by Marlene Berlin and Sharon Bauer
Trader Joe’s would rake it in at a Van Ness location. How do we know this? The response to our October/November retail survey, in this case, was overwhelming.
It was an open-ended question. We asked, “Which businesses would you like to see at Van Ness? If you have a specific type, name or chef/owner in mind, please note here.”
Trader Joe’s easily wins the prize with 163 respondents (28% of the 582 who answered the question) wanting this establishment at Van Ness. Nothing else came close. To give you some perspective, Whole Foods comes in second with 67 mentions (12%).
In total, 611 respondents filled out at least part of the survey. Sharon Bauer, who did the analysis for the Iona’s sidewalk gaps report, helped us sort through and make sense of all the responses.
Let’s step back and look at who answered our survey. More than half of the survey takers, 371 (55%), live in or near Van Ness. A significant number, 161 respondents (28%), work nearby. A few both live and work here. And we had 75 respondents who do not live or work nearby. Though this is a small number, it is significant that those who do not live or work here feel they a stake in what happens at Van Ness.
People of all ages shared their ideas. Here’s the age breakdown of survey takers.
“How do you travel to Van Ness?”
Respondents head to Van Ness because they live here, they work here, they shop here, they drop their kids off at school here, and they use the Metro station to go elsewhere. But how do they get here? I find the results of question #4 the most interesting part of the survey. The choices were walk, bike, car, mass transit. We broke down the responses of the 598 participants who completed this part of the survey in two ways. The first chart looks at total of each mode of travel by where folks live and work.
What jumps out is that we have a higher level of walking for those who live close by than driving, and that the mode share between walking and driving are very close, with driving coming out slightly ahead. Also, the 10% of respondents who arrive on bikes is quite significant.
Respondents could mark all travel options that would apply. For instance, someone could mark walking and mass transit. So we decided to break it down even more: By how many chose each mix of travel modes.
We move on to question #5 about how often patrons shop or dine at shops between Van Ness and Albemarle Street. These are the results, from 593 respondents.
Another way to look at these numbers: How frequently we’re shopping and dining out, broken down by residents and workers.
Beyond Trader Joe’s
Now comes the juiciest part of our survey. What do the 582 who answered question #6 want beyond a Trader Joe’s?
Restaurants/cafes got the highest of number of survey participants providing suggestions. We further categorized respondents into these categories: Casual dining, coffee/bakery, evening and ethnic. The “evening” category includes fine dining, bars and other nightlife venues that serve food – including the movie theaters requested by 10 respondents, and a handful of requests for a bowling alley or a Dave & Buster’s. Under “ethnic,” Indian, Thai and Chinese got the most responses.
Both those who live and work here want casual dining. But beyond that the responses diverge. Highlighted in the chart below are specific requests that got more than 30 responses. As you can see, residents have an overwhelming desire for a neighborhood tavern. And the workers have a serious craving… for burritos.
Residents and workers do find some common ground in their desire for a tavern and fine dining. But it will be a challenge for a restaurant in this area to appeal to both. Café Ole on Wisconsin Avenue is a good example of a restaurant that seems to be deftly handling the demands of both groups, with quick order and pick-up at the counter lunchtime, and wait service for dinner. It may be a good model for our area.
Next, the retail responses, which were the most diffuse. Again, we needed to group the responses in ways we thought made sense. These are the categories we used: Unique/browsing, clothing, office supply, active lifestyle, home goods, hardware, and general/discount (such as Target and T.J.Maxx).
The unique/browsing shops include stores similar to Wake Up Little Suzie in Cleveland Park and Periwinkle in Chevy Chase, bookstores, and gift shops, among others. We viewed these as stores that would encourage browsing, not a quick in-and-out.
The businesses we included under the active lifestyle category include outdoor recreation and bike shops, yoga studios, and children’s gyms. The home goods category includes housewares and furniture – much like the Pier 1 in the former Van Ness Square.
Comments of note
Turning the whole thing into a one-stop shop for kids with parents going to preschool makes a lot of sense. We got 49 requests for a family-friendly restaurant, 18 requests for a kids’ clothing store, 13 requests for an play gym, and a few want a gift shop that sells toys. One respondent asked for a child-friendly coffee shop with a play space (and a babysitter!) for the kids.
I work in the area so I’m more focused on daytime meals/treats that I can walk to or take home after work. Some 25 respondents asked for a small market with prepared meals for carry-out. This likely has some overlap with the 23 respondents who specified “specialty market.”
NON-SANDWICH fast take-out food is desperately needed. I still miss Taco Bell and KFC – everyone poo-poos fast food, but for singles, and with the hours many of us work it is a godsend. Burger King is awful. A handful of respondents agree, but you’re far outnumbered by the 13 who specified “not fast food.”
Giant is better with its renovations but still THICK-HEADED about what locals want to buy. Produce is POOR and organic foods non-existent. Butchers are GOOD and underappreciated. A few respondents think we have a good mix of retail as it is, but add that the stores here already could do a better job of meeting the neighborhood’s needs.
And some of the more creative ideas:
Union Market in NW! That would soar! The circles I run in love Union Market but getting over to NE requires advanced planning! Traffic is just too horrible to cross town to food shop! This would certainly scratch the itch for a cheese market, butcher, fresh fruit stand, or ethnic foods market. Other respondents asked for a flea market or year-round farmers market.
Classroom, gallery and retail space for art like a mini Torpedo Factory or space for other creative endeavors like The Writing Center, practice rooms for local apartment dwelling musicians. Someone else requested a Makerspace.
A hiking/outdoor store that leads tours through Rock Creek.
New business incubator. Something like this, perhaps?
What ANC 3F’s Van Ness Vision Committee learned last summer at the DC Office of Planning’s Vibrant Retail Streets workshop is that merchandise retail needs a significant daytime population to support them. In addition to residents, these businesses need the workers, UDC students, and the parents who come here because their kids attend the Franklin Montessori preschool. Van Ness is just on the edge of being able to support such retail. Residents appear to be much more interested in retail than those who work nearby.
Several survey respondents wanted businesses that exist already in Tenleytown and Friendship Heights – Whole Foods, a hardware store, women’s clothing stores. So it is questionable whether we could attract and support similar retail. A better approach might be to complement what is nearby rather than replicate it.
For a more detailed look at our results, click here to download a summary sheet (PDF).
The Vision Committee will be using these results in a meet and greet scheduled for the property owners in February. These could also prove valuable to Saul Centers and UDC in their search for establishments to fill their retail spaces at UDC’s law school and student union, as well as Park Van Ness.
The clearest message from our survey is that the Trader Joe’s needs to come to Van Ness. Let’s get them here.