Friday, January 29, 2010

Old mill turns antiques mall in Concord

A new antiques mall is set to open Monday in a Concord building that's quite the antique itself: The former Cannon Mills Plant 6, now part of the renovated Gibson Mill complex on McGill Avenue, about half a block from Concord Parkway North (U.S. 29/601). The site has roots stretching back to the late 1800s, when it was home to Gibson Mill, which made gingham.

The oldest building that remains dates to 1913, and part of that is the new Depot at Gibson Mill, a 35,000-square-foot space that will have about 130 vendor booths selling antiques and collectibles. The name was inspired by the location, facing railroad tracks that are most definitely operational (when I visited Thursday, a long freight train thundered past).
The owners are hoping to draw visitors from Interstate 85 and nearby attractions such as Concord Mills and Charlotte Motor Speedway

Inside, the building retains the brick walls, warm wooden floors and big windows of the old mill. The merchandise setup, meanwhile, is shades of one of Charlotte's most unusual shopping destinations, the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall on South Boulevard - alas, minus the super-cool vintage clothing section (at least, as far as I saw).

As with all malls along these lines (see also: Trader Marc's in Fort Mill), it gives merchants an affordable chance to have a retail presence without the commitment or expense of opening an entire store. And it seems that used merchandise is also attracting more curiosity from shoppers, too, as they aim to find deals in the recession. Granted, "used" doesn't always mean "inexpensive," but in the world o' vintage, the hunt for a diamond in the rough is part of the fun.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Do SouthPark's comings and goings signal anything more?

Last week I wrote a short story about some new stores coming to SouthPark - but what's just as telling is the flip side of that equation: The merchants they're replacing. Yes, stores turn over all the time, even during a boom, but just about all malls have been wrestling with increased vacancy in the recession. Luxury-oriented centers like SouthPark aren't exempt, and it looks to me like the downturn is bringing a somewhat wider economic mix of stores into a mall known for its concentration of high-end tenants.

The last time I was at the mall - about a week ago - the former Bob Ellis Shoes space near Nordstrom was filled by a artisan crafts-type store that looked like it might be a temporary occupant. Bath and body products purveyor Crabtree & Evelyn, which closed stores in the wake of a bankruptcy filing, will be replaced by a Yoforia frozen yogurt location. The former Cache Luxe, next to Aveda, will soon become home to Charlotte's first True Religion jeans store - granted, not exactly a bargain-basement outlet, what with jeans selling for $200 and more. (Cache, which still operates its namesake store at SouthPark, is thinning its roster of the Luxe stores nationwide, not just here.)

The closing of Carlyle & Co. jewelers, a Greensboro-based chain that went out of business entirely, and upscale women's boutique Intermix have also left vacancies at SouthPark recently; it's as yet unclear what will fill them. Intermix was an interesting case - a high-end, fashion-forward store that's well-established in other cities, it came to Charlotte in the spring of 2008, not long before - well, you know what happened in the economy.

Does it mean that SouthPark's luxury luster has dulled? I don't think so. But it does speak to the ways that the recession has dampened high-end spending and hit mall-reliant retailers across the country and locally, leaving newer, smaller high-end markets on the bubble.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Harris Teeter in Indian Trail

Harris Teeter is continuing its expansion in Union County with the opening of a new store Feb. 3, two weeks from today, in Indian Trail. The 48,000-square-foot store at Austin Village Shopping Center, 1351 Chestnut Lane, at Potter Road, will employ 80 people and debut after an 8 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. Afterwards, it will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with grand opening events its first three weekends.

The Indian Trail store will bring Matthews-based Harris Teeter to 195 locations chainwide, and will be the sixth store the company has opened in its current fiscal year, which began in October.
Harris Teeter plans to open six more locations by the end of September.

Three of this year's new stores, including Indian Trail, are in North Carolina. The other N.C. stores will replace older locations.
One, in Hendersonville, opened in December, and another, in Raleigh, is set to open Feb. 10. That store will be the chain's first two-story location. The other stores are in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lighting maker chooses Charlotte for its first store

The Copper Lighting Co., which makes handmade copper light fixtures at its factory just outside Columbia, S.C., has opened its first store, at 2041 South Blvd., in Charlotte's South End neighborhood. The shop will hold a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, January 16).

Called Lantern & Scroll, the store sells predominantly outdoor light fixtures, but some indoor pieces and candles as well, said manager Karen Henderson. Her parents, John and Vicky Henderson, formed the company in the early 1990s after finding antique-quality copper lanterns amid the stock of a lighting factory that was in the process of closing. With the help of a master coppersmith who had worked at the factory, they began making such lights themselves, supplying customers in historic areas of Charleston and New Orleans.

The company's products are all made in the United States and include gas, propane and electric models. They're sold largely through home and garden stores, primarily across the Southeast, but haven't previously been available at N.C. retailers, Karen Henderson said. Customers can also visit the South End store to order custom lanterns, she said.

The Hendersons opted to put their first store in Charlotte because they view it as an emerging city and a potentially fertile market for its traditionally-styled products. Charlotte is also fairly close to the company's factory, so it can provide a quick turnaround time, Karen Henderson said.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jewelry store popping up just a little bit longer

The Jewelry Artists of Charlotte store at Ballantyne Village, a temporary "pop-up" store we wrote about last month, is extending its stay through the Valentine's Day season. The shop, which sells jewelry and accessories from local designers, was set to close Dec. 31 but will now be open until Feb. 27, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The store in the former Lions Jewelers location has also added about 10 more artists to its roster, bringing the number of people represented to 30.

“Jewelry Artists of Charlotte received an amazing response from shoppers and the community during the holidays,” I.C. London owner Shelly Domenech, who's managing the store, said in a news release. The Ballantyne location of her lingerie boutique is just a few doors down. “We are excited to continue to showcase jewelry by talented local designers through February.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Muzak to your ears

My story in today's paper (and, of course, online) about Fort Mill-based Muzak's move to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy was more about dollars and cents than pop and rock. But the weight of the company's "elevator music" past is such that it seems just about every time we or any other media outlet write about Muzak, we're duty-bound to mention that the company-circa-now is not, we repeat, not, Your Father's Elevator Music Provider anymore. Since the 1980s, Muzak has strived to reinvent itself as a modern, knowing source of custom playlists for business environments, particularly retail, featuring songs performed by their original artists (as opposed to, say, a smooth jazz combo, or, well, you get the picture). The hope, of course, is to provide the soundtrack to your shopping (and, merchants hope, spending). For an excellent picture of this (and suggested soundtracks for several Charlotte neighborhoods), check out my erstwhile colleague Jeff Elder's fine 2007 feature story on the company's reinvention, and the work of its "audio architects."

That said: It was still rather awesome to find, after a bit of online hunting yesterday afternoon, that not only is the much-maligned Elevator Music of old still available, amid Muzak's 90-odd other programs, but that you can also listen to a sample of it online, in case you wish to evoke memories of, I don't know, instrumental pop-rock covers drifting over the dentist's waiting room. Yes, that's right, sax solo fanatics/sadists/ironic fans of aural Velveeta: The program is called "Environmental" - why, I cannot say, as to me the word suggests more "nature soundscapes featuring waves hitting the shore" than "easy listening instrumentals" - and apparently, it's quite popular in Japan. You can find the info and clip here: Just scroll down a bit to "Environmental" and hit "sample." Yes, that's right. Think Hall & Oates couldn't get any smoother? Well, you thought wrong.

Though I wouldn't want to listen to it for an extended period of time, there was nonetheless something weirdly nostalgic about the sample - a reminder of a not-so-distant era when mainstream shopping environments perhaps weren't as aspiring-hip, and a trip to the produce section didn't mean hearing a micro-programmed tracklist featuring Aimee Mann and the Foo Fighters playing faintly overhead.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Merchants' December sales results: Comparatively jolly?

A host of chain retailers released their December sales results today. The overriding message: "Better than our really low expectations!" Of course, that was merchants' hope going into the 2009 holidays - that they'd be at least a little better than woeful 2008, the worst holiday shopping season in 40 years. The sales results - at least thus far - appear to bear it out, suggesting that shoppers spent at least a little bit more than in 2008, if not a lot. A fuller sense of how the season stacks up both nationally and locally will emerge in the coming weeks and months.

It still seems unclear precisely what this means heading into 2010, other than perhaps "shop-pocalypse averted." Others were taking a somewhat rosier view; MarketWatch had
a story today headlined "Santa delivers for U.S. retailers." How did your favorite stores fare? Well, see for yourself in this report from consultants Retail Forward - and tell me if it squares with what you saw and spent last month.

Among the highlights and lowlights: Aeropostale (10 percent), Ross (12 percent) and T.J. Maxx (14 percent) saw the biggest gains in year-over-year December sales among apparel stores, at stores open a year or more. Charlotte-based Cato saw same-store sales rise 7 percent. Among department stores, the biggest gainer was Saks, which operates the Off 5th outlet at Concord Mills and has its closest full-line store in the Triangle. Its same-store sales rose 10 percent. Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Kohl's also saw gains; Macy's was up 1 percent, while Dillard's and J.C. Penney saw December same-store sales declines. Charlotte-based Belk doesn't release monthly sales.

Laggards on the list included teen mall-punk staple Hot Topic (same-store sales down 10.9 percent, in part due to more competing stores selling "Twilight" merchandise) and pricey preppy purveyor Abercrombie & Fitch (down 19 percent) which has been socked for months amid more value-oriented competition.

On another interesting note that speaks to the variety of competition stores face beyond other bricks-and-mortar outlets, more than half of all households shopped for holiday gifts this season at - an eight-percentage-point gain from 2008, according to Retail Forward. Of course, Amazon has long since gone far beyond books to offer a vast range of merchandise, making it fairly easy one-stop shopping - and far from a challenge to meet the $25 threshold for its free shipping offer. Semi-indulgent case in point: My Amazon order this Christmas included two pie crust shields, two CDs, an architecture book and a book of crossword puzzles (hi, mom!) - all ordered and paid for at one time.