WASHINGTON - The Washington Coliseum is historically known as the site where the Beatles’ performed their first concert in the United States. It has also hosted President Dwight D. Eisenhower’ inaugural ball in 1953 along with many professional basketball and hockey games. But outdoor retailer REI has helped transform this historic venue and is set to open its D.C. flagstore store inside this space.
Over the years, the arena fell into disrepair and was most recently used as a parking lot. But with the revitalization of Northeast D.C. and the NoMa neighborhood, the site has transformed into beautiful building that will be home to the REI store along with office spaces and other businesses.
“We have been in this market for almost 30 years, but never in the District,” said Becky Smith, general manager for the D.C. flagship store. “So this is the first store to be actually in the District with us, and the fact that this is our nation's capital means we have got it come in here in an awesome way.”
The 51,000-square foot space will occupy the first floor of the venue that is also known as the Uline Arena.
“In this store, you are really in store for an incredible experience,” said Smith. “There are going to be brands you haven't seen before in any of your other stores. We have a curated assortment. We have got an outdoor collective that really highlights some District-specific items as well as brands that you don't find in other areas.”
For those who know about what has taken place inside this arena, there will plenty of reminders of the historic events that have been held at this space. Old basketball flooring and stadium seating now occupy the space of a wall inside the store.
“It’s a really cool thing to be able to think about who played basketball on these floors, who sat in these seats to watch games happening,” Smith said.
Posters from musical events previously held in the building as well as around this neighborhood are plastered on walls and pillars in the store. There is an outdoor courtyard that also showcases the structure of the facility.
“It’s a place where we are actually able to bring you outdoors into our space little bit more,” said Smith. “As you look back here at the courtyard, you see the ribs of the building – flying buttresses as we call them. This is the original structure to the building that we are able to maintain by having this space here in the building … So when you’re sitting in the courtyard, you can still be in the moment. You can still see the architecture and the history of the building while understanding the new use of the space.”
The flagship store will finally open up its doors on Friday at 10 a.m. and many customers are expected to camp outside the store at least a day beforehand to be the first ones inside.
A three-day block party filled with events that will include live music, a beer garden, outdoor classes, a climbing well and more are also planned for the big grand opening. Also, the first 500 people in line on each of the three days this weekend will receive a custom D.C. Camelbak bottle along with a gift card.