Over the past month, the Post and the Gazette have written about the lack of "upscale" retail stores in Prince George's County. The stories and an editorial have pointed out that income levels and the number of adults with college degrees are higher than in some nearby jurisdictions that do have "upscale" stores.
But all these pieces, and all the rhetoric spewing forth from Prince George's County officials and business leaders, ignore what may be the most telling factors keeping "upscale" retailers away.
Prince George's County has the highest murder rate in the Washington suburbs. Not only is it increasing, it is already substantially higher than all other Washington suburbs combined. If I were going to open a new "upscale" store, I would put it in a jurisdiction that is safe, not one where public safety is something to talk about, but not actually do.
Almost every time I go into one of Prince George's County's department stores (like Hechts), or discount retailers (like Target or Value City, etc.), I see security guards at or near the door, and often have an employee check to see if I have a receipt when I leave. When I go to Potomac Yards, or Springfield Mall, or Waldorf, I do NOT see the same level of security. Why? Is it racism? Or more likely, that Prince George's County shoppers have given retailers good reason to incur the higher costs of such security? If that latter, I would conclude that the shoppers are not "upscale" enough to warrant "upscale" stores.
Prince George's County schools have the worst results in the Washington suburbs and in the state of Maryland. Part of this is probably due to low attendance rates and poor truancy enforcement. If I were going to open a new "upscale" store, I would put it in an area with an appropriately educated workforce that could be counted on to come to work every day--not in an area where the schools fail to educate young people and absenteeism appears to be acceptable, if not the norm.
Prince George's County once had the first Washington area enclosed mall with three conventional department stores. Two of those companies are out of business, and the third store and the mall itself are closed.
Back at that time, the county had quite a few enclosed and strip malls with conventional department stores. For example, Woodward and Lothrop had at least four and possibly more locations in the county. Except for a couple of Hechts locations, all of those conventional departments stores are gone.
In most other Washington area malls, when Woodward and Lothrop and Lansburghs closed, they were replaced with other conventional department stores. In Prince George's County, that did not happen?
Why? Was it racism? Or ignorance of the wealth in Prince George's County? Or more likely, that the performance--sales and profitability--of the stores we did have in the past just was not sufficient to justify investment in replacement stores?
Am I the only person who finds the media coverage of this issue to be superficial and apparently based on propaganda from county officials andbusiness leaders?