Retail in Diverse Communities

Purpose

The Montgomery County Planning Department’s Research and Special Projects Division (RSP) is studying tools and policies to help preserve and strengthen clusters of retail that support diverse communities by providing goods and services heavily catering to minority and ethnic sub-groups. The Montgomery County 2017 Retail Trends Study found that these “international retail centers” serve as more than just a marketplace to buy interesting and hard-to-find goods; they often serve as community anchors and social support networks for foreign-born populations and communities of color. Aside from commerce, these centers also serve as gathering places where people can comfortably engage with others in daily life, such as celebrating holidays, joining pickup sports leagues, finding referrals for medical professionals, etc. As a result, these retail clusters strengthen community and neighborhood identity.

Redevelopment provides both threats and opportunities for international 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.

Montgomery Planning selected for analysis the downtown Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Takoma-Langley neighborhoods as they have prominent clusters of retailers serving international communities. The study will build upon a prior analysis of tools to preserve and strengthen the international retail cluster in the Long Branch neighborhood conducted by University of Maryland students in a fall 2019 Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) class done in partnership with Montgomery Planning.

Objectives

Building on the 2017 countywide retail study and evaluation of the international retail cluster in Long Branch, the goal of this study is to analyze conditions in the international retail clusters in Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Takoma-Langley, and to identify how to both preserve and strengthen them in the face of pressures for change and redevelopment. The study will:

  • Provide an overview of the three international retail clusters, a history of their growth and development, the communities they serve, and the social value they contribute;
  • Document the economic conditions of the retail market in the three clusters and the demographics of their customer base;
  • Profile/inventory the retailers and property owners within each retail clusters and the physical spaces they occupy based on observed conditions and publicly available data;
  • Describe each cluster’s contributions to the community and its strengths/weaknesses through interviews with business owners, customers, and property owners or other data collection methods;
  • Identify targeted tools to help preserve and enhance each cluster; and,
  • Assess the costs and benefits of using the recommended strategies and the potential impact they will have on the County’s objectives for growth and development.

Long Branch UMD PALS Study Findings

The 2019 Long Branch study titled “A Long Life for Long Branch: tools to preserve independent retailers” documented current conditions and provided a comprehensive set of potential tools that could help preserve and enhance retail in the area. Through interviews with business owners and analysis of County data, this study found that:

  • Transformative placemaking and place-based investment can support neighborhood prosperity;
  • Few retailers own the building their business occupies;
  • Many owners of retail businesses in the Long Branch retail cluster are minority and/or foreign-born;
  • Small business is at a disadvantage in negotiating with landlords, developers, and banks;
  • Independent businesses have difficulty accessing technical assistance and financing tools available; and,
  • Displacement threatens both the retailers as well as the customers they serve.

The Long Branch study evaluated 10 potential tools against the threats facing the Long Branch retail clsuter:

  1. Neighborhood commercial overlay zone
  2. Commercial inclusionary zoning
  3. Community benefits agreements
  4. Neighborhood equity coordinator
  5. Targeted small business assistance
  6. Community improvement districts
  7. Commercial tenant bill of rights and leasing support
  8. Various targeted financial tools
  9. Community land trusts
  10. Legacy or landmark business designation

The Long Branch study is available at this link.

Schedule

The Retail in Diverse Communities study will get underway in June 2020. The research and analysis will last four months with an additional two months to produce the report. Interviews and engagement with retailers and stakeholders will occur during the initial analysis phase. Montgomery Planning anticipates releasing a final report in the Winter of 2021.

How can I be Involved?

Montgomery Planning and its partner consultant will conduct a series of interviews with retailers and their customers from the three focus clusters. Retailers and stakeholders from the focus areas are encouraged to reach out to the staff contact to express their interest in participating in these interviews.

Last Updated: June 11, 2020