With its homey vibe and simple strip of low-key shops and restaurants, downtown Falls Church is a bit of an anomaly in a Northern Virginia that’s busy reinventing itself. To the casual visitor, the town’s relatively low density and lack of glittering amenities might seem like a waste of prime space close to two Metro stations. But Falls Church residents say they’re generally happy with the town as it is.
A Little Bit of Mayberry
While much of Northern Virginia is dominated by Arlington and Fairfax counties, Falls Church stands alone, a small municipality that doesn’t belong to either county. The downtown area is roughly bounded by West Street to the northwest, Park Avenue to the northeast, Washington Street to the southeast, and a creek that runs southeast through Cavalier Trail Park.
The southeastern section of the downtown strip has a Mayberry quality to it, featuring a string of shops whose facades don’t appear to have been renovated in decades. The northwestern section, in contrast, boasts several tall new condo buildings that include ground floor retail.
Housing? How Much Do You Want to Spend?
Housing in downtown Falls Church is quite varied. The southwest section is dominated by Winter Hill, a large, winding townhouse development built several decades ago where a two-bedroom might cost between $275,000 and $350,000. Condos in the area’s newer buildings are distinctly more expensive. A two-bedroom at The Spectrum, for example, starts at $425,000, according to Mark Franceski of marketing and research firm McWilliams | Ballard, but units there can go up to $700,000.
There are a smattering of single-family homes off Park Street in the northeast of the area. Prices on these vary considerably; a small rambler on a nice lot could sell for $450,000, while an almost-new mini-mansion might go for over $1 million.
Because downtown includes few single-family homes, it’s not really the place for families. Most of the residents are young professionals, either single or married, who work in the District or elsewhere in northern Virginia. The area also has its fair share of empty nesters, retirees, and loyal longtime Falls Church residents. While it’s far less diverse, both economically and ethnically, than DC, there is more variety than one might find in McLean or Bethesda. The area is a very safe one that includes several parks with climbing equipment, a public library, and a Saturday morning farmers market. On holidays, the city sponsors events like a July 4th parade that runs along Broad Street, the area’s main drag.
Personality in Spades
Downtown Falls Church’s commercial sector doesn’t come across as being particularly impressive at first, but a closer inspection of the small strip of shops that lie just west of Washington Street reveals a number of locally-owned businesses with character: Brown’s Hardware, The Local Market produce store, and Natalia’s Elegant Creations bakery, to name a few.
There’s also a range of ethnic eateries—Vietnamese, Japanese, Bolivian, Afghan, Thai, and Indian—plus a number of bars like Ireland’s Four Provinces and the Mad Fox Brewing Company that have a good dose of personality. To boot, the State Theater books a range of bands, and an old school bowling alley is located just off Broad Street. For those seeking a wider (and glitzier) range of offerings, Tyson’s Corner is only five miles away.
Changes on the Horizon
While the area has a timeless quality to it, things are slated to change a bit in the next few years. The condo buildings to the northwest brought a bit of Clarendon-ness to Falls Church, and a yet-to-come development to the southeast should add a little more of that. City Center South, a nine-acre project led by Atlantic Realty, was planned and approved by Falls Church residents back in 2008, but it halted in the face of the economic downturn. Now it appears to be back on track.
Making use of a couple of large parking lots on the west side of Broad Street near the intersection with Washington Street, the one million square-foot mixed-use project will be completed in two phases. The first phase will result in a large office building (plus ground floor retail), a hotel, a retirement community, and a revamped bowling alley. The second phase will include a Harris Teeter, more retail, and over 400 apartments.
Is this good news? After all, many Falls Church residents seem to like their downtown just like it is. “I like the idea,” said Laurin Penland, a 29 year-old resident. “I’d love more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development.”
NoVa Means Traffic
Downtown Falls Church cannot escape an issue that affects pretty much all of Northern Virginia: traffic. Just about everyone UrbanTurf spoke with agreed that rush hour in the area—no matter where a driver is coming from or going to—can be pretty nasty.
Still, the area is relatively well-located for anyone heading elsewhere in Virginia or even into the District, and several residents stressed that the location is one of the biggest advantages of living there. I-66 is very close, and the Beltway and some of the area’s busiest smaller highways, like Route 50, are also nearby.
And then, there’s the Metro. The West Falls Church station and the East Falls Church station—both on the Orange Line—are about two miles and one mile away, respectively. “My partner works in the city,” said Penland, “and it’s about 30 minutes on the Metro. You can’t do much better than that.”
The Bottom Line
Next to shiny, bustling neighboring communities like Tyson’s Corner or Clarendon, Falls Church feels like a bit of an anachronism. But residents, it turns out, like the fact that their local establishments have some flavor. The area’s about to get a bit of an upgrade, and the hope is that the area will retain most of the charm that its reputation is built on.