Wednesday, August 29, 2012

EpiCentre open for business during DNC, owners say

The EpiCentre uptown is trying to convince Charlotteans to visit, shop and dine there during next week's Democratic National Convention, despite heavy security restrictions that will be in place during the event.

The EpiCentre will be the broadcast site for several TV networks, including CNN and MSNBC. Some restaurants have also been rented out for private events. But much of the complex will be open, and, the owners say, open to the public.

From the EpiCentre: "The best form of transportation to access the EpiCentre is by vehicle. Fourth St. is the only road that offers parking access to the EpiCentre decks. Inside the parking deck, the only working elevator during the convention is in the Aloft Hotel, which will transport passengers to and from the EpiCentre main level and parking decks. The light rail will not travel to the EpiCentre the entire week of the DNC, as its last stop will be at Stonewall, near the Westin Hotel.
Security checkpoints are set up around the city. Only one checkpoint allows access to the EpiCentre, and is located on South Tryon St. and South College St. exit off I-277. The checkpoint is operational 24 hours a day from 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4, until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Security screenings are required."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Could local malls see DNC boost?

Malls in Tampa, site of the Republican National Convention, have apparently seen a boost in business following a storm that shut down the convention for a day, according to this story from the Tampa Bay Times.

It appears most of that boost is due to Tropical Storm Isaac, which canceled convention activities on Monday. That left thousands of delegates with plenty of time on their hands, and some with cash to spend headed to the malls.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

"We're expecting some extra traffic this week, but it's also hard to tell with the (RNC) meetings and other activities," said Kristy Genna, WestShore Plaza spokeswoman. "We have a lot of great hotels around the mall within walking distance so that helps."
Discounts for several stores and restaurants at the mall were made available to conventioneers with a special card created by the host committee, she added.

The newspaper also interviewed shoppers looking in Urban Outfitters, and people who packed a weekday matinee movie showing at a mall.

Charlotte's malls might not see a boost without a tropical storm raining out part of the convention. Delegates, media and others all have tight schedules, and protesters speaking out against excessive consumerism might not head for SouthPark mall. But the malls will be well outside the security zones, offering a retreat for Charlotteans and ready spending opportunities for any delegates who want a break from politics.

Concord Mills is currently running a display of gowns worn by former first ladies Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Hillary Clinton. The gowns will be there through Thursday, August 30. "Plus, in the spirit of patriotism, select Concord Mills retailers will showcase their modern day interpretations of these famous ensembles," Concord Mills said in a press release. The display is tied to the American Presidential Experience exhibit, in Charlotte for the DNC.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Harris Teeter wins retailer of the year; Whole Foods to open more stores

Progressive Grocer, a leading supermarket trade magazine, has named Matthews-based Harris Teeter its Retailer of the Year.

In announcing the award, Progressive Grocer praised Harris Teeter's performance. "We are extremely impressed by Harris Teeter’s overall excellence as an employer and merchant, as well as its abiding commitment to excellence in customer service and satisfaction and its aggressive stance to expand its geographic footprint into new marketing territories, all of which are certainly no easy feat in the present retailing climate," said editorial director Meg Major, in a statement.

She also said Harris Teeter's "customer-focused culture, which has been at the forefront of the company’s exemplary performance through the years," was another reason for the award. Harris Teeter will be featured on the cover of the October issue of Progressive Grocer. 
And in other supermarket news, Austin-based Whole Foods is going to triple its store count, aiming for 1,000 total locations.The retailer will be opening more locations in smaller and underserved locations (maybe a couple more stores in Charlotte?).

“We’re accelerating growth,” co-CEO Walter Robb told Bloomberg News. “That’s going to take us places we have not been to before.” The retailer is on track for about $11.7 billion worth of sales this year.

At least one consultant told Bloomberg he questioned the strategy. “How successful are you going to be when you’re in a neighborhood that skews toward more middle-class or to people who shop more at a Save-A-Lot?” said Jack Horst, of Kurt Salmon. “Maybe they don’t need five different kinds of kale.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Free wi-fi coming to malls

Google and Boingo are expanding wireless hotspot access to eight US malls, although they haven't yet detailed which malls.

The companies currently provide hotspot access in subway stations and other areas of New York City. They've said that at least four of the malls to get free wireless Internet access will be in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tampa and Seattle.

And the wi-fi will, of course, have a commercial tie-in. The service will be supported by Google Offers, which will prompt users to sign up for Google's daily deal site when they log on to the hotspots. One can also imagine that retailers at the malls would love to send wi-fi users coupons and sales pitches directly, in real time, as they browse the stores.

Many businesses, such as Starbucks and McDonalds, offer free wi-fi as well to draw traffic. Fast, reliable, wi-fi is becoming more and more of a standard service, as facilities ranging from airports to stadiums - frequently cell-phone dead-zones - update their internal antenna infrastructure. Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Time Warner Cable Arena both have upgraded internal antenna systems, for example.

With ad-supported or business-supported free wi-fi becoming the norm, it's tough to see customers accepting paid access to the Internet for too long in places such as airports for too much longer. How do you feel about trading some ad-viewing for free wi-fi? And do you think any Google-Boingo wi-fi enabled malls will be in Charlotte?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Retailers hurt by 'everyday low prices'?

At least two prominent retailers, JC Penney and Mooresville-based Lowe's Inc., have been hurt recently as they move away from using promotional discounts, begging the question: Will we still buy anything that's not on sale?

Lowe's announced disappointing earnings Monday, and executives attributed much of the problem to missing promotions. The home improvement retailer has been trying to get away from deep discounts and sales, instead moving to an "everyday low prices" strategy, or ELDP. Lowe's strategy is something executives call EDLP-Plus, which is designed to still use some promotions, but the general trend is fewer sales.

Over Memorial Day, Lowe's said it reduced promotions too steeply, and customers steered clear. Lowe's then overcompensated with deep discounts to draw customers back, which hurt profits as well.

And JC Penney has been struggling since former Apple executive Ron Johnson took over and eliminated most sales and coupons in favor of a simplified, three tier strategy. The well-publicized problems have hurt the company financially and cost some top executives their jobs.

"The customer didn't recognize the changes we were trying to make," Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock said about the attempts to reduce promotions, in an interview Monday.

But he said there is still a need to move away from promotions towards EDLP. "Coming through the Great Recession, the whole industry probably got too promotional," Niblock said.

Many customers apparently don't agree: We're used to deep sales, and we've come to expect them, especially on big-ticket items.

As investor advice site SeekingAlpha put it: "LOW has attempted to change its business model from a "high-low" retailer that uses promotions to drive customers and revenue to one of "everyday low price" where customers can come to expect low prices everyday. This transition is one that is difficult and costly to pursue as customers often feel that EDLP means not receiving the bargains they previously did.

So, what do you think? Do you believe retailers who say they're switching to EDLP, or do you feel like you're getting nickel-and-dimed out of promotional savings? And would you switch away from a retailer that makes the pricing switch?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

US Foods headed to old Wal-Mart site?

An anonymous tipster told me US Foods is planning to open in the former Wal-Mart on Eastway Drive, and Mecklenburg building permits filed recently seem to support the idea.

US Foods didn't confirm or deny plans for the location. "Charlotte is a great market and we are keeping our options open for the future," said US Foods spokeswoman Christina Koliopoulos, in an email.

The company is a major distributor of national brand and private label items to institutions, including restaurants, hospitals, government offices, and educational institutions.

Building permits issued on Aug. 13 show a project called "US Foods" at 3304 Eastway Drive, the site of the former Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart at that location moved to a new, larger location on Independence Boulevard.

The permits show the project involves renovating 30,000 square feet of the store, at a cost of more than $2.3 million.

A business moving in to the former Wal-Mart space would be a relief for many east Charlotteans, who had worried about the possible effects of an empty big-box store on Eastway (especially one so close to Eastland Mall).

But it's unclear what would happen with US Foods' current Charlotte location if it were to open on Eastway. US Foods' current Charlotte location is at 7801 Statesville Road, and it appears from US Foods' website that the company generally only has one location in most cities.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria expanding

Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria is expanding, as the family-owned business finds there's a strong demand for western New York cuisine here.

Taste of Buffalo, in Huntersville, was opened by the Battaglia family in 2003. As you might guess from the name, the family started Taste of Buffalo to bring western New York flavor to the South. They're one of a number of restaurants with such ambitions (not surprising, given how many Buffalonians have relocated to the sunnier Charlotte climate).

The restaurant, originally designed just as takeout and delivery space, is expanding into the storefront next door. The new dining room will also include a bar with draft beer, and the old area will be used for special events and parties. The store will schedule a grand reopening in the next few weeks, the owners said in an email.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Wal-Mart holding midnight Hunger Games release

Wal-Mart is betting that the popularity of the Hunger Games books and movies will be enough to drive people to midnight parties across the country for the film's DVD release Friday.

The movie grossed more than $684 million worldwide, and was a home run for the studio that made it, Lions Gate Films. Now Wal-Mart is trying to capitalize on that. Starting at 11 p.m. Friday, 2,000 Wal-Mart stores around the country will host parties featuring merchandise giveaways and movie trivia.

When the movie goes on sale at midnight, customers who buy it will receive a pack of Hunger Games trading cards. Some random cards will be autographed by the movie's stars, including Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss Everdeen, the arrow-slinging heroine of the Hunger Games series.

According to Wal-Mart's store finder, none of the midnight store parties are in Charlotte, so if you want the Hunger Games that badly Friday night and live in town, you'll have to drive to a SuperCenter in Mooresville or Tega Cay.

There will also be two-disc commemorative sets that come with a mockingjay pendant for sale, and Wal-Mart hosted a Twitter party on Thursday (hashtag #DistrictParty) to give customers tips about hosting Hunger Games-themed viewing parties.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Want a peek inside new Whole Foods?

Whole Foods is getting ready to open its first Charlotte store, and the company is offering sneak preview tours to drum up interest.

The tours are scheduled for Sunday, August 26 and Monday, August 27. You can register here for a time slot on the 45-minute tour, but be aware that there is a cost. A $5 donation will be collected at the door, which Whole Foods says will go to benefit the community garden organization Friendship Gardens.

"Tour participants will be the first to get a glimpse of the new store, learn about some of its highlights and features, taste samples in each department, and receive a goodie bag," said spokeswoman Darrah Horgan, in an email.

The 42,000-square-foot store at Sharon and Fairview roads opens Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 9 a.m. Whole Foods is bringing an array of high-end touches to the new store, such as an in-house smoker making North Carolina-style pork, a gelato and smoothie bar, cooking classes and demonstrations, children's play areas and a bar serving wine and beer.

Whole Foods will use those features to compete in the especially-crowded Charlotte grocery market. Its nearest competitors are EarthFare and the newly-renovated and expanded Morrocroft Harris Teeter.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Total Merchant Supply expands, holds grand reopening

Total Merchant Supply, a store that supplies other stores in Charlotte, is holding a grand reopening party next week to celebrate its recent 1,000-square foot-expansion.

The company, which opened in 2003, sells and services point-of-sale systems and software  to local businesses (think cash registers, credit card swiping terminals, touchscreen checkout devices and the like). Total Merchant Supply has outfitted about 1,000 Charlotte-area businesses with their point-of-sale-systems, the store's management said.

“The old store just one storefront away was getting cramped,” managing partner Dwane Walton said in an email. “When this space opened up early last winter we saw that it offered the ability to increase our showroom, office and tech space to meet the increasing needs of our business without changing our basic address.”

Total Merchant Supply is now also selling more advanced devices than standard cash registers, such as iPad- and cloud-based point-of-sale systems.

The grand reopening will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on August 22 and 23, at the store on South Boulevard. Company representatives will be on hand demonstrating various point-of-sale systems, the store's management said, and retail and restaurant owners are invited to attend. Door prizes, food and refreshments will be at the event.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cotswold Marketplace expands after two-year anniversary

Multi-merchant retailer Cotswold Marketplace has expanded its square footage and is continuing to grow after celebrating its second anniversary, owner Melissa Vandiver said.

The store, at 200 North Sharon Amity Road, has doubled its selling space, to 7,000 square feet. "We thought we'd just start small and enjoy it, but demand was strong," said Vandiver, who runs the shop with her daughter.

They opened the interiors store in June 2010, as Vandiver was thinking of getting back into retail and her daughter wanted to use her design degree.

Vandiver said she was "raised in retail." Her mother ran a women's boutique for more than three decades in Little Rock, Arkansas. "That was my tutelage, and eventually my husband and I ended up in Charlotte," Vandiver said. She opened a Myers Park gift store, but chose to leave the business after having kids.

Now that she's back, Vandiver said she's happy with the variety Cotswold Marketplace offers. "There's quite a variety here, first house up to investment pieces," she said. "Quirky, shabby chic, some of what grandmother had, all the way up to and beyond contemporary chrome and glass."

The store is one of several multi-merchant format stores that have started in Charlotte in the past few years, including Slate Interiors and Alexander Scott.

"When you've got a start-up business, every day is a new day, and every quarter's a new quarter, and you don't know how to project," she said. "It's very comfortable at this point to see a growth projection, and be able to see the ebbs and flows of retail and how we can best respond to that."

She hopes to see the store continue to grow, and already has her four-month-old granddaughter attending staff meetings. "Lots of people work hard," Vandiver said. "We just happen to enjoy it."

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Salud Beer Shop opening outlet in 7th Street Public Market

Salud Beer Shop, which opened earlier this year in NoDa, is already expanding, with a small express store opening later this month at the 7th Street Public Market.

"This shop will be a smaller express version of Salud in NoDa," said owner Jason Glunt, in an email. "We are going to focus on N.C. beers and seasonals from great breweries such as Dogfish and Founders."

The store is set to open Saturday, Aug. 18. Salud is also working on an e-commerce site to sell their beers over the internet as well.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Report: H&M headed to Charlotte

According to the Charlotte blog Restaurant Traffic, H&M, one of Charlotte's longest-sought retailers, is heading to town.

According to Restaurant Traffic, H&M will open in SouthPark mall and Northlake Mall. The retailer had reportedly looked at space in SouthPark previously, but couldn't find the right space. And Northlake still has plenty of open space at its shuttered Borders bookstore.
Restaurant Traffic is run by leasing professionals in Charlotte, including David Tschirhart of Legacy Real Estate Advisors. They usually post news about (surprise) new restaurant space being leased, but with the depth of their retail contacts they are usually pretty reliable.

"H&M has locations in Raleigh and Winston Salem but now will have a presence in the largest city in North Carolina. No firm date on when they will enter the market but they are coming," Restaurant Traffic writes.

With The Container Store at SouthPark open and Whole Foods opening soon, adding H&M to the mix would fill one of the last remaining hipness holes in Charlotte's retail scene. It might also assuage the city's chronic complaints about why Raleigh and other N.C. cities seem to get every major retailer before Charlotte.

Blend Boutique now open at Ballantyne Village

A new women's boutique is open at Ballantyne Village, selling brands such as Bec & Bridge, Mother Denim, Citizens of Humanity and KAIN Label.

Blend Boutique, which sells clothing, jewelry and accessories, opened for business on Monday. The store is open Monday - Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“The style of Blend mimics the personality of the south Charlotte community: classy with edge and young yet sophisticated,” said Blend owner Christy Ward said in an emailed statement. Pictures are courtesy Blend.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sprint store headed to former Big Ben location

A new Sprint store is being built on Providence Road, at the former site of Charlotte stalwart Big Ben British Pub & Restaraunt.

Big Ben moved to a new building on South Boulevard, after it burned down in 2010 (Sidenote: I was out there that day, working for the Observer on a story about the fire. The bar staff, though sad, was giving away rescued beer to the crowd that gathered. It was a memorable scene.).

The building at 801 Providence Road, which had originally been constructed in 1905, according to county property records, was a total loss. It was demolished a few months after the fire.

A reader asked me this weekend what is being built on the site, so I looked up the building permit to check.  The project "Sprint Eastover" shows a 3,200 square-foot building being constructed on the site, at a contract cost of more than $600,000.

A representative with Lincoln Harris, the site's developer, confirmed that it is in fact a Sprint retail store headed to the neighborhood. The store is set to open sometime in the third quarter.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New accessory store open at Blakeney

CC's Accessories opened its third Charlotte-area shop this weekend, with a store at Blakeney Shopping Center at Ardrey Kell and Rea roads.

CC's has two existing locations, at Northlake Mall and Carolina Place Mall. The store sells a wide range of jewelry and accessories, with more than 5,000 different items available.

Most of the items available sell for under $10, and CC's said it plans further expansion in and around Charlotte.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Dilworth residents to meet with developer about Walgreens

A proposed Walgreens with a drive-thru and a small office building at the corner of Morehead Street and Kenilworth Avenue is stirring debate in Dilworth, and residents will be able to voice their concerns to developer Lincoln-Harris on Tuesday.

The development (see the proposal here) would require rezoning, as well as demolishing a half-dozen old houses at the corner. Interested residents can meet at 7 p.m. on August 7, in the Fellowship Hall at Covenant Presbyterian Church. City council will hear the proposal at a rezoning hearing scheduled for Sept. 24.

From a Dilworth Community Development Association bulletin to residents last week: "They plan to tear down the white house and the Tudor apartment building on Morehead as well as the three adjacent homes on Kenilworth...The main concern is the use of the site as a large drug store with a drive-thru as it is not the highest and best use for the site. The encroachment of this level of retail into the neighborhood will put tremendous strain on our small neighborhood streets and infrastructure."

A CDOT memo on the proposed rezoning estimates that Lincoln-Harris' plan could generate about 1,540 trips per day, which it says would be a "minor impact" on the surrounding roads. CDOT staff are concerned about proposed access to the site in the plan: "Specifically, we are concerned about sight distance for left turns into the site from Kenilworth and the need to properly restrict left turn movements from the proposed right-on / right-out driveways."

Here's an earlier post I did about this project with some more details.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Rock Hill Galleria gets new stores, remodel

Rock Hill Galleria is getting several upgrades, including a new bowling alley and a multimillion dollar renovation of the mall's Belk anchor store.

The mall is adding Revolutions, a 66,640 square-foot bowling alley and entertainment center. Located on the mall's north side, Revolutions is expected to open this winter. In addition to 30 bowling lanes, the business will include an arcade, lazer tag, bumper cars, a restaurant and bar, and a 100-seat sports theater. There will also be live music and dancing.

Charlotte-based Belk is also spending $6 million to remodel and expand its Rock Hill Galleria store. The department store will be expanded by 20,000 square feet, offering more merchandise and updated selling space. Belk has already carried out similar renovations at its Carolina Place and SouthPark stores. The Galleria store will remain open during the remodel, Belk said, and a grand reopening of the completed store is set for fall 2013.

"“The renovated store will reflect the latest in retail layout, decor and merchandise presentation, and will allow us to offer customers expanded assortments of apparel, shoes, accessories and other merchandise," said Belk executive Bill Roberts, in a statement. The store is adding 25 positions as a result, he said.

And JCPenney is opening its new Sephora store-within-a-store at its Galleria location on Friday, August 10. JCPenney has also increased the size of its Galleria store by more than 40 percent, from 51,600 square feet to 83,000 square feet. The retailer has struggled since changing its price strategy, however.

“The addition of Revolutions, along with the expansions of the Belk and jcpenney department stores, are positive steps in re-energizing the retail and entertainment offerings at the tri-county’s only enclosed shopping center,” said Chris Maguire, CEO of Galleria developer Cypress Equities.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

New pet supply store opening in south Charlotte

A local businessman is opening Pet Supplies Plus in the Carmel Commons shopping center next weekend.

The 10,000 square foot store is set open Saturday, August 11. The store is owned and operated by Matt Grimm. In addition to pet food and supplies, the store will also offer grooming services.

“We understand the special bond between owners and their pets, and at the end of the day, we believe that pets own people – not the other way around,” said Grimm, in an email. “We look forward to becoming an integral part of the Charlotte community and getting to know all the neighborhood pets and their people by name.”

To mark the opening, the store will have a celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on August 11, with over $750 worth of prizes, as well as free pet nail clipping and free food.

The store will also host events such as pet adoptions from local shelters and low-cost vaccine clinics. You can check out the local store's Facebook page here.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Permits reveal some damage at SouthPark

SouthPark mall has been pretty tight-lipped about the aftermath of last month's partial roof collapse, but Mecklenburg County building permits offer a glimpse into the damage the mall sustained.

Around a dozen stores are still closed as the state's biggest mall conducts repairs stemming from the roof collapse and flooding, which sent several inches of water spilling down escalators and rushing through parts of the mall. SouthPark had to bring in structural engineers and shore up parts of the structure near Banana Republic and Gap, where the two partial collapses actually occurred.

One permit, issued July 25, is for an $800,000 contract for "reconstruction of collapsed roof." The project passed an inspection on Monday, after new concrete "double tees" were installed to repair the structure. "Roof/dry-in installation has begun and is also being verified by engineer," an inspector noted.

Another permit, for $15,000, is for repairs around the mall's escalators. "Scope of work includes removal and reinstall of drywall at escalators vertical walls and walls and ceilings and the lower level entry area," the permit says. A permit for an $80,000 project is for removing and reinstalling an air handling unit on the collapsed roof.

There are also permits for repair work to individual stores that point to some of the damage individual stores suffered. A permit for $172,000 worth of work on the Tinder Box Cigars store shows that a contractor will demolish and replace the ceiling, light fixtures, wiring, crown molding, the HVAC unit, and the entry door. A permit for $20,000 at Bebe shows that a contractor "will hang, tape and finish drywall at the 2' cut section removed around the perimeter of the space," as well as repainting and reinstalling mirrors and baseboard.

Photos from inside SouthPark mall during the flood