High End Retail Businesses in DC Are Beating the Struggling Small Businesses

Yet, broader economic activity remains at only about 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels, underscoring ongoing challenges. (Credits: Commonwealth)

While D.C.’s downtown district continues to grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic, high-end retailers are experiencing a resurgence.

Foot traffic downtown has reached 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and office occupancy stands at around 50 percent, indicating a gradual return to normalcy.

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Despite this, the downtown area has witnessed the opening of nine new high-end boutiques between April 2020 and October 2023, signaling a notable shift.

For instance, Ida’s Idea, a women’s boutique near the White House, began hosting weekly Facebook Live fashion shows during the pandemic closure, which proved to be successful in maintaining customer interest and boosting sales.

High-end retailers have adapted to the decline in foot traffic by innovating their approach to customer engagement.

The uptick in high-end activity downtown is expected to continue with forthcoming investments. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office granted a $200,000 grant to support the Downtown Action Plan, aiming to bolster future investments in the area.

To attract businesses, the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) collaborates with entities like CityCenterDC, providing resources to facilitate business success.

Gerren Price, the BID’s president and CEO, emphasizes the importance of creating a unique and engaging downtown experience to encourage continued patronage.

This trend in D.C. reflects a broader national resurgence in high-end luxury retail.

Despite economic uncertainties, the luxury sector has shown resilience, with a 9.6 percent growth since 2019. (Credits: Hill & Dale)

Notably, downtown D.C. has seen the opening of new high-end locations, including Giorgio Armani, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin at CityCenterDC.

Luxury retailers prioritize strategic locations, recognizing the importance of proximity and co-tenancy in driving foot traffic and sales. CityCenterDC’s General Manager, Timothy Lowery, underscores the significance of co-tenancy in creating a vibrant retail environment.

Despite challenges, boutique owners remain optimistic about downtown’s prospects. Franklin Samuels, owner of the Gentlemen’s Closet, highlights the positive response to his newly opened location in Mount Vernon Square.

However, not all boutiques have thrived, with some forced to close despite returning to pre-pandemic levels of foot traffic.

Long-standing boutiques like the Tiny Jewel Box are witnessing sales surpassing pre-pandemic levels, signaling a promising outlook for luxury retail downtown.

Matthew Rosenheim, from the Tiny Jewel Box, remains optimistic about the future, emphasizing the store’s resilience and enduring legacy in Washington, D.C.

Nate O'Hara
Nathan is a seasoned commerce writer with a passion for unraveling the intricacies of the business world and distilling them into engaging narratives. During his academic journey, he delved deep into subjects like economics, marketing, and entrepreneurship, honing his analytical skills and developing a keen understanding of market dynamics.