping the District’s Indie-Boutiques” by Crown Guides. You can pick one of these up at any of the indepedent book stores in DC like Olsons or at the bookstore located in Busboys and Poets on 14th Street. It is a nice, handy guide.

  8. Adam (unregistered) on July 10th, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

    Hey! The quote noted as RJ Mauch’s second quote was mine, not his.

    Anyway, fine, we won’t get high end retail. We’re not G-town (yet, if ever). But still, there is no thought being put into the selection of stores coming in. I already mentioned the drycleaners (3 in two blocks) and the banks (5 in three blocks). Then there’s the cell phone stores, garbage fast food, etc etc. I know that the developers simply want tenants that pay rent, but please – how about looking to create a great development? 500K sq ft filled with Foot Locker, Lane Bryant, Mattress Discounters, etc etc? Is that the legacy this developer wants? I should hope not…

  9. Wayan (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 12:57 am

    Changed the quote, sorry about that.

    I too did not buy in DC to make a quick buck, I am here for the long haul. But rising property values are good for everyone involved, no matter when you are going to sell. Increasing values are the best signal that a neighbourhood is desirable and give pride (and equity) to owners, incentivising them to take care of their community.

    Also, please don’t have a DC residents need to be DC-by-birth mentality. The very vibrancy of our city requires a constant influx of new blood, like me! And we are the ones pushing to change the shopping mix from dry cleaners & liquior stores to Target and the Bling Bling Giant.

  10. sara o. (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 10:37 am

    I love me a bargain store but… Ross just sucks dude.

    I can’t imagine why ANYONE would want to shop there. Crappy department store clothes at prices they should have originally been sold at. Every Ross I have ever been to was just aisles of disorganized crap. Who wants that in their neighborhood?

  11. dcres (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 11:44 am

    I agree. I’m fine with Marshalls/TJ Max/Loehmans/etc. Two of the three are in Friendship Heights. There’s obviouly a market for such stores, but Ross is awful. They might has well put a Gabriel Brothers in (subtle shout out to Western PA).

  12. Tiff (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

    OMG, DCRES, you did not really just invoke “Gabriel Brothers” in this conversation. LOL. Now there’s some memories… A little unfair to Ross, perhaps. They’ve never tried to sell me a dress with a big chunk cut out of the hem.

  13. dcres (unregistered) on July 11th, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

    OK. I’ll grant the Ross probably won’t be selling me a shirt with 3 sleeves, but it’s only a small step up.

  14. otavio_dc (unregistered) on July 12th, 2007 @ 3:58 am

    Hey Wayan,

    It’s nice that you’re here for the long haul. I welcome others to be here for the long haul.

    i like vibrancy, and I like different types of people living in one area.

    I know everyone can’t be a native Washingotnian, but it sure sounds nice to keep adding more to the pot!

    Has Ross even been officially announced yet as a tenant in DC USA? Or is this rumour?

    And, what does “Bling Bling Giant” mean? hehe

  15. Phil (unregistered) on July 12th, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

    What’s the big deal about Ross? I mean, it’s obviously not unique clothing to define you, but they have some decent clothes (and other stuff too). Granted, it is a little bit ridiculous to think people would want to spend their hard-earned money on something else besides clothes (especially given the rising rent costs in the District).

    By the way, Old Town has a Ross. They seem to be doing okay.

  16. Wayan (unregistered) on July 14th, 2007 @ 6:54 am


    Thanks for the welcome, I am all for being local – someone who integrates themselves with their community, no matter if they’ve been here a year or a generation. If people didn’t move, it would be a boring town full of those you wish would leave. Wait, that’s Baltimore.

    And from what I’ve heard, Ross isn’t official. Only the great desire of DC USA to have a full complex as soon as possible, neighbourhood desires be damned.

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