Earlier this year, we wrote about Fairfax City missing an opportunity to successfully revitalize the downtown core. Now, we focus on the idea that Fairfax does a poor job of serving the interests of George Mason University. Take a look around. Most of the grocery stores, strip malls, and restaurants are sub-standard while entertainment options lack.
Examining the past may be the best place to start. In late 2006, a nightclub named Rain opened on Main Street. It was a top-class venue that had students excited and filled a hole left by a major banquet hall. There were a few incidents that involved disorderly conduct over time. While this may have caused some minor uproar in the community, it was certainly not enough to force the club into closure. But Rain eventually shut its door. It is our understanding that upon an inspection into Rain’s operations, the city found that the club was not serving food as it should have been. It was a sad day for Fairfax and for students of George Mason University. The one chance to enjoy a decent nightlife in Mason’s backyard disappeared alongside T.T Reynolds and the Bridges Sports Bar – longtime area favorites. The economic downturn of 2008 did nothing to help Fairfax City and the community. Many of the spaces in the Old Town Plaza development remained empty while a major anchor, Silver Diner, eventually closed down.
And some of the businesses Fairfax did have fell practically into disrepair. The major grocery stores (Safeway on Willard Way and Giant at University Mall) have not been upgraded since the 1970’s. The same can be said for University Mall and Turnpike Shopping Centers. Individual businesses fare much worse. Bank of America by Route 123 remain in a “farm hut” instead of a gleaming facility and Fuddruckers is on the slow death path. Main Street Marketplace has attracted a hardware store in the former Harris Teeter space while patrons wait for a remodel on the almost decade-old Noodles & Co in the same complex.
It is our belief that Fairfax is not being marketed in the correct way and/or aggressively enough to new restaurant groups and retailers and also fails to hold area businesses accountable for their sub-standard facilities and/or services. When new retail concepts head to the suburbs beyond downtown D.C., Bethesda or Clarendon are top choices for many. Fairfax Corner, a development to the west of Fairfax City, was fortunate to land the first Pinkberry in the metropolitan area. But that is not the norm. You think Roti Mediterranean Grill or Nando’s Peri-Peri, popular fast-casual eateries in D.C., are heading to Fairfax? Or is celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio is trying to open a new concept? We can only dream. The owners of Northside Social have created a unique coffee shop in the heart of Clarendon and it appears Fairfax was never on their radar. Think about that.
Its time for Fairfax City and GMU to work together to ensure the needs of the Mason and the surrounding community are being met. Georgetown University has a Student Advisory Board for Real Estate matters. Mason’s Student Government should look into creating a similar body and work with city officials to create a more modern and livelier environment for all. Fairfax is a college town and it needs to start acting like one.