Little City Wins Big By Keeping Business Small

TREENA RINDALDI with her co-worker, Mostafa Shah. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

What’s bad for Arlington is good for Falls Church since what comes down in Arlington finds its way to Falls Church. At least, when it comes to commercial tenants.

“My phone starts ringing,” said Treena Rinaldi, at her family’s longstanding real estate firm, Korte Realty, on West Broad Street. Her mother, Katreen Korte, started the firm back in 1965 and was scared to death by it all. Now a 30-year veteran in the industry, Rinaldi said she learned a lot about the business from her mom, who died in 2008.

“Arlington is development crazy; has been for years,” Rinaldi said, with the after effects felt in Falls Church. “We don’t get the ‘big box’ retailer or big office user in Falls Church, but smaller tenants arrive.”

On its website, the Falls Church’s Economic Development Office lists commercial properties for sale or lease, taken from commercial databases and brokers. Sizes range from an office space of 144 square feet up to 7,903 square feet, and retail from 485 –11,223 square feet.

Big tenants go to much larger buildings, like the ones at Tysons where the office market is about the same as Falls Church’s.

Not great, said Joe Wetzel who has been selling, leasing and developing Falls Church property since 2000.

Challenging Falls Church office building owners “is the proximity to other available space. Just up in Tysons, there is tons of office space.”

Falls Church has spaces which can be carved up in smaller chunks. Tysons’ landlords are “less willing to try [leasing with] independent start-ups,” Wetzel said.

“You won’t find any IBMs here,” Wetzel said.

That’s not necessarily a problem for the City or its commercial prospects.

In his “State of the City” interview with the News-Press in August, Mayor David Tarter said, “We’re a different market…We don’t want to be Tysons Corner.”

Meanwhile, retail has its own challenges and pressures from the Internet, said Dean Neiman of Renaud Consulting, a retail property marketer.

“I would say the City doesn’t get as many arrivals of newcomers as it does businesses which need to expand or relocate,” Neiman said. “We just did a deal at George Mason Square [at the corner of Washington and Broad] with a kitchen and bath design center and Keller-Williams Realty expanded there.” Neiman said the kitchen designers needed larger quarters.

Compared to year ago, Neiman says leasing is holding pretty steady.

Landlords are willing to negotiate. It all depends upon the tenant’s strength and what a tenant wants for build-out of space or what the landlord needs to do to make the space habitable for the tenant’s business.

Wetzel blames most of retailing’s downtrend on online shopping, “You can buy anything from a tea bag to toilet paper to a meal that comes in a box on the Internet and have it shipped to your house. You don’t have to get up and go out and shop.”

Marketing physical goods has been decimated by the web, Wetzel said. But products which can’t be delivered on a truck – like salons and barbers – are still sold in storefronts. Neiman agreed.

“Retail space has a lot of challenges and pressures from the Internet,” he said.

Shoppers hunting for durable goods – products which last three years or more – like washing machines, dishwashers and certain sporting goods, go to “big boxes” to buy them.

Jarnell Swecker is the vice president of marketing for Rappaport which leases retail space at The Lincoln at Tinner Hill. She thinks the new Harris Teeter on West Broad and the deals her company brokered with Target coming next March to The Lincoln and with Aldi at Tower Square, set for 2019, indicate increased interest in Falls Church.

Back in August, Tarter stated that Falls Church has tried to dictate development to make it financially creative to the City and improve residents’ quality of life.

According to Rinaldi, “The backbone of our country is small business. Falls Church has a lot to offer: It’s like a magnet for small businesses. We do have reasonable prices, have spaces which are in pretty good condition and it’s easy to talk to city staff and get permits. Owners are nearby.”