Thursday, June 30, 2011

New marketplace set for McColl Fine Art

East Boulevard will be getting a new home market featuring up to 70 vendors, as the McColl Fine Art Gallery relocates to a new store off of Providence Road.

Similar in concept to Cotswold Marketplace or Sleepy Poet Antique Mall, the new store will be called Alexander Scott. Owners Russel Griffith and David Newcombe signed a lease for the building at 208 East Boulevard this week and hope to open by late August or early September.

"A lot of people are afraid of opening businesses right now," said Griffith. But the economic situation "was really more of a catalyst," Griffith said. People are ready to start buying top-quality goods again, he believes, and he hopes to attract them to Alexander Scott.

Griffith and Newcombe are now gearing up to recruit at least 60 vendors for the 7,500-square-foot space. They're going for a "mid-range to higher-end" assortment, but Griffith said he wants to have enough of a selection to make sure the average consumer can find something in their price range.

"The one thing I don't want is for people to walk in and walk out saying, 'That stuff is so expensive!'" Griffith said.

The duo has sold their own vintage and modern home goods at spaces in Sleepy Poet mall and Cotswold Marketplace. They've been in that business for about nine years, and have developed the connections with vendors they hope will help them find good sellers.

"It's a really tight-knit community," Griffith said. "Everyone knows everyone."

The mix they're going for, Griffith said, is eclectic. When listing the kinds of vendors he's looking for, Griffith lists almost everything - "masculine, feminine, mid-century modern, antique and new."

He said they're funding the new store themselves. "We're doing this on our own, with our own money, money that we saved," he said. "We're putting everything into this."

The McColl Fine Art gallery which has been on East Boulevard will be relocated to a smaller space at 128 Cottage Place, near Providence and Queens Roads. They haven't set an opening date yet.

Griffith said the store will also host regular events to benefit local causes, such as the Humane Society and Loaves and Fishes.

Said Griffith: "I really want this to be a space where people can come and have a great time."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Aldi headed to Pineville

Aldi, the private label grocer known for rock-bottom prices, is set to open a new store in Pineville late next month.

The chain, which has six stores in Charlotte and more in the surrounding areas, will open the new store for business on Thursday, July 28. The Aldi will be located at 10629 Park Road. Members of the public are invited to a grand opening and tour of the store - with samples - on Wednesday, July 27.

Aldi has a devoted following. The store keeps prices down (it claims by as much as 50 percent vs. traditional grocers) by offering a much smaller selection of only non-brand name goods than a traditional supermarket. This store will feature some 1,400 products, compared to the tens of thousands stocked at a Food Lion or a Harris Teeter.

The chain also features its own quirky practices it claims save money, including a 25 cent deposit for shopping carts and no free grocery bags. You can read more about those here.

The retailer, which is owned by the same German company that owns Trader Joe's, says it plans to open a total of 80 new US stores this year, adding to its 1,100 current locations.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's your favorite local shop in Charlotte?

A unique boutique, a cool interior design shop, a fun consignment store - what's your favorite locally-owned place to shop in and around Charlotte?

I'm getting together a list of such places for our annual "Living Here" supplement magazine, and I'd love to get the best shops around. Since I assume there are plenty of people out there who go shopping more often than me, I'm rounding up reader suggestions (the pros call this "crowdsourcing," which I think sounds like a medical procedure).

So, leave a comment with your suggestion and why you picked that shop. Or feel free to send me an email at or call me at 704-358-5041. Thanks for the help!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shopping in Ankara and Yerevan

They don't quite fit in the category of Charlotte retail, but the markets of Istanbul and Armenia's capitals are fun places to shop, where you can find everything from souvenirs to used surgical equipment.

I got the chance to check out the markets last week, while I was at a conference for journalists in Ankara, Turkey and Yerevan, Armenia (pictures below). Both cities are full of friendly people, historically fascinating, and terrifying places to be a pedestrian. And they both have traditional markets, where haggling is expected and it pays to have local help.

First, Ankara: The old bazaar here is located in the city's historic quarter, under the ruins of an ancient castle. The market grows more "authentic" and less touristy as you walk down from the castle (which is a tourist draw) and into the network of streets around its base.

The place is an interesting mix of goods for both tourists and locals. Some shops are clearly geared towards visitors, offering things such as Turkish souvenir jewelry and carved boxes (and, oddly enough, little figurines of Native Americans and European knights). Other shops next door sell goods clearly not meant to be flown out in any tourist's baggage, such as pitchforks, axes and shovels.

Take the time to wander a few blocks away from the tourist shop cluster into the local shops. You can find grocery stores selling bulk Turkish coffee, clothing stores with both headscarves and jeans and plenty of other local goods to bring back for "authentic souvenirs."

Although marked prices are generally pretty reasonable by American standards (about $10 for a throw pillow made from an old Turkish rug, for example), the advertised price isn't really the selling price. This is where it helps to have someone with you who speaks Turkish, if at all possible. The haggling is easier if you have a shared language and someone who can reassure you that you're getting a good deal.

My Turkish friend Erdem helped me get those $10 pillows down to $7 each, and I bought three. I also got a hand-cranked coffee grinder marked down 20 percent, to about $13, and  a wool scarf for $10 that was advertised for $15.

But be careful: One of the journalists on our trip told us about a former boss he'd had from out of the country, who didn't speak Turkish. When the boss came to Turkey, he took this journalist to help him negotiate. But the journalist said his boss didn't treat him well - so he didn't have much interest in helping him bargain. While yelling in Turkish and gesturing frantically at the merchants and their goods, he was actually yelling, "Don't bargain with this man! Come down 5 percent or less! Do not give this guy a good price!"

Next, Yerevan: This post-Soviet capital city is a strange collection of contradictions, with new Maseratis parked a block from buildings with grass growing on the roofs and people decked out in Western designer clothes a 10-minute drive from pitted roads used more by cows than cars. The market, downtown near the city's opera house, is no different.

Yerevan's outdoor market is much more like an open-air flea market than Ankara's, which is mostly shops. People come and lay out their goods on stands and tables in a park, some under umbrellas on the sidewalks and others on the grass.

The mix is eclectic. In a 10-minute walk, I saw antique silver spoons, surplus military assault gear (fatigues, tactical holsters, boots, knitted green face masks), hand-embroidered tablecloths, souvenir swords, rusted swords from the late Ottoman empire (early 1900s), wooden wine jugs, European soccer jerseys, heavy machine tools, wagon wheels and a whole table covered in used stainless steel surgical equipment that looked like something left over from the set of "Saw."

As in Ankara, haggling is expected. But the dollar is so strong (378 dram to $1), that I didn't feel compelled to drive a hard bargain. I paid the quoted price of 3,000 dram (about $8) for a working, late 1970's model Soviet camera, and got a handmade tablecloth down from $30 to about $25.

If you want to get the best deal, try paying in American dollars. While the Turkish shops wanted Turkish lira in Ankara, vendors at the market in Yerevan were more than happy to take US currency.

So, if you find yourself in either city anytime soon, make sure you hit the markets. Have fun traveling while we get back to Charlotte retail.

Pictures: The top three are from the market in Ankara, the bottom three are from the market in Yerevan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another daily deal site goes live

The proliferation of daily deal sites is continuing in Charlotte, with the newest entry,, going live today.

Daily deal sites (if you've somehow avoided being bombarded by news about them), have exploded in popularity, with hundreds popping up in the wake of industry leader Groupon's 2008 launch.

The business model is pretty simple: Sites sign up users and merchants, getting merchants to offer their goods or services for 50% off or more. They email those offers to their users, who buy coupons for those radically discounted prices. Merchants and the sites split the revenue, with the theory being that merchants reap the benefits of dozens or hundreds of new customers to offset the discount hit to their bottom line (typically at least 75%, after they split proceeds with the site).

A search for "Daily deals Charlotte" turns up dozens of the sites, ranging from national players such as LivingSocial (which recently expanded its Charlotte sales force) and Half Off Deals to more local names such as Charlotte on the Cheap and Charlotte Access. Local media companies have also jumped on the bandwagon, with the Observer and the Charlotte Business Journal recently starting daily deal offers.

Here's how Charlotte Connoisseur describes itself on its Facebook page: "CharlotteConnoisseur is a team of Charlotte locals, socialites, business owners, fashionistas and critics who love the group coupon craze and want to perfect the model on a local level. We vote on the best local businesses and only offer deals from the ones who make our cut."

Many observers have raised questions about the long-term viability of such sites, and some merchants have complained that the sites cost too much and train customers never to expect to pay full price. Groupon's IPO, one of the most-anticipated, has drawn plenty of fire, such as this article, "Groupon IPO has gall." The story essentially points out that Groupon has lost $540 million since its inception and doesn't predict when it might turn a profit.

What do you think - will the sites succeed? Have you used any? What was your experience like?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chipotle, La Paz coming to midtown Charlotte

Two new options for Mexican food are planned for midtown Charlotte, according to RestaurantTraffic.

The site, run by local real estate professionals, is reporting that La Paz will reopen in August at the Metropolitan in Midtown. The 31-year-old restaurant closed in Southend several months ago after a dispute with their landlord.

Chipotle, which currently has three Charlotte locations, will build its fourth at the corner of Kings and Charlottetowne. The lot is across the street from the Metropolitan complex. The nearest Chipotle isn't that far, down South Boulevard, but a midtown location will definitely make it easier to pop over for lunch if you work uptown.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Smashburger set for Stonecrest

Burger aficionados will soon have another option in town, with Denver-based "better burger" chain Smashburger set to open its first North Carolina location this month in the Stonecrest shopping center.

The grand opening is scheduled for Monday, June 20. Smashburger, which currently has about 100 stores, plans to open up to four more Charlotte locations in the coming years.

In addition to their burgers on toasted buns, the restaurant (which really loves the word "Smash"), also has Smashchicken sandwiches, Smashdogs, Smashsalads and Smashfries. The restaurant also plans Carolina-specific menu items, such as a Carolina burger with BBQ slaw and pimento cheese and a banana pudding milkshake.

The restaurant will join a Charlotte burger scene with plenty of local and national players. From local favorites like Penguin and Big Daddy's Burger Bar to proliferating newer chains like Five Guys Burger and Fries, there are a ton of options for your beef fix. What's your favorite?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe head to Ballantyne Village

Ballantyne Village, which recently dodged foreclosure, announced a slew of new tenants this afternoon, including a favorite pizza joint, a SouthPark favorite, a cell phone store, a software company and an expanded massage chain.

The upscale retail location was beset by vacancies that rose to about 50 percent during the economic downturn. Initially valued at about $71 million in 2006, the property struggled to pay off its loan. A planned hotel, office and condo tower were shelved. Owner BV Retail owed more than $31 million when lenders started foreclosure proceedings last year.

But in April, Ballantyne Village reached a refinancing agreement that allowed the owners to retain a 100-percent stake and saved the 165,000-square-foot property from the auction block, where it was set to be sold in July.

Monday, Ballantyne Village announced the following new tenants:

  • Mellow Mushroom, an Atlanta-based chain offering pizza in "an eclectic, art-filled environment," is opening a 6,800-square-foot restaurant.
  • Terrace Cafe will open its second restaurant in Charlotte, adding a 3,900-square-foot store. The restaurant currently has one Charlotte location, on Piedmont Row at SouthPark.
  • Cellular Sales, an authorized Verizon Wireless retailer.
  • eBuilder, a software management firm.
  • Massage Envy, which already is a tenant, is expanding its store.
"These additions to Ballantyne Village’s tenant mix are anticipated to attract new and repeat patronage from the surrounding communities as well as metro Charlotte,"  Ballantyne Village said in a statement. "With its growing list of tenant’s Ballantyne Village serves as a destination location for shoppers, dinners and those looking for entertainment."

P.s. from Aeropostale now open in Carolina Place, Concord Mills

Charlotte has its first P.s. from Aeropostales, a children's clothing store aimed at 7- to 12-year-olds. The store, a banner of the larger teen clothing retailer Aeropostale, opened at Carolina Place and Concord Mills on Friday.

The stores were two of seven new P.s. from Aeropostale locations the retailer opened last quarter. Aeropostale, and other apparel retailers, have been struggling with the dual problem of higher costs for the materials their clothes are made from and the still-shaky economic recovery.

Last week, Aeropostale shares tumbled after it warned investors to expect second quarter earnings to be well below analyst estimates. The company said product discounts are eating into profits.

The children's clothing store is a much smaller brand than the retailer's main banner. There are 965 Aeropostale stores and only 47 P.s. from Aeropostale.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Apple store headed to Northlake Mall?

A long-rumored second Apple store for Charlotte appears to be set for Northlake Mall, according to, a fan site dedicated to tracking and predicting new Apple store locations.

Northlake Mall wouldn't confirm or deny the report, but referred all questions to Apple's corporate offices, which couldn't immediately be reached (A message was left with the press office though, and I'll tell you what they say).

But using building permits and job listings, Gary Allen, head of ifoApplestore, thinks he's got Northlake pinned down as the location: Storefront #280, on the mall's second floor. You can check out the information he's linked to yourself, but the permits he found list the project as "317221 Apple @ Northlake Mall - Renovation."

Says Allen on his website: "Tips are posted only when I can confirm the information, usually from multiple sources. I may post my own speculations, but I don’t post flimsy rumors."

The store, if it happens, will be Apple's second in Charlotte, complementing the current store at SouthPark Mall.