- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

The rate of retail vacancies in the Washington area is expected to rise more quickly this year than it has in the past, according to a new study of the market.

The slowing economy could result in more storefronts sitting vacant longer in the District and the suburbs, according to the report by Marcus & Millichap, a national real estate firm with D.C. offices.

The retail vacancy rate this year is expected to sit in the mid-4 percent range in Northern Virginia and in the low-5 percent range in the District and Maryland.

But the area should do better than the rest of the country. The national retail vacancy average is expected to rise to 10.2 percent this year, according to the report.

The Washington area is buoyed by its high income and education demographics, which make it an attractive market for retailers.

“There’s still demand for core properties — Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, M Street,” said Ed Laycox, an associate at Marcus & Millichap’s D.C. office. “What we’re not seeing anymore is the really crazy prices.”

Just last year, a Georgetown retail building sold for $1,597 per square foot. At that time, the building at 1329 Wisconsin Ave. NW was thought to be the most expensive retail sale, per square foot, in the city.

Those kinds of rates aren’t expected to be seen again this year. Just like in the residential housing market, retail buyers find they’re back to the rules of supply and demand.

“We’re really back to the fundamentals of buying,” Mr. Laycox said, adding that buyers have to put more money down and agree to stricter loan terms than they had to before.

Diners go for top awards

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington named its nominees for the city’s top dining spots last week. The winners of the 2008 “RAMMY” awards will be named in June at the group’s annual bash.

This year’s theme is “Setting the Global Table,” to reflect the international flavor in many of the area’s restaurants. Some of the nominees include Brasserie Beck, which has a Belgian menu; Oyamel, which serves authentic Mexican; or the “bistros” of Bastille, Central Michel Richard and Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert.

A complete list of the nominees and a ballot to vote for neighborhood gathering place, hottest restaurant bar scene, power spot and voter’s favorite can be found at ramw.org.

New stores, now open

• Best Buy opened its second store in the District last week. The Columbia Heights store — in the new DCUSA complex at 3100 14th St. NW — is 30,000 square feet and features an Apple store inside.

• Chop’t Creative Salad Co., the New York salad chain making inroads in the Washington market, opened its third store in the region and first in Virginia last week. The Rosslyn restaurant is at 1735 N. Lynn St.

• Another wine-themed restaurant is heading our way. Vinifera Bistro & Wine Bar, serving American cuisine, is slated to open in May in Reston. The bar will stock more than 200 domestic and international wines, including some local varieties.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news and tips to Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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