Today, as a thriving and diverse community, Reston’s reputation is widely known, and it sits on many national ‘top’ lists as a sought-after place to both live and work. But in its infancy in the 1960s, many early marketers who tried to sell the concept of the unique utopian village to prospective buyers initially had a rough time of it.
Sales of original Reston homes were transacted through Reston itself and not through traditional realtors, so the community had its own sales, marketing and public relations staff.
“It was my job to tell people why they wanted to drive 17 miles from D.C. and then two more miles down a dinky two-lane road to Reston; to live in a high-rise with no one else in it yet,” said Houston Park, an early Reston marketing and public relations staff member who spoke along with others last week as part of the Reston Historic Trust lecture series.
Park said he moved to Reston in 1967 when he was 23 years old. “I bought here before I began to sell here, so it was almost like that [Remington] razor commercial where [Victor Kiam] says ‘I liked the razor so much I bought the company,” he said. “I just had to convince others about it.”
Chuck Veatch, an even earlier resident of Reston, moved to Reston in 1964, only one year after it was established, and began trying to sell homes.
“The first model homes in Reston opened that year,” he said. “Our goal was to sell 80,000 homes by 1980, but we were trying to sell the concept of Reston, and homes that were a little more expensive, at a time that homes were sold strictly by a square footage standard. It was initially a tough sell.”
John Siddall, another early Reston marketer, remembers the outside perception of Reston at that time.
“Reston in the early years was a young, intellectual community made up of 30 and 40 year olds,” he said. “And there was a perception that the people in Reston were weird. Some thought we were communists, and even the rest of Fairfax County thought we were a strange group of folks.”
Other factors worked against the sales team as well.
“Because Reston in the 1960s was an ‘open’ community within a segregated state that had no fair housing laws, we had a hard time with market resistance in terms of blacks,” Veatch said. “We in Reston had no issues at all, but because realtors did not sell our homes there was some resentment, and the real estate brokerage community used the race card against us, to sell against us and tell people they didn’t want to live in Reston.”
Veatch said that by the early to mid 1970s, management determined that to just break even, Reston needed to sell 1,000 homes a year, something that it was having a hard time doing.
“We only had about 100 people a week coming through to look,” Siddall said. “So we would have to sell to 20 of them each week to be able to make the 1,000 sales for the year. We had to do something to get more people here looking.”
The team had an idea. They approached Bloomingdale’s department store which had just opened a location in the county, and asked — as a joint marketing venture — the department store would decorate a model home in Reston.
“The Bloomingdale House was responsible for bringing 50,000 people through Reston in four months,” Siddall said. “Sales skyrocketed as a result.”
“It was tough but a whole lot of fun, too,” Siddall said of those early years. “The early Reston marketing team was a group of young geniuses, all under 30, who were young enough to not yet know what they couldn’t do. Anything was possible, and Reston today is the result. Reston is not the norm in America. Kids can grow up here, go to school here, work here, marry and have their own kids here and retire here. It is the apex of the term ‘quality of life.’”