Only a handful of shoppers can still be spotted roaming the atrium of Friendship Heights’ Chevy Chase Pavilion, and of those left, several appeared confused or disappointed to see the CVS there now locked and empty.
The pharmacy and convenience store closed its location at 5335 Wisconsin Ave. at the end of August. It’s just the latest retailer in a string of vacancies over the past few years that have left the mall with more empty storefronts than active businesses.
Retail across Friendship Heights, an area reputed for decades as a high-end shopping hub, has been impacted by a consumer shift away from indoor malls and department stores, said Richard Bradley, executive director of Friendship Heights Alliance, an organization helping to revitalize business in the area. Customers of Chevy Chase Pavilion have lamented the decline of retail via social media, tweeting about the closures of major chain anchors like World Market and Old Navy at the end of 2020 and J. Crew’s departure in January of this year.
Business at the Pavilion was struggling even before the pandemic though, Bradley said. The effects of COVID-19 and the increased popularity of online shopping accelerated the shopping center’s deterioration.
“It was really the last five years that it sort of imploded,” Bradley said. “People today want the retail to be outside.”
The few signs of life in the Pavilion are at a T-Mobile store, Cheesecake Factory and the Ward 3 COVID-19 Center, as well as an Embassy Suites hotel in the mall’s upper floors.
Alex, 22, stayed at the hotel when visiting Washington, D.C. last weekend and said the “completely dead” center is a letdown to tourists like herself.
“The whole reason you want to come is because you think s—’s going to be here,” said Alex, who declined to give her last name for job security reasons. “It’s been a huge disappointment.”
Aaron Davis, the night manager at the Embassy Suites there, said while hotel business and occupancy have not been greatly impacted, guests may feel that marketing on the internet has misrepresented the area.
“Some of the pictures that are still online do still have the mall as up in full swing,” Davis said. “When they do get here, they are a bit disappointed by the fact that everything’s closed.”
Davis said he had not heard word of new businesses coming to occupy the empty spaces.
“Even though the Pavilion is advertising space, they are renting spaces, we just haven’t had any sort of business come back up again yet,” Davis said.
The mall hosted a pop-up art gallery this summer in partnership with Lost Origins Gallery and Friendship Heights Alliance. A Spirit Halloween is currently in the process of opening on the ground floor, a mall security officer confirmed.
A study by Deloitte Insights last year found that “The American mall isn’t dead” but needs to be “reimagined” as more of a community gathering place. Across the country, the consulting group found that mall vacancies were accelerated by COVID-19, up to just over 11% at the start of 2021. Research by Cushman & Wakefield, a national real estate group and property management for Chevy Chase Pavilion, was more optimistic — they reported in 2022 that U.S. shopping center vacancies had fallen to almost 6% after having peaked in 2021 at just under 7.5%.
Bradley said he believes Chevy Chase Pavilion and other retail spaces in Friendship Heights will evolve to better serve the neighborhood with new kinds of businesses, such as restaurants or entertainment.
“My sense is over the next four or five years, it will reemerge as a different kind of dynamic place,” Bradley said.
Building management did not respond to multiple requests for comment.