More than a year ago, I estimated the retail vacancy rate along Maple Avenue here in Vienna VA. It was, as far as I could tell, no different from the rest of Fairfax County. I also catalogued the variety of retail establishments along Maple (Post #208).
Last Sunday morning, I took a slow drive down Maple to see what had closed since that last survey. And then to determine, as best I could, what has closed along Maple Avenue since the start of the pandemic.
This isn’t perfect, because I can only tell that a places is closed when they take down the signs, paper the windows, or otherwise make it obvious. But absent a more rigorous survey, this is the information you’ve got.
You really need to pay attention when you do one of these, or you’ll get the wrong impression. Several of the small business that I noted as being closed, in this round, had closed well before the pandemic hit. I only noticed them when I started looking. The lesson here is that just because you notice that a business is now closed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it closed due to the pandemic.
What was surprising, to me, was how few business had closed since the start of the pandemic. And many of those were related to nationwide corporate restructuring efforts, and not necessarily to business conditions in Vienna VA.
Maple Avenue businesses that have closed since the start of the U.S. pandemic.
- Pizza Hut (next to James Madison Shell). Permanently closed June 2020, per this article. Not clear why. One of the largest franchisees of Pizza Hut restaurants has gone into Chapter 11 bankruptcy..
- Jersey Mike’s Subs (320 Maple Avenue W). Closed as of July 2020. Not clear why, but the few times I went there, they had no evening business.
- Peet’s coffee. Formerly Caribou Coffee. Closed June 2020. Not clear why they closed. It probably didn’t help that Starbucks moved in two doors down the road.
- Outback Steakhouse (Giant Food shopping center). Closed August 2020. Their lease was up. They had been in that location for 25 years. Plausibly, this might be part of the eventual razing/redevelopment of that shopping center, but there are no new permits listed for that building listed in Fairfax FIDO.
- HSBC bank (Maple and Courthouse). Probably closed in May 2020, based on these Federal documents. Unclear why this branch closed.
- Lofty Salon (Maple Avenue west). Downsized June 2020. Not closed. Large stand-alone building is empty, they moved into a suite in the building next door.
- Moto Photo (former Magruder’s shopping center, Maple and Courthouse). Exact closing date unknown, but they were known to be open as late as February 2020. They had downsized from a stand-alone location across the street in the prior decade.
- Cleaner4less (next to Chick-fil-A-car-wash). Appears to be closed, but no other information is available. Edit: A former customer of theirs told me that they were going to move, not close outright, but it’s not clear where their new location is.
- General Nutrition Center (Giant Food shopping center). Closed June 2020, as part of a nationwide corporate retrenchment by GNC, part of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
- Tuesday Morning (Maple Avenue west). Closed roughly June 2020. Part of a nationwide restructuring due to chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Temporarily closed. This list does not include places that claim to be temporarily closed. For example, the Apple Federal Credit Union is not open. Shin Se Kai Ramen and Sushi is temporarily closed. Amphora Bakery is listed as temporarily closed. And so on. These entities are not open for business, but they are also not out of business.
Closed prior to pandemic. This list also does not include business that were closed prior to the pandemic. Even if I only happened to have noticed that they were closed, in this last close look at Maple.
Preparing for redevelopment. I’m not counting places such as Tequila Grande, regardless of closure date, as they are being closed in preparation for redevelopment.
At some level, I’m surprised at how little has happened along Maple, since the start of the pandemic. After more than half a year, a handful of businesses have closed permanently. That seems to be a little higher than the normal rate of turnover, but not hugely so. But so far, the pandemic has not forced a lot of Maple Avenue merchants out of business.
The unanswered question is the level of quiet desperation on Maple Avenue. How much rent is going unpaid, how much property tax is in arrears, and so on. After all, it would be hard for a landlord to get a new tenant for a commercial space, right now. A lack of evictions doesn’t necessarily mean that the rent is being paid in full. It might just mean that the landlords have no better option, right now.
We have no way of knowing whether the outright closures are the sum total of economic hardship, or whether they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Notably absent here was any obvious impact, so far, on the medical sector. Referring back to my original survey, we have a lot of medical care services along Maple. And, to a close approximation, those all appear to remain in business.
I would guess that the real concern now has to focus on the restaurant trade. As the weather cools, they will soon begin losing customers in their outdoor dining areas. That will be the subject of a separate post.