Friendship Heights to get a boost from both sides of DC-Montgomery County border

Montgomery County, Maryland, council members voted unanimously to mirror D.C. efforts to give more attention to Friendship Heights.

The Montgomery County Council approved a plan to create a Friendship Heights urban district to support businesses, and make the area more appealing to residents and visitors.

Friendship Heights straddles the line between Montgomery County and the District, and there are efforts on both sides to make what Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson calls “a good place … a lot better”.

D.C. Ward 3 Council member Matt Frumin introduced legislation to create a business improvement district for the D.C. side of the area last month.

Traditional retailers, such as Lord and Taylor and Nieman Marcus, are gone. The Mazza Gallerie was sold at auction.

Manuel Ochoa, a Montgomery County resident, recently told county lawmakers he supports the formation of an urban district.

“Since I moved to Friendship Heights, I have watched the loss of retailers and storefronts with frustration even before the pandemic.”

The Friendship Heights Metro station is a transit hub linking Montgomery County’s Ride On bus service to Metrorail and Metrobus. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

“What I hear all the time, and what I agree with personally,” said Friedson, “is that most residents do not really care about and aren’t necessarily looking for a place to buy a $5,000 handbag or a $10,000 piece of jewelry.”

What they really want, “is a place to meet a friend for coffee, a place to go on a date night,” or a store where they can buy \everyday household items for their families, Friedson said.

Among the businesses supporting the move to create the urban district is the Junction Bistro, Bar and Bakery at The Collection at Chevy Chase.

Chelsea Sexton, director of hospitality for the management group that includes Junction, said that a lot of first-time customers tell staff they didn’t know the bistro was there.

Sexton said the business welcomes diners and those who want to get work done over a latte or drink.

“I’ve seen people come in and make great connections with whoever they’re sitting next to. I’ve seen job interviews taking place, blind dates,” Sexton said.

Those initial discoveries lead to repeat customers.

“I think once people know we’re here, they do like to hang in the space,” Sexton said.

While the business has grown, Sexton said the formation of an urban district would be welcome.

“We just think it’s a great idea. We firmly believe a rising tide lifts all boats,” she said. “It’s all about getting people here.”

The urban district would be funded with money charged to property owners that lease space to commercial or residential tenants. Funds collected would cover the costs related to promoting the district, improving streetscapes and enhancing safety.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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