Restaurants, Retail and Residences: What's a Good Fit?

  • December 8th 2011

by Rebecca Cooper

Restaurants, Retail and Residences: What's a Good Fit?: Figure 1
A couple strolls by the Busboy and Poets at CityVista

The explosion of mixed-use buildings in the DC area in recent years has meant that many neighborhoods are no longer lacking for ground-floor, sidewalk fronting retail space. But while residents that live upstairs may rejoice when a new wine bar, coffeehouse or sandwich shop opens below them, it’s not always a guarantee that the new haunt is going to stick around.

Examples abound. Commonwealth below the Highland Park apartments in Columbia Heights closed earlier this year after about a two-year run; Lou’s City Bar has since opened in its place. Mackey’s in The Buchanan apartment building in Crystal City was open for more than five years and had a dedicated following (at least among Minnesota Viking fans on Sundays). It closed in April, and the space now houses Memphis Barbecue.

The restaurant and retail business is historically a risky one, which might be the obvious reason for the demise of some of these places. But presumably if a business sits below a residential project and offers an above-average product, it should be able to survive.

So who’s making it work in the region? Wendy Buckley opened Screwtop wine bar in Clarendon's Zoso Flats building in December 2009 -- right before the first of that winter’s two blizzards. She told UrbanTurf that business has been steadily growing since then, despite having a location that’s off Clarendon’s main drag. Buckley noted that while the walk-in (sit down and have a glass of wine) business is steady, it is the store's retail business on the side that has helped Screwtop become a success. In the most recent quarterly report, retail sales of wine, cheese, and other products accounted for nearly 25 percent of the shop's revenues.

Perhaps the business that has had the most success as a ground-floor tenant for residential projects, however, is Busboys & Poets, which has a number of successful outposts of its restaurant/coffeehouse/bar/performance space/bookstore concept.

Busboys was the flagship tenant in the Langston Lofts at 14th and V streets NW when it opened back in 2005, and has since become a hub for the neighborhood. Owner Andy Shallal has since opened Busboys locations below a residential project at CityVista in Mount Vernon Triangle and at EYA's Arts District Hyattsville.

Restaurants, Retail and Residences: What's a Good Fit?: Figure 2
Inside Screwtop

Busboys’ commitment to the CityVista project is actually what convinced owners of upscale Japanese sushi and izakaya restaurant Kushi to lease space there. When they looked at the building more than a year before Busboys went in, they opted not to open their restaurant there, says owner Ari Kushimoto Norris. A year later, still looking, they revisited the property.

“By that time, Safeway, Busboys & Poets were here,” Norris said. “We knew about them from U Street, and thought, 'maybe it’s something where they see big potential.'”

Very often, one tastemaker can serve as the catalyst for successful retail in new buildings, John Gogos of Papadopoulos Properties who brokered the lease for Kushi and sandwich shop Taylor Gourmet in CityVista, told UrbanTurf.

“Busboys was the pioneer over there,” Gogos said. “You needed them to prove there was pent-up demand, and use sales to show that other restaurants would do well.” Looking around the city, Gogos said that the success of the Boilermaker Shops in the Capitol Riverfront, for example, will be a good indicator of how well other restaurants will do in that area.

While a specific recipe for success is hard to pinpoint, a quality product, good setting and the ability to offer a special experience seem to rank pretty high among places that have become mainstays.

“This sort of experience is not available in DC at the moment,” Norris said of Kushi’s wide-open kitchen, upscale-casual, high quality sushi and robata grill. “We’re hoping that it stays unique so we can draw more people to this location.” Norris believes that the reputation will help beef up the restaurant's weeknight business, and someday, if more offices open up in the area, as is expected, make it a lunch spot as well.

Readers, what do you think is the recipe for success in ground-floor retail, and what are some examples?

Rebecca Cooper is a freelance journalist and avid eater that has contributed to TBD, DCist, and Washingtonian. If you have any tips about restaurant or bars openings or closings, email Rebecca at coopscoop@gmail.com.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/restaurants_and_the_residences_above_whats_a_good_fit/4733.

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