By Regine Victoria (File photo)
The former location of longtime Alexandria toy and clothing store Why Not? is in the process of being purchased by a chain of another of Alexandria’s institutions, Comfort One Shoes.
Maurice Breton founded Comfort One Shoes in 1993 on 201 King St. Since then, the chain has grown and spread across the D.C. region, including another Comfort One Shoes that opened about two months ago at 119 N. Washington St.
“It’s going to be the chain’s biggest store yet,” said Garrett Breton, vice president of merchandise and son of Maurice Breton. “We’re going to have double the space and even more products from different brands.”
The latest store in the chain will be at 200 King St., right across the street from the first Alexandria location. If Comfort One Shoes’ application for the location is approved, the store could open as soon as fall 2017.
Applications to do construction on the building that once housed Why Not? went before the city Board of Architectural Review for the Old and Historic District Wednesday night after the Times’ deadline.
Why Not? closed in January along with a string of other longtime local businesses. The owner cited difficulty competing with big box retailers and online sellers as factors leading to the closure. The closures prompted a discussion among city officials about how to make Alexandria more business-friendly, and prompted a recently approved revamp to the city’s administrative special use permit process.
Though Comfort One Shoes already owns a store right across from the possible new location, they plan to offer a wider selection with more options, Garrett Breton said. The chain has a similar set-up in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, with two locations on either side of Connecticut Avenue.
“We might offer a few brands people like at one store,” he said. “But if they can’t find what they’re looking for in that store, then we’ll offer another selection of brands in the next store.”
While many were sad to see Why Not? go, many are happy that the space left behind won’t be left for waste.
“I’m happy to see the space being filled, and that’s good news that they feel so confident they can expand,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “We want our spaces to be filled, and filled with businesses that ring people to King Street – that helps everyone.”
Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership said the expansion of the store into a space across the street was a surprising but not unwanted development.
“It’s interesting that they’re opening another store right across from the other, but it clearly speaks strongly to the market,” Landrum said. “As long as their company continues to attract business to our area, it’s a good thing.”
Others are not only glad that the space is being filled, but that it’s being filled with a retail business.
“I’m just relieved it’s not another restaurant,” said Yvonne Weight Callahan, president of the Old Town Civic Association. “We have enough of those.”
Though there has been a lot of positive reception, not everyone is thrilled about another Comfort One Shoes moving in. Bittersweet owner Jody Manor, who has advocated for easing of city regulations surrounding the opening of small business, said the move to expand Comfort One’s business is indicative of the difficult business climate retailers and property owners operate in.
“There are big changes afoot for retailers,” Manor said. “With landlords, it’s incumbent upon them to keep their space full. … The city — not just City Hall, but we as a city, everybody — needs to become more strategic about what kind of businesses we want and need to attract.
“We all need to be mindful of that, because I think a lot of the processes we have in place are cumbersome, and it can be discouraging to small businesses.”