Retail in Diverse Communities Study Presented to Montgomery Planning Board to help strengthen minority-owned and minority-serving retailers

April 26, 2021

Diverse retailers are more than just a marketplace within minority and immigrant communities, they are community anchors and hubs of social networks; Briefing highlighted strategies to support businesses amidst neighborhood change and the COVID-19 pandemic

WHEATON, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), presented the Retail in Diverse Communities Study to the Montgomery Planning Board during their April 22 meeting with consultant &Access. The study analyzed the issues facing the diverse retailers in Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Takoma-Langley Crossroads. Redevelopment in these neighborhoods provides both threats and opportunities for these retailers. Threats include risk of displacement due to increased rents for the businesses or displacement of consumers. At the same time, redevelopment presents opportunities through population growth and infrastructure investment.

Read the Retail in Diverse Communities Study

Since 2010, the diversity of Montgomery County has been increasing, with 20% to 40% growth in Black, Asian, and Hispanic populations. Approximately one-third of the Montgomery County population is foreign born.  As these communities expand, minority-serving and -owned retailers become even more important. Salons, barbers, restaurants, and other retail outlets owned by and serving communities of color bring intangible value as social support networks. Together, the 279 diverse retailers in the three neighborhoods that were studied generate a total of $137.9 million in sales annually and support nearly 1,400 jobs.

“We are striving to create more equitable communities in all of our planning work,” said Montgomery Planning Director Gwen Wright. “Preserving businesses owned by and that serve diverse communities is critical to these efforts. They are at the heart of these communities and are a lifeline not only economically, but socially as well.”

The briefing highlighted key findings and strategies to help strengthen these retailers, some who have operated for up to 60 years in their neighborhoods. Other challenges diverse businesses are facing include barriers to initial occupancy, disadvantageous lease terms, finite funding, limited financing opportunities, and systematic exclusion from business networks. To help address these issues and preserve these retailers, the study recommends ten key tools for the county to consider implementing, with an emphasize on prioritizing the following five tools for short-term implementation:

  • Creating Diverse Retail Liaisons to support each of the focus clusters. Diverse Retail Liaisons are responsible for coordinating efforts by existing organizations, providing direct connections between independent businesses and the county, and linking targeted minority-owned businesses to financial, technical, and organizational resources.
  • Providing a Legacy and Minority Business Designation to incentivize the preservation of local businesses. Legacy business designation, typically established by a local jurisdiction, business district, or nonprofit organization, is a way to incentivize the preservation of local businesses. Comparably, a Minority Business Designation Program can offer the same provisions, highlighting ethnically and racially diverse business owners’ community value.
  • Creating a commercial tenant’s bill of rights and offering leasing support programs. These programs can help independent retailers who often do not have the legal expertise, language skills, or time to ensure their longevity in rented space. Tools to support small independent retailers who rent commercial space might also include a model or master lease, legal and mediation services for independent retailers, and new requirements for increased transparency in common area maintenance fees.
  • Making a loan pool for local, independent businesses. This tool intends to support re-tenanting space through subsidized tenant improvement loans for small businesses. The loan pool can also support business owners in purchasing their properties.
  • Placemaking to celebrate Silver Spring, Takoma-Langley Crossroads, and Wheaton’s cultural diversity apparent in their business and residential populations. Placemaking is the process of shaping the public realm to maximize shared value and to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share, often achieved through the installation of public art, seating, or planters, and programming the space with frequent formal and informal community events.

“Coming out of the pandemic and the challenges small and micro businesses faced, it is important to act now to support diverse retailers in Montgomery County,” said Todd Fawley-King, Montgomery Planning Real Estate Specialist. “We believe the recommendations in the Retail in Diverse Communities Study will not only help sustain existing small businesses, but also provide opportunities to those who would otherwise be shut out from starting their own business.”

Montgomery Planning launched the Retail in Diverse Communities Study in partnership with the Montgomery County Small Business Navigator and Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). The study’s findings build on the programs, policies, and other tools previously presented in A Long Life for Long Branch: Tools to Preserve Independent Retailers, a toolkit produced by University of Maryland students in a fall 2019 Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) class done in partnership with Montgomery Planning.

About the Equity Agenda for Planning

Montgomery Planning recognizes and acknowledges the role that our plans and policies have played in creating and perpetuating racial inequity in Montgomery County. The Planning Department is committed to transforming the way we work as we seek to address, mitigate, and eliminate inequities from the past and develop planning solutions to create equitable communities in the future. While it will take time to fully develop a new methodology for equity in the planning process, we cannot delay applying an equity lens to our work. Efforts to date include:

  • Developing an Equity Agenda for PlanningThe Planning Board approved Equity in Master Planning Framework, and staff is working on action items.
  • Prioritizing equity in Thrive Montgomery 2050. Community Equity is one of the three priority areas of our county General Plan update, Thrive Montgomery 2050.
  • Focusing on equity in upcoming plans. Equity is a central focus of the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan, the first master plan to launch since Montgomery County’s Racial Equity & Social Justice Act passed. All upcoming plans and studies will have an equity focus.
  • Creating an Equity Focus Areas mapping tool and developing an Equity Opportunity Index. Equity Focus Areas in Montgomery County have high concentrations of lower-income people of color, who may also speak English less than very well. Montgomery Planning developed this data-driven tool to identify and map these areas to assess potential racial and social inequities and produce master plans that will foster more equitable outcomes for communities in Montgomery County.
  • Viewing management and operations through an equity lens. Our efforts are not limited to the master planning process. Management and operational functions like communications and human resources are developing approaches, tools, plans, and training to ensure that we look at everything through an equity lens.