Post #208: Maple Avenue retail, goods versus services

Posted on March 24, 2019

I did a rough survey of Maple Avenue retail, just a quick count of establishments by type, following up on my prior estimate of the retail vacancy rate.  The mix of Maple Avenue retail was mentioned at the Town’s 3/20/2019 joint work session, with the basic idea being that service-oriented retail is required to make retail work in Vienna.

In this brief posting, I’m going to give my characterization of Vienna retail.  I don’t think a simple goods-versus-service cut is adequate to understand what we have now.

As of now, my survey of retail a) has a few errors, b) is just a count of establishments with no indication of size, and c) is “forward-looking”, in that I already factor in properties that are known to be in transition under our normal commercial zoning.  (So, e.g., I count the drive-through Starbucks that will replace the former Taco Bell.)  The categorization of restaurants is obviously somewhat subjective, as the line between “fast casual” and other restaurants is not clear.

As I read through the table below, with one significant exception, I don’t see a lot of vulnerability of Maple Avenue retail to internet-based providers.   Let me divide the discussion into service providers, restaurants, and sellers of goods.

Service providers dominate the count of businesses on Maple (bottom line, table at end of this post).  With one significant exception, these do not appear subject to tough internet-based competition.

To me, the sole major segment of service providers that seems vulnerable to internet competition is banks.  It’s not merely that consolidation in the banking industry left Vienna with two of some banks (e.g., two Suntrust banks, and formerly, two BB&T banks, one now closed.)  It’s that large bank buildings with plentiful surface parking are relics.  In Vienna, depending on their age, our banks are a mix of different eras of obsolescence:  pre-mobile-deposit, pre-internet, or pre-ATM.

To see the future of banks, step into the Capital One bank in Pan Am shopping center. You’ll instantly sense that something is missing.  It may take you a while to figure out that the bank has no cashiers.    They have a couple of people at desks, some safety deposit boxes, a couple of ATMs, a blank wall where the cashiers used to be, and a lot of empty space.

To see what banks once were, look at the magnificent dinosaur that is the Suntrust building on the east end of Maple.  Built in 1961, it features a huge parking lot (for the Saturday-morning rush that no longer occurs), vast amounts of office space (for the back-office operations that no longer exist), and a front facade with a 60’s take on the pillars that were de rigeur for banks of that era.  I wonder if the big porte-cochere in the side was the employee smoking area on rainy days, because it was built in an era when more-or-less everybody smoked.


My guess is, the whole thing could be replaced by two ATMs, a drive-up teller, and a couple of offices.  Just like the Capital One at Pan Am.

Our 76 restaurants are split more-or-less equally between what I would term traditional restaurants (all other, below), and various types of specialty restaurants.  Not much to say there, other than there is little “fine dining” on Maple.  More or less, we run the gamut from casual to fast casual.

Finally, for goods retail (top of the page), dollar-weighted, I think that most of the good retail in town is in areas that are fairly robust to internet challenge.  Food, drugs, gasoline, beer and wine account for a large share of goods retail.  Of those, only drug stores face significant internet competition.  But below that tier is a large number of (typically) small retail goods locations that likely do face significant internet competition. 

Finally, what I have been struck with, for the years that I have lived here, is how stable the major components of our retail scene are. Not necessarily in the individual stores, but in the mix.  When I first moved here, we had three grocery stores.  And now, we have three grocery stores, of which Giant is the only one spanning the entire era.  I’ve seen the aftermath of three hardware store failures (Lowes, Southern States, Stalcup), suggesting that we can’t support even one hardware store.  We had, as I recall, two drugstores when I moved here (People’s Drug, Rexall), briefly had four, and now we have three.  We once had three 7-11s, now two, and we’re slated to get two large convenience stores (Wawa, dead gas station).  Which I why I think at least one of those is not going to succeed.  We seem to have a dry cleaner on just about every block of Maple, mostly on the south side.  Hair salons and barber shops, we have on every block, times two.  There has been significant turnover in restaurants since I moved here, but we have ended up with more restaurants per capita than any major metro area in the US, by a factor of two.

Used to have a Baskin-Robbins.  Now we have a Ben and Jerry’s.  It’s a circle-of-life kind of thing.

And yet, with MAC, we’ve already penciled in new commercial space that equals all the retail in the two small shopping centers on the West end of town (Jades and Vienna Plaza).   Once you start eliminating whole classes of goods and service stores as candidates to fill that — it’s just hard for me to imagine what’s going go there.


Category Count
01: Grocery:  General 3
02: Drug store 3
03: Gasoline 5
04: Convenience store 5
05: Wine and beer 3
06: Grocery:  Specialty 6
07: Jewelry and precious metals 4
08: Mobile phone 4
09: Mattress store 3
10: Home furnishings, art excl mattress 3
11: Pet, animal supplies 3
12: Clothing, shoes 5
13: Tobacco and vape 3
99:  All other 28
Subtotal, Goods 78
1: Coffee shop 7
2: Dessert shop 10
3:  Fast Food 4
4: Pizza 6
5: Sub or sandwich shop 3
6: Fast casual 10
7:  All other 36
Subtotal, restaurant 76
01: Medical and Dental 48
02: Hair, barber, skin, nails, etc. 25
03: Spa and massage 12
04: Exercise, yoga 3
05: Education, lessons, test prep 7
11: Car service, wash 6
12: Dry cleaner 9
13: Home remodeling and repair 10
14: Pets and animals 5
21: Bank 14
22: Insurance 4
23: Real estate 8
24: Tax, acing, financial 6
31: Shipping 3
99: Other 21
Subtotal, services 181