Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Whole Foods sets opening date

Whole Foods has finally made it official, setting the opening date of its long-anticipated Charlotte store: August 29.

The retailer has been one of Charlotte's most-desired stores for years, as residents waited while they popped up in other cities around North Carolina. The store, in the SouthPark area on Fairview Road, has been under construction for more than a year.

To promote the opening, Whole Foods and uptown's 7th Street Public Market are offering a pop-up shopping event this week. "The mini “store” inside the 7th Street Market will feature a small sampling of some of the groceries available at the Whole Foods Market opening in SouthPark," Whole Foods said in a press release.

The pop-up shop will run Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 224 East 7th Street.

View Larger Map

Clothes Mentor opening this week

Clothes Mentor, an upscale resale chain, is opening Thursday on Kings Drive, and the company says it has plans for two more stores in the Charlotte area.

The store carries lightly-used women's clothing from brands such as Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci, and promises to sell them at a steep discount from what they would cost new. For example, Clothes Mentor says it sells Lily Pulitzer dresses for $25 to $50, and Coach and Kate Spade purses for $30 to $100.

The franchise store is owned locally by Shawn and Alyssa Cox. Alyssa is a Greenville, S.C. native and Queens University graduate, while Shawn is from western New York. He previously managed a restaurant in Charlotte, while Alyssa worked for an online handbag and shoe company.

The couple, who live in South End, plan to open two additional Clothes Mentor locations, in north and south Charlotte. Clothes Mentor promises high-quality used clothing in good condition, and buys items locally: "Clothes Mentor buys good-condition clothing from neighbors and is very picky about quality. Items must be current style, freshly laundered and free of stains, fading, missing buttons or broken zippers. Clothing can be brought in any time, without appointment. If accepted, customers receive cash on the spot."

View Larger Map

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back-to-school spending to average $688

Getting kids ready for school isn't expected to be cheap: The National Retail Federation is predicting back-to-school spending will average more than $688 per K-12 student, up from $603 last year.

That's welcome news for retailers, as back-to-school spending is expected to count for $30.3 billion in total sales. Combined with an additional $50 billion or so in spending to get students ready to leave for college, that makes summer school shopping the second-biggest annual retail event, behind only the winter holidays, NRF says.

But everything isn't rosy. Even though shoppers are planning to spend more on backpacks, pencils, computers and other school-related supplies than last year, 85 percent of those surveyed by NRF said concerns about the economy will influence how, what, when and where they shop.

Here are a few more quick points from the NRF:

  • Expect pretty good discounts. "We fully expect retailers to be aggressive with their promotions both in-store and online, keeping an eye on inventory levels as families look to spread out their shopping throughout the entire summer," said NRF chief executive Matthew Shay, in a statement.
  • The percentage of shoppers surveyed who are buying at least one back-to-school item online has grown from 10.9 percent in 2003 to 39.6 percent this year.
  • That 39.6 percent of shoppers buying things online are planning to spend $874, significantly more than the survey's average (I wonder if online shopping is correlated with a higher income level, or if online shoppers are more likely to be purchasing big-ticket items, like a new laptop).
  • The number of people who need to do back-to-school shopping for K-12 students is pretty big: 3 in 10 families noted they have children ages 6 to 17.
  • Preparing to send a college freshman away to school is the most expensive back-to-school shopping you can do. The average cost for outfitting a college freshman: $929. Don't worry, though: That drops to $680 for seniors.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Plaza-Midwood interior shop Slate expands

Slate Interiors, a multi-merchant interior furnishings store located on Central Avenue, plans to expand by 2,000 square feet, adding new merchants and artists as business grows.

Owner Debbie Hartnett said she hopes to complete the renovations and expansion with minimal disruptions to the store, and to remain open except for a day or two.  The changes involve knocking down parts of a wall separating her store from adjacent storage space.

The Frank Scibelli-owned Midwood Smokehouse is located in the same building as Slate, and that restaurant is expanding as well. Hartnett said she'll lose some space to Midwood Smokehouse, but still gain more space in the end, expanding from 4,800 to 6,800 square feet.

"It'll be noisy, a little dusty, but I think the outcome will be positive," Hartnett said. "We were hoping to get it done before the DNC, but I'm not sure that will happen. It will be sometime in September."

Slate carries a mix of antique, vintage and modern interior furnishings from 30 merchants. The store also carries original art from 33 artists. Hartnett said the product mix and prices are designed to appeal to young professionals and the Millenial generation.

As part of the expansion, Hartnett said Slate will add six more merchant booths and 12 more artists. After that, the store will probably be the right size for the foreseeable future, she said.

"You want to be careful not to dilute your product, so to speak, and you want to keep a handle on your price point," said Hartnett. "It's really important that you only grow to a certain point and then hold it."

Hartnett said business has been strong, despite continuing economic uncertainty. "June was our biggest month, by far, in sales," she said. Many of her customers are doing fine, she said, though they are furnishing more modest homes than they might have been before the downturn.

"The homes that are selling are not the million-dollar homes, but the $350,000 to $500,000 homes, and those are the people that are coming in to buy products," she said. "They're buying a piece at a time, and they're very conscious of quality."

I previously wrote about Slate, which opened in late 2010, here.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Big Lots to open at Belmont

Belmont will soon have a new Big Lots, as the liquidation and closeout retailer plans to open a store there Friday, August 3.

The 21,200-square-foot store will open with a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. It's located in The Abbey Plaza shopping center, on Park Street. The company, which operates more than 1,450 stores, says it offers items for sale at up to 70 percent less than full-price retailers.

"We are confident this new store will prove to be a big hit with smart shoppers who are seeking better deals and bigger savings to combat the increasing costs of everyday living," said spokesman Rob Claxton, in a statement.

The company has about eight stores already in the Charlotte region.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wine bar opens at Charlotte Douglas

Fliers have a new option to wine and dine at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Beaudevin. The new store is part of the airport and vendors' push to overhaul retail options at Charlotte Douglas.

Update: There are some local wine options, as several people have asked me about (see below). But they might not have spelled all the city names correctly...

Beaudevin is operated by HMS Host, the airport's food concession manager. HMS Host administers more than 50 airport concessions (concession map).

“We created Beaudevin as a place where travelers can experience fine wine and delicious cuisine while still
feeling relaxed, in an informal, European-inspired atmosphere,” said Stephen Douglas, Vice President,
Business Development HMSHost. “Reminiscent of a ch√Ęteau cellar, Beaudevin puts beauty back into
traveling. We are very excited to partner with CLT to make the Charlotte traveler’s day better.”

The wine bar will feature more than 30 reds, whites and sparkling wines, as well as small, tapas-style plates and open sandwiches.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Test marketing Wal-Mart Express

A story from my colleague Gloria Lloyd in this weekend's News & Observer goes into some detail about the new Wal-Mart Express stores that are popping up around North Carolina.

Five out of the 11 Wal-Mart Express stores to open so far have been in North Carolina, and several more are planned by the end of the year. The new Express-format stores are only about 15,000 square feet, less than twice the size of a typical Family Dollar and perhaps 1/3 the size of a full-scale grocery store.

Although Wal-Mart has come to dominate much of the grocery market with its massive Supercenters (last year, Wal-Mart overtook Harris Teeter to become the No. 1 grocer in the Charlotte region), the grocery market is always fluid. The latest competitor to nip at Wal-Mart's heels is smaller retailers such as Family Dollar and Dollar General.

Both of those chains, as well as fellow convenience stores such as Walgreens, have greatly increased the amount of food and other consumable items such as cigarettes and cosmetic products, that they stock. Small, easier-to-navigate stores, combined with many more locations, has given the small retailers an edge in capturing the "fill-in trip," many retail analysts say. Basically, a consumer who needs a gallon of milk now has the choice of a small convenience store two blocks away, or a Wal-Mart Supercenter five miles away.

The smaller stores also give Wal-Mart the ability to fill in smaller markets, such as rural areas that couldn't support a Supercenter, and urban areas where there isn't enough space. And if customers want a product that the Express store doesn't carry, such as a television, they can order it online and pick it up at the Express store.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Craft beer store opening on Remount Road

A new craft beer store, Good Bottle Company, is opening soon on Remount Road, at the intersection with South Boulevard.

That's diagonally across the street from barbecue steadfast Mac's Speed Shop, and next door to Canine Cafe, in the same building. The store is planned to open in late summer, with bottles, cans, growlers and taps dedicated to craft beer.

Here's an article from Charlotte Beer with some more details, and an interview with Chris Hunt, of Asheville, one of the owners. The store will have about a dozen rotating taps, with two or three always given to beers from Charlotte breweries. Check out a short excerpt from the Q & A:

What will set Good Bottle Company apart in the Charlotte beer scene? 
“What we want to do is concentrate on celebrating craft beer. We want to connect the brewers to our customers. We want to be a place beer geeks can come together to talk beer. We want to be a place where people can meet after work, or during work, and have a beer together. We want to be a place where you can learn about beer and just how good it can be.”

View Larger Map

Friday, July 20, 2012

Michaels at Stonecrest opens in August

Crafty folks, get ready: Arts and crafts retailer Michaels is opening its new store in Stonecrest shopping center, near Rea Road and I-485, on Sunday, August 12.

The store is filling what used to be Borders, before the bookseller declared bankruptcy and liquidated last year. Another former Borders, at Morrocroft Village shopping center, looks set to become a DSW shoe store.

The new Michaels will open with a 9:45 a.m. ribbon cutting. "The new store features an open design with wider aisles, warm colors and brighter lighting. Key departments, such as scrapbooking, jewelry and kids are expanded and re-organized for easy shopping," Michaels said in a press release.

For its first week, the store will feature discounts, giveaways, and crafting demonstrations, Michaels said.

Based in Irving, Texas, there are 1,070 Michaels stores in the US and Canada. The company also operates Aaron Brothers stores.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 19, 2012

DSW shoe store headed to Morrocroft Village?

It seems a DSW is headed to Morrocroft Village shopping center at Sharon and Colony roads, according to job postings and building permits.

DSW didn't return a phone call seeking comment, but this building permit was issued in May. The permit lists the project at 3900 Colony Road as "DSW Shoes Morrowcroft Village," and lists contracts of more than $470,000 for work at the store.

The store was formerly a Borders bookstore. Borders closed the store in 2011, before declaring bankruptcy. Here's a leasing flyer from Bell Moore Group, advertising up to 27,418 square feet of space for rent in Morrocroft Village. You can see the former Borders highlighted in the flyer.

There are also job listings posted for the new store. This ad for sales associates was posted last Thursday, and lists the positions available at the new DSW in Morrocroft Village.

View Larger Map
(Thanks to an alert reader for noticing the building permit while out shopping and emailing me).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tommy Bahama Outlet headed to Concord Mills

A new Tommy Bahama Outlet will open at Concord Mills later this year, mall officials said in a press release.

The store will be located near the Books-a-Million and the food court in the malls, and will open sometime this fall. It's the first Tommy Bahama Outlet in the state, according to the mall.

"This soon to open new addition will provide shoppers with an incredible selection of the brand’s luxurious island-inspired clothing and home accessories at affordable prices, including polos, graphic tees, sweaters, dresses, swimwear, fragrances, shoes, candles and more," said Concord Mills officials.

Last week, Concord Mills also announced it will soon have a Journey Kidz shoe store and an Aerosoles outlet open in the mall.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is coming

According to building permits filed recently, Wal-Mart is working on a Neighborhood Market store in a shopping center on Independence Boulevard.

The permits, seen here, show that Wal-Mart plans to spend about $5 million to renovate the 50,550 square foot space. The store was formerly a Best Buy.

The store will be Charlotte's first Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market when it opens. There are about 200 Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets, which are basically like traditional supermarkets. They offer full lines of produce, dry goods, bakery, deli, health and beauty goods, household supplies and a pharmacy. The size - averaging about 42,000 square feet - is also pretty much the same as a traditional supermarket, like Harris Teeter.

Such a store would represent a further challenge to traditional supermarkets, which face market share pressure from behemoths such as Wal-Mart and Target, as well as nimble competitors with food offerings such as Family Dollar and Dollar General.

Wal-Mart overtook Harris Teeter last year to become the region's No. 1 grocery seller, edging the hometown with 21.5 percent market share vs. 21.1 percent. And Wal-Mart has been going after Harris Teeter aggressively this year, with an advertising campaign highlighting differences in price.

View Larger Map
7421 E. Independence Boulevard
(Props to an alert reader for sending me a message after seeing this in the Biz Journal while I was out of town.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

New stores heading to Concord Mills

Two new shoe stores are getting set to open at Concord Mills: Journey Kidz and an Aerosoles outlet.

Journey Kidz will open in August, Concord Mills said, near the children's play area. The store carries shoes for kids from babies up to teenagers, including brands such as Converse, Timberland, Vans, Diesel and Adidas.

Aerosoles is opening an outlet location near the Old Navy Outlet in September. "Shoppers will revel in the full range of styles and high quality merchandise available from dress pumps to boots to sandals and more," said Concord Mills, in a press release.

Concord Mills also noted that it recently added Hisso Sushi and Popeyes to the food court.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kids Foot Locker opening at Carolina Place mall

Carolina Place is opening its third new store this year on Thursday, with the addition of a Kids Foot Locker.

The new store is located on the mall's upper floor, next to the Disney Store. "Kids Foot Locker offers the largest selection of brand-name athletic footwear, apparel and accessories for children in an environment geared to appeal to both parents and kids," Carolina Place officials said in a press release.

Earlier this year, Teavana and Francesca's Collections opened stores at Carolina Place. There are several more stores planned for the mall in 2012, including Nestle Toll House Cafe, TCBY, and Deb, a women's clothing and accessories store. 

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lowe's to launch 'smart home' service

Mooresville-based Lowe's is preparing to officially roll out its new home management system, Iris, which will offer consumers the ability to control most of their house functions and appliances with a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The product, which was announced earlier this year, is one of the new smart home options consumers have to remotely control their house and, hopefully, improve energy efficiency and security. The basic smart home kit will start at $299, and can - Lowe's says - be installed by the homeowner.

Homeowners can sign up for customized alerts and controls related to their house for $9.99 a month, Lowe's says. The system will be customizable to focus on things like home security, energy efficiency, or the needs of an elderly person.

"The new services will allow customers to control thermostats, locks, lighting, and appliances. Customers can also monitor and protect their homes with video cameras and door, motion, and fire sensors," Lowe's said in an earlier news release about the product.

Lowe's is rolling out Iris with an event and demonstration in San Francisco next Wednesday. I'll try to write something more detailed about the system's capabilities and costs for the Observer after the event (I won't be in San Francisco though, so hopefully Lowe's will live-stream it).

Monday, July 9, 2012

June sales slide at Cato

Charlotte-based women's clothing retailer Cato Corp. reported last week that its sales for June fell 7 percent, to $83.7 million, compared with the same month a year ago. Sales at stores open for a year or more, considered a key measure of a retailer's health, fell even further, dipping 10 percent.

The company said wider uncertainty is to blame - and is likely to continue. "June same-store sales were below expectations," said CEO John Cato, in a statement. "Year-to-date same-store sales results have been volatile, driven in part by various economic and political uncertainties as well as unseasonable weather. We believe it is likely this volatility will continue and we remain cautious as we look toward the second half of the year."

For the second quarter, the company cautioned its earnings will be on the low end of its guidance, at 53 to 57 cents a share. That would be a decrease of 13 to 7 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Cato operates nearly 1,300 stores in 31 states, including Versona and It's Fashion stores. Year-to-date, the company's $441 worth of sales are down about $1 million from last year, and sales at stores open a year or more are down 3 percent.

Retails sales in general have hit a bump along with the rest of the economy, inching up just 0.1 percent at large chains in June.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blend Boutique, TCBY set for Ballantyne Village

Two new stores are set to open in Ballantyne Village soon, a women's boutique and a self-serve frozen yogurt place.

Blend Boutique will carry clothing, jewelry and accessories. Brands at the store will include Citizens of Humanity, LNA, Mother Denim, Ramona LaRue, MYNE and more. The store is set to open in August.

Owner Christy Ward said she was drawn to Ballantyne Village because of the other upscale shops and restaurants in the shopping center.

The TCBY location is owned by local franchisee Samuel Batt. He's something of a fro-yo magnate in the area, owning 12 TCBY locations in the Carolinas, nine of which are in the Charlotte area.

"These new additions further strengthen the boutique tenant mix and are anticipated to attract new and repeat patronage from the neighborhood community, as well as metro Charlotte," said Margie Bruner, who represented Ballantyne Village in the tenant negotiations.

There is still retail, restaurant, medical executive and office space available to lease at Ballantyne Village, the company said.