Post #201: A survey of Vienna retail.

Posted on March 19, 2019

The Historic Mattress District is my son’s name for Maple Avenue just west of the Sunoco (Maple and Center, see map below).  For his entire life, there has always been a mattress store in that space. Not the same mattress store.  Just some mattress store.  At this point, I’d guess three, maybe four different mattress stores.

In its glory days, the Historic Mattress District also had a mattress store directly across the street.  But I fear those heady days are gone forever.  The sole survivor no longer even has a name — Google simply labels it “Mattress Firm Vienna“.  And that’s what it is —  it’s the current occupant of the location that must, by long-standing Vienna tradition, remain a mattress store.

I’m actually going somewhere useful with this.

What’s the point?

The point is, contrary to popular myth, there are only three mattress stores on Maple.  But we actually do have 14 banks currently open for business.  I know that because I just did a quick-and-dirty census of all the retail establishments on Maple.

I need to do a little legwork to clean that up (at which point I will post the detail).  So the numbers may change a bit between this and the final version.  But I certainly have enough accuracy at this point to say that I have taken the pulse of Vienna as evidenced by its retail.

We are a well-fed, well-groomed, and weirdly well-massaged populace, based on our Maple Avenue shops.

My wife has forbidden me from making massage parlor jokes, because, apparently, these are upscale “spa” massage places, not wink-wink “massage” places.  Although — not that I have any personal knowledge of this — we did have one of those at one point. (And if you read the details of that, it’s not the least bit funny.  So, no jokes.)

The serious point here is that if we are going to force-feed new retail space onto Maple using MAC zoning, then … shouldn’t we have some vague idea of what, exactly, we are trying to do?

For example, our 46 restaurants per 10,000 residents, if taken at face value, puts us well above every major metropolitan area in the US.  Based on that source, we have twice as many restaurants per 10,000 residents as San Francisco does. 

(That graphic from the prior link is from this website, and shows restaurants per 10,000).  A word of warning:  there is wide disagreement across sources on restaurants-per-capita, for a variety of reasons.  Take that comparison with a grain of salt.  Also, for the Vienna figure, I haven’t even counted restaurants not located on Maple. )\

And yet … MAC is adding more.  Every building (except the proposed Sunrise facility) has restaurant space on the ground floor.  Is that sensible?  I have no clue.  And, more to the point, neither does the Town of Vienna.

I mean, if they aren’t careful, they risk destroying our Historic Mattress District.  Just think about that for a while.

To bring this to a close, I’ll recap how I got here.

In an earlier post, I did a quick census of retail on Maple avenue to show that our retail vacancy rate was not excessive.  This was in response to individuals who assert (without evidence) that Vienna retail is in trouble and must be rescued by MAC zoning.

You would need to read that page cited above to know the full detail behind these numbers.  For example, any property that is clearly in the process of transitioning from one use to another under current zoning (e.g., Taco Bell –> Starbucks) was not counted as vacant.  This also does not include vacant office space.  But, for sure, this is enough to say that our retail vacancy rate is similar to that of (e.g.) the roughly 4.5% Falls Church retail vacancy rate.

This is relevant to MAC, because MAC requires builders to put in retail space on the first floor of these new high-density housing blocks.  They have already penciled in as much brand-new retail as exists in the two small shopping centers on the west end of Maple.

That’s a lot of new space, given that MAC is just getting warmed up.  So it’s a fair question to start asking, what are they going to fill that space with?  And toward that end, I decided to find some census of the retail establishments already on Maple.

Oddly, I could not find a good ready-made census of businesses on Maple.  The local business association has a list, but it looks like it is only a list of members — not good enough to do a Census.  I briefly looked at business mailing lists, and may yet buy one, but business turn over regularly on Maple, and those tend to be out-of-date.  So, for this pass, I just eyeballed it, courtesy of the somewhat-out-of-date information you can get via Google Street View.  Modified by all the changes that I know to have occurred since then.

So, it’s down to legwork, to validate the current quick-and-dirty census.

FWIW:  My estimates are “forward looking” in the sense that if a building or lot has been spoken for, and we know what’s going to go there, I count the new enterprise.  So, e.g., I count the coming Wawa, I count the dead gas station at Maple and Park as a combination gas station/convenience store, I count the Starbucks drive-through (where Taco Bell used to be), and so on.

I’m still cleaning that (as in, I have to walk behind some buildings to validate what’s located there).  It has been an odd exercise.  For example, what I thought was Potomac “River Runners” (like, kayak rental?) now appears to be “Potomac River” Runners (a running shoe and related goods store).   So I am still fixing my mistakes.  But at this point, for sure, I can tell you that we have a lot of restaurants.  And hair salons.  And places where you can get a massage.