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Washington D.C.: The Capitol of Retail Trends

By Garrick Brown, Vice President of Retail Research, Americas

Washington-DC-Skyline-PhotoFueled by a surge of population growth that has been overwhelmingly driven by the millennial demographic, Washington D.C.’s urban retail scene has evolved over the past decade from that of a few isolated pockets surrounded by urban blight to one of an emerging renaissance where high street meets cool street meets eat street.

The District is now a microcosm of all of the major trends that are shaping urban retail in the United States today;

  • An explosion of food and beverage related retail from small format groceries and trendy food halls to upscale and fast casual dining
  • The expansion of upscale and luxury retailers into new and emerging shopping districts
  • The rise of edgy, cool retail in hip new districts that have emerged in diverse, up and coming neighborhoods                       

All this, while still luring Main Street national credit retailers looking to find a place in the new Washington D.C. In our latest regional retail publication, Washington D.C.: The Capitol of Retail Trends, we dive deep into how millennial consumers are shaping the District’s neighborhoods.

A recent Nielsen report found that the markets where millennials are most highly concentrated tend to combine the urban experience with a rich cultural, arts and music scene. Washington, D.C. featured prominently in the report, ranked sixth nationally in terms of major U.S. cities when it comes to the concentration of millennials, and was among the few top markets not found in the Western U.S. The report goes on to conclude that, for the first time since the 1920’s, growth in U.S. cities outpaced growth outside of them. This embrace of urban living has had a demonstrably clear impact on the District in the post-Recession era. It’s transformed neighborhoods and it has revitalized the urban landscape of Washington, D.C. This rebirth has arguably had no stronger impact than on the District’s retail scene.

Fueled by strong in-migration trends, the District’s retail corridors have been undergoing resurgence over the past few years with whole new corridors appearing as neighborhoods undergo revitalization efforts. With favorable demographics, strong job numbers and high household incomes contributing to more disposable income, retailers have taken notice. For a city that was once referred to as “the Hollywood for ugly people,” millennial-driven population growth has been a factor in luring emerging brands and cutting-edge retailers and restaurateurs.

For residents, experience has taken precedence; demand for the live-work-play environment has never been stronger, as has the demand for walkable and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods. The revitalization of the District’s urban landscape has meant the emergence of new neighborhoods noted for unique architecture, historic buildings and walkable lifestyles.

Washington DC Brochure Images C&WIn our report, we discuss all of the key drivers and intricacies that impact this desirable retail market such as rising employment trends, office growth, migration and population statistics, residential development, walk scores, and more. We provide our full analyses on retail market statistics and trends and new concepts happening across Washington D.C.’s shopping centers and retail corridors. We also dissect some of the key retail markets within the District, including the new kid on the block, Union Market, an up and coming retail district that is rapidly gentrifying; the East End, the center of downtown’s retail renaissance whose transformation has been fueled by the coveted millennial demographic and the ongoing trend of urbanism; and 14th & U Street, the foodie’s haven and which has become synonymous with some of the city’s best restaurants, chic boutiques, and luxury condos; and Georgetown, that has maintained its reputation for aspirational brands, high-end shopping, and fine dining as well as one of the District’s toniest neighborhoods.

You can download our full report on Washington D.C. retail here. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line.


garrick-brownGarrick serves as Vice President of Retail Research for the Americas. He speaks frequently at industry events and has been a keynote speaker at symposiums, conferences and market forecasting events for groups like the Appraisal Institute, Urban Land Institute, CREW, ICSC and PRSM. He is also a member of Lambda Alpha International, an invitation-only land use society for those who are involved in the ownership, management, regulation and conservation of land, but also those who are involved in its development, redevelopment and preservation.

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