Retail Study Shows Shoppers Are Hungry for More in Bethesda, Rockville

Consultant encourages planners not to pursue too much retail growth


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The new home of a Warby Parker eyeglasses shop on Bethesda Avenue.

FILE PHOTO BY JOE ZIMMERMANN

Demand for shopping and dining in Bethesda and Rockville exceeds supply and is only expected to grow in coming years, according to a new report.

While many jurisdictions are suffering from vacant storefronts with the rise of online shopping, Montgomery County overall has a strong retail landscape, a consultant told the county planning board Thursday. 

Still, market analyst Heather Arnold encouraged the planning board to be judicious in pursuing new retail development.

"While you might look at other jurisdictions and say, 'Why don't we get the new Mosaic ... or the cool new movie theater?' ... there's a flip side to that," said Arnold, who represented Streetsense, the company that prepared the report.

The county has about 24 square feet of retail per person, about the national average. However, a recent report estimated that about 1 billion square feet of retail space will have to be demolished or repurposed across the U.S. to rebalance the markets, Arnold said.

In Montgomery County, Gaithersburg and Aspen Hill suffer from too much retail supply and not enough demand, the consultants found. Areas such as Kensington and White Oak have a balanced market, she said.

Rockville's significant need for retail likely reflects the fact that many companies open a first location in Bethesda and a second in Gaithersburg, Arnold explained. 

"Rockville becomes a divot in between those two incredibly strong retail markets," she said 

As an employment hub, daytime shoppers and diners fuel Bethesda's economy and increase demand, the report showed. Bethesda Row and Westfield Montgomery mall also bring consumers to the area. 

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson solicited Arnold’s advice in dealing with aging retail properties.

"What are the range of options we should consider?" he asked.

Arnold said finding ways to reinvent these places is a good start, but added that the county has far too much retail zoning in general. She said she'd prefer to see shopping options located in clusters.

"It's almost like you need to create the white space in order to make the retail space more meaningful," she said.

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