Downtown Falls Church: Staying the Same in the Midst of Change

by Amanda Abrams

The commercial stretch in downtown Falls Church

With its homey vibe and simple strip of low-key shops and restaurants, downtown Falls Church is a bit of an anomaly in a Northern Virginia that’s busy reinventing itself. To the casual visitor, the town’s relatively low density and lack of glittering amenities might seem like a waste of prime space close to two Metro stations. But Falls Church residents say they’re generally happy with the town as it is.

A Little Bit of Mayberry

While much of Northern Virginia is dominated by Arlington and Fairfax counties, Falls Church stands alone, a small municipality that doesn’t belong to either county. The downtown area is roughly bounded by West Street to the northwest, Park Avenue to the northeast, Washington Street to the southeast, and a creek that runs southeast through Cavalier Trail Park.

The southeastern section of the downtown strip has a Mayberry quality to it, featuring a string of shops whose facades don’t appear to have been renovated in decades. The northwestern section, in contrast, boasts several tall new condo buildings that include ground floor retail.

Housing? How Much Do You Want to Spend?

Housing in downtown Falls Church is quite varied. The southwest section is dominated by Winter Hill, a large, winding townhouse development built several decades ago where a two-bedroom might cost between $275,000 and $350,000. Condos in the area’s newer buildings are distinctly more expensive. A two-bedroom at The Spectrum, for example, starts at $425,000, according to Mark Franceski of marketing and research firm McWilliams | Ballard, but units there can go up to $700,000.

Mini-mansion in downtown Falls Church

There are a smattering of single-family homes off Park Street in the northeast of the area. Prices on these vary considerably; a small rambler on a nice lot could sell for $450,000, while an almost-new mini-mansion might go for over $1 million.

Because downtown includes few single-family homes, it’s not really the place for families. Most of the residents are young professionals, either single or married, who work in the District or elsewhere in northern Virginia. The area also has its fair share of empty nesters, retirees, and loyal longtime Falls Church residents. While it’s far less diverse, both economically and ethnically, than DC, there is more variety than one might find in McLean or Bethesda. The area is a very safe one that includes several parks with climbing equipment, a public library, and a Saturday morning farmers market. On holidays, the city sponsors events like a July 4th parade that runs along Broad Street, the area’s main drag.

The Spectrum

Personality in Spades

Downtown Falls Church’s commercial sector doesn’t come across as being particularly impressive at first, but a closer inspection of the small strip of shops that lie just west of Washington Street reveals a number of locally-owned businesses with character: Brown’s Hardware, The Local Market produce store, and Natalia’s Elegant Creations bakery, to name a few.

There’s also a range of ethnic eateries—Vietnamese, Japanese, Bolivian, Afghan, Thai, and Indian—plus a number of bars like Ireland’s Four Provinces and the Mad Fox Brewing Company that have a good dose of personality. To boot, the State Theater books a range of bands, and an old school bowling alley is located just off Broad Street. For those seeking a wider (and glitzier) range of offerings, Tyson’s Corner is only five miles away.

Changes on the Horizon

While the area has a timeless quality to it, things are slated to change a bit in the next few years. The condo buildings to the northwest brought a bit of Clarendon-ness to Falls Church, and a yet-to-come development to the southeast should add a little more of that. City Center South, a nine-acre project led by Atlantic Realty, was planned and approved by Falls Church residents back in 2008, but it halted in the face of the economic downturn. Now it appears to be back on track.

Future site of City Center South

Making use of a couple of large parking lots on the west side of Broad Street near the intersection with Washington Street, the one million square-foot mixed-use project will be completed in two phases. The first phase will result in a large office building (plus ground floor retail), a hotel, a retirement community, and a revamped bowling alley. The second phase will include a Harris Teeter, more retail, and over 400 apartments.

Is this good news? After all, many Falls Church residents seem to like their downtown just like it is. “I like the idea,” said Laurin Penland, a 29 year-old resident. “I’d love more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development.”

NoVa Means Traffic

Downtown Falls Church cannot escape an issue that affects pretty much all of Northern Virginia: traffic. Just about everyone UrbanTurf spoke with agreed that rush hour in the area—no matter where a driver is coming from or going to—can be pretty nasty.

Still, the area is relatively well-located for anyone heading elsewhere in Virginia or even into the District, and several residents stressed that the location is one of the biggest advantages of living there. I-66 is very close, and the Beltway and some of the area’s busiest smaller highways, like Route 50, are also nearby.

And then, there’s the Metro. The West Falls Church station and the East Falls Church station—both on the Orange Line—are about two miles and one mile away, respectively. “My partner works in the city,” said Penland, “and it’s about 30 minutes on the Metro. You can’t do much better than that.”

The Bottom Line

Next to shiny, bustling neighboring communities like Tyson’s Corner or Clarendon, Falls Church feels like a bit of an anachronism. But residents, it turns out, like the fact that their local establishments have some flavor. The area’s about to get a bit of an upgrade, and the hope is that the area will retain most of the charm that its reputation is built on.

  • Zip Code: 22046
  • Schools: Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, George Mason High School
  • Downtown Falls Church real estate data from Redfin
  • Downtown Falls Church rental data from Craigslist

See other articles related to: hoods, falls church, downtown falls church

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/downtown_falls_church_staying_the_same/4552


  1. David Kinney said at 11:28 am on Friday November 11, 2011:

    East Falls Church and West Falls Church metro stops are not on the blue line, just the orange line.

  1. Mark Wellborn said at 11:31 am on Friday November 11, 2011:


    Correction made.


    Mark Wellborn

  1. ST said at 2:58 pm on Friday November 11, 2011:

    It’s “Natalia’s” and not “Natalie’s.” Don’t forget about Pizzeria Orso! Delicious!

  1. Jennifer Kay said at 4:33 pm on Saturday November 12, 2011:

    It’s funny…Looking at the pictures of downtown Falls Church is near astounding. I can remember traveling up the main street through it to get to Tysons to work in the early ‘90’s and it was just blah.

    Now it’s ringin’, singin’, jazzin’ and hoppin’.

  1. Kitty said at 11:13 pm on Monday March 5, 2012:

    I grew up in Falls Church.  We referred to it, back in the 80s, as BOFC, or Boring Old Falls Church.  Now we can’t get back there fast enough.  It’s a perfect Little City and ideal for work in DC, life in a beautiful, leafy small town.

  1. JohnS said at 12:14 pm on Monday September 15, 2014:

    When the City allowed the removal of many of the things that used to draw people into their City many quit using the City. The Duck pin Bowling Alley, the Red Lobster and such. Then they put in ugly buildings and did away with free parking. Putting a hotel very near a school and other odd and strange changes. They did not want the Metro train in town and now wishes that they had it. That is why it runs outside of town. Even now they want to allow redevelopment that does not fit with existing developments. Much like Atlantic City and it Casinos. Next is the cheap 1 bedroom or less condos, no one wants that except the low income people and they will over crowd each unit with friends to meet the rents. The City does not think in the box and surely don’t use good judgment in their plans for redevelopment. They call it in fill, except that they tear down to fill in. They remove what had been the draw and then try to make a new draw. Plus they are not a stand alone City, they have Arlington County Judges.

  1. JohnS said at 12:17 pm on Monday September 15, 2014:

    Falls Church is a bit of an anomaly in a Northern Virginia that’s busy reinventing itself.
    Yeah right no difference than Vienna or Mclean.

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