Housing Complex

Costco Opens. What Comes Next?

Washington, D.C., welcome to the era of warehouse retail.

The city's first Costco opened this morning in Fort Lincoln, near the intersection of New York and South Dakota avenues NE. Last night, Mayor Vince Gray, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, and other notables wandered the aisles in a state of giddy excitement at the store's preview reception.

"Imagine how many jobs this will create!" Gray exclaimed to me as he polished off a plate of free appetizers from one of the event's many catering tables. (Vice President Joe Biden showed up this morning.)

The store would not pass the Greater Greater Washington urban test, not by a longshot. For all but the residents of the small Fort Lincoln neighborhood, it's only accessible by car via the highway-like New York Avenue, or by bus (one of the new employees told me she takes three buses from her Southeast home, for a two-hour commute each way). The entrance is via the enormous parking lot; from the street, one sees just a huge windowless facade.

A city official at the event said he expects the majority of the shoppers to be Marylanders on their way to or from work. As a neighborhood amenity, then, the store may not bring much value; but as an economic boost, it ought to go some way toward ending "retail leakage" and creating new jobs. The Gray administration expects the store to create 1,200 new jobs and generate $634 million in tax revenue over the coming 30 years.

But it's just the first of several incoming big-box general retailers: Walmart is still on its way. The six D.C. Walmart stores will feature a variety of designs and approaches to city living. But the most suburban of them will be just around the corner from the new Costco, at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE. Can they coexist? Some city officials are bigger fans of Costco, given its higher wages and wealthier clientele (the average household income of Costco shoppers is $96,000). The Costco store is also bigger than any of the coming Walmarts, at 154,000 square feet.

I can't help but feel torn about the Costco and its brethren-to-be. Failure would clearly be a bad thing: It'd mean job losses, huge vacant buildings, and questions about the viability of retail in these neighborhoods. But overwhelming success might be even scarier. I shudder to think that the photo above might be the new face of retail in D.C.

  • Potowmack

    Costco isn't going to be the "new face of retail in D.C." Ft. Lincoln location is one of the relatively few areas of the District where a Costco is feasible. Ft. Lincoln is highly unlikely to ever become a walkable, urban neighborhood, in any event. Having this shopping center up and running is a pretty positive development for the District, in terms of jobs and tax revenue.

    Not sure what the hand-wringing is about, frankly.

  • Typical DC BS

    City Paper just can't imagine that there are positives to new, big-box retail compared to their usual experience at small, low-quality, dirty "mom & pop" stores from the 1960's vintage of retail. It doesn't fit into their "urban" image of what shopping should be like in the city. Heaven forbid they discover their views are parochial and nonsensical.

  • Micah

    I think what's missing from this story is that you can finally buy cheap hard liquor in D.C.! No more of this Maryland and Virginia puritanical nonsense!

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    The big urbanist upside from this - bringing closer the day that the Pentagon City Costco is closed and that single story shopping center ADJACENT to the Pentagon City metro station becomes high density mixed use.

  • Big Al

    DC has been underserved for years. Finally not having to drive to VA or MD for DC residents is always a win, for residents and the city. Jobs, tax revenue and making DC have the retail, services and options available to a city of DC's size has been a long time coming.

  • Les

    Hallelujah! We really need stores like this. I love shopping at them. I heard Councilmember McDuffie thinking about opening a MARC station near that area.

  • JG

    Come on Aaron...What's there to whine about. All parts of DC will not be the new urbanism Utopia of 14th and U. As most of NE was considered the suburbs many years ago there are large tracts of land, not serviced by metro, that need attention. Also another way to look at it is that everyone may not desire the uber dense environment the multi story mixed used projects. It may come as a surprise but Some DC residents actually like space and like to drive their cars. Developments like the ones occurring at Ft Lincoln and New York ave will attract many residents back to the city which will change the face of many NE neighborhoods (Deanwood, Brooklan, Woodridge, Trinidad, Ivy City, etc). This is a WIN for the District. Please look at the Big Picture here..

  • Eric

    Nobody is going to be walking to Costco. Not even people in the neighborhood. As a wholesale retailer, the only sensible way to arrive and depart is by car. That way, you can actually take your purchases with you. Costco is one of the few retail stores where this is to be expected. Walmart and Target can go urban to an extent because selling in bulk isn't their business. But Costco will never be that way.

  • Johnny

    If I lived in a low amenity neighborhood 2 blocks from a costco I think I would make plenty of Costco runs on foot for a bag of groceries. Cheap wine etc. Just as many do to countless other groceries. Not everyone is buying van loads of diapers and hoarding paper towels.

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  • Mrs. D

    I don't think this is a problem. I DO think it's a problem to put so many residents in an area basically inaccessible by transit (unless you live there and work at the Costco or other shops, you've got to go elsewhere for work...and, no, a 2-hour commute WITHIN the city does not count as being "accessible"), as with the Ft. Lincoln development adjacent, but people who want to shop at Costco are going to do so whether that Costco is right here in DC or in the 'burbs, and they're likely going to do so by car. There's basically no chance of improving the transit-accessibility of this area, so it seems like the right location for a car-intensive use. I DO wish that it had been built a little greener, with less impermeable surfaces, but if we're going to put something there, this seems like the right thing.

    Though, after seeing the numerous recent Facebook posts about how Costco treats/pays their employees, I do kind of wish we had use for a membership. For the most part, a warehouse club membership doesn't make sense for small households like our own (both in number and in square feet). Sure, TP never spoils, but we don't really have the space to store 100 rolls, and the *little* bit extra we spend on those things that never spoil just doesn't cover the cost of the membership, even if we had the space (not to mention the Zipcar rental to shop there rather than pick it up at the nearby store when it's on sale). After seeing, and confirming, those factoids, these will not only be jobs for local residents, but good ones.

  • Ugh

    Quite honestly the only opinions that count are the ones of the residents who choose to live there. Clearly there is a market in DC for low density housing, big box stores with walkable restaurant retail and dc residents shouldn’t have to live in Bethesda to experience it. I live in a “Walkable” neighborhood now and the inconveniences just out weight the perks. There is no parking at the bank to stop at the ATM quickly, all metered parking on the streets, no parking to stop in the CVS quickly if your’re sick and can’t walk there, no sense of neighborhood since the only view I have are of office buildings and other high density apartments that look like office buildings. The only perk is that I get to say I live in a certain neighborhood when talking with friends but deep down this mixed use high density crap blows.
    That’s why I am purchasing a home across from the Costco; there’s ample retail parking, guest parking in front of the house, nice looking new homes, great views of the city and a great sense of neighborhood. There will be access to the new Anacostia River trail that will connect me to the city via bike and that’s all I need. So while people who have no connection or affiliation to the neighborhood complain about how bad it is, there are others enjoying the comfort of the suburban feel within the city. Just know that your sentiment is not shared by all.

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  • Mrs. D

    Hm, well, we have plenty of street parking (just brought my Zipcar home tonight to unload groceries and parked right in front of my door, as usual), a very tight neighborhood, my "views" include the front and back yards of the neighboring 2-story homes - some single family, some multi-family - and the pinnacle of the Washington Monument around the corner (GREAT on the 4th when the whole neighborhood gathers to watch the fireworks without the crowds), and our CVS has ample parking, if you *choose* to drive there, since you can reach either it or another local pharmacy (also with ample parking) in under 10 minutes on foot. Except that I can walk to a bus stop in 5 minutes that will get me many places in the city in less than 20 minutes, another bus stop with even more routes in about 7 minutes, and the Metro in about 10 minutes that will get me downtown in another 10 minutes. Total commute to a downtown office, about 20 minutes, exclusively on foot and transit. I could make it in about 30 on a bike. Plus, all on foot, 5 minutes to the grocery store, 10 minutes to a number of restaurants (5 or 6 within that radius spring to mind), and 10 minutes + a 2 minute Metro/bus ride -or- 15 minutes exclusively on foot to a hardware store, many other restaurants, and several other grocery stores.

    People can live however they want, but allowing dense development in an area where most people will use cars for their commute undercuts the overall development and transit goals of the city, and further congests a commuter corridor used by many suburban residents. I fully expect to have more people "shortcutting" through my neighborhood at high speed to get between the NYA and RIA corridors because of this development. I don't particularly *want* to be forced to petition for speed bumps and additional stop signs (plus the forthcoming stop sign cameras), but, if necessary, will do so. If you cause externalities for me, I will make yours even worse. It's *NOT* just your opinion that counts, but the opinions of the people who you will inconvenience and burden by your choice.

  • NE resident

    What this story should highlight is that DDOT has neglected our corner of the city for far too long. From my own experience, it's true that traveling between NE and SE via public transit is virtually impossible without at least 2 bus transfers or taking Metro into downtown and out again. The bus options up the RIA corridor and particularly to Ft. Lincoln will get you to only one place: the RIA metro station.

    But I also agree with the comment that a store like Costco is typically best suited for shopping with a car, and so putting it somewhere that is car-friendly makes the most sense for consumers. I'm glad we'll be capturing those MD dollars!

  • Mrs. D

    Thank, you NE resident, for seeing it like it is. Even those of us who live NEAR the RIA Metro are frustrated by the utter lack of connections to the rest of the city. I can get to plenty of other places in NE quickly by transit, but if I want to go to Eastern Market or any place along RIA in NW EFFICIENTLY, well, now, that's just too much to ask.

    Since heavy rail seems unlikely to make its way out that way anytime soon, and even light rail is far off, it's not a bad location for car-intensive uses. But the city should be focusing its transit resources on getting those of us who already live here around the city efficiently. Not permitting dense new neighborhoods that will further strain ALL of our transportation resources (streets, buses, Metro, etc.). ESPECIALLY when there are many un- or under-developed tracts already served by transit OR which could be served by good transit with minimal outlay.

  • Brahmin

    Wow! I was expecting to come here and be the only voice of mix modes of transportation. Usually everyone with a bike key and no car keys try to push for biking or Metro only ignoring obvious needs in mix modes. But they also ignore trends in mix modes.

    WMATA ridership is sharply down. So again metro hike. They hike when it goes up and they hike when it goes down. And the District is actually seeing people become more car reliant.

    But yet I have yet to see any story criticizing metro. And everyone always wants retail like NYC but unless you are reliable as NYC, runs 24 hours like NYC is as comprehensive in the service MAP as NYC, and as affordable to go everywhere for 2.50 like NYC you are not going to get retail like NYC or ridership like NYC.

    Build the MeTRO system and they will come!

    Beyond the ridership criticisms of METRO, expensive, unreliable ....no customer service. LEt me give you Business criticism.

    Developers who have tried to work with METRO, to offer inside metro retail (NEW REVENUE), & establish beautiful corridors with advertising (NEW Revenue) METRO pushed and pushes back ...there only answer to revenue is raise rates...as if the numbers of riders is fixed and it is not! IT is now cheaper to drive and park.....and that is METRO's fault.

    The things they cannot even fix for free does not move forward in progress.

    You want transit oriented development work on the quality of transit.

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