What kinds of businesses that don’t serve food would want to pay to open locations in Metro stations? That was the big question when the WMATA Board decided last year not to entertain any bids for food-related retail, even packaged food like frozen dinners that are not geared toward eating on the system.
Now we know the answer: DVD rentals and trolley tour tickets. WMATA received six bids in December: three for DVD rental kiosks, one for Old Town Trolley Tours, one for newsstands that would serve food, and one that would have combined a variety of retail including Smithsonian Museum stores, cleaners, and more DVDs.
WMATA disqualified the newsstands with food because food wasn’t allowed, and eliminated two of the others because they didn’t have enough business experience, financial resources, and/or solid business model in the RFPs.
The three retail proposals that passed muster are Blockbuster, for DVD rental kiosks at Gallery Place, Metro Center and Pentagon City, Movie Solution, for DVD rental kiosks at Farragut North, Farragut West, Foggy Bottom, L’Enfant Plaza, Metro Center Union Station, Bethesda, New Carrollton, Shady Grove and Rosslyn, and Old Town Trolley Tours, for ticket sales and information booths at both entrances of Smithsonian.
If approved by the Board, these licenses would run for 8 years. WMATA will earn a guaranteed $116,000 the first year and gets a percentage of sales after that, which they estimate will bring in $928,000 over the full 8 years. Based on the profits after the first year, WMATA can renegotiate the agreements. The retailers will need to handle all cleaning and maintenance, and get necessary business licenses from the jurisdictions where the stations are located.
It would be nice to know how much the newsstand bid would have brought in had it not been disqualified. Knowing how much money candy bar and gum sales would earn WMATA could be very useful in budget debates. If it’s a lot of money, maybe it’s worth paying more cleaning crews. If it’s not much more than the DVD rental kiosks, then we can know for sure that edible items aren’t an option to help close budget gaps.