While many retailers have struggled to adapt to the plodding economic recovery, a new crop of multi-merchant interior stores in Charlotte has opened in the past few years, and most are thriving and even expanding.
“Eclectic” is one of the most common words owners use to describe the stores, which feature goods – mainly home furnishings – from dozens or even hundreds of individual vendors. The vendors pay to rent space at the stores, and then split the revenues with the owners.
“From a business perspective, it’s a more economical way to open a store,” said Rusty Griffith, co-founder of Alexander Scott Interiors on East Boulevard. “Otherwise, you’d have to have a couple million dollars to fill the store.”
At least five new multi-merchant stores have opened in Charlotte over the past few years, offering vintage, antique, modern and unique looks.
The multi-merchant stores can seem like a retail brainstorm, with a hundred different visions of what your living space could look like, thrown together.
The shopkeeper in this situation is more like an editor or band conductor, pulling some kind of theme out of the swirl of different furnishings, accessories, jewelry, wall art and whatever else is for sale.
“For the vendor, it gives them an opportunity to essentially have a small storefront without all of the traditional responsibilities and headaches which go along with having a storefront,” said Melissa Vandiver, who co-founded Cotswold Marketplace with her daughter in June 2010. They’ve since doubled the size of the store, located on North Sharon Amity Road, to 7,000 square feet.
“From the perspective of the customer, I think it’s what we all love – the one-stop shopping,” said Vandiver.
Niche focus, low rents
In Charlotte, the stores have tried to carve out their own niches by focusing on different segments of the market. Slate Interiors, on Central Avenue, focuses on attracting younger customers, selling goods with mid-range prices.
“We just try to keep a nice variety of product here, from the more traditional to the contemporary, larger pieces, smaller gift pieces,” said Teri Garner, Slate’s manager.
The store on Central Avenue opened in late 2010, and recently underwent an expansion. Now more than 6,000 square feet, the store features almost 40 vendors and more than 40 artists.
Blacklion, one of Charlotte’s original multi-merchant stores, opened in 1995 on Park Road at N.C. 51. Owner Bob Emory recently decided to expand, opening another Blacklion store in Dilworth, in a shopping center on East Boulevard.
The 14,200-square-foot store is in the former Talley’s Green Grocery location, which closed in 2008. The store carries goods from about 100 vendors. The retailer also has a third location in Huntersville.
Another store, Post & Gray, opened on South Tryon Street. John and Kelley Vieregg spent nearly two decades running Interiors Marketplace, but Harris Teeter decided to demolish the building they were renting on Providence Road to expand the grocery store at Providence and Queens roads.
They looked for a new space, but couldn’t find the right one. So they turned their attention to Post & Gray, their other store.
Alexander Scott opened in September 2011, at the former McColl Center for Fine Art. Griffith and co-founder David Newcombe have home furnishings and accessories from more than 70 vendors in the 7,500-square-foot space.
The duo got their start selling vintage and modern home goods at Cotswold Marketplace – and the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall – before deciding to open their own store.
‘Variety, variety, variety’
The multi-merchant store format can have its own unique challenges, however. “I’m the parent, or baby sitter of 70 kids,” said Newcombe, talking about the difficulty of coordinating dozens of merchants in one space. “They all have their own personalities.”
Another challenge can be finding unique vendors to fill the spaces, with so many new multi-merchant stores in town.
“Everyone has a tendency to want to be in every marketplace, and they tend to cannibalize their brand,” Griffith said of vendors.
But in the end, the stores’ appeal comes down to that high number of vendors, said Vandiver. “Variety, variety, variety,” she said. “Not all of us are into the contemporary, with the chrome and the acrylic, and not all of us are into the English antiques.”