When Edens bought the Park Road Shopping Center in 2011, the developer spent years poring over the history of the place, trying to figure out how to modernize the center while maintaining its classic feel.
That's what Edens says it has sought to do at its four properties around Charlotte — and the strategy is changing the way people shop here.
Park Road Shopping Center opened in 1956 with a number of stores you might find in a modern-day mall.
The complex had a J.C. Penney, for instance, which founder James Cash Penney cut the ribbon from on its opening day. It also had an A&P Supermarket, a furniture store, an ABC store and an S&W Cafeteria, located where Shack Shack now sits and which still had its old segregated basement bathrooms when Edens took over. The center's owners estimate there were 125,000 visitors over its first weekend in November 1956.
When it opened, Park Road Shopping Center was the first open-air shopping center in Charlotte, and the largest of its kind between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Local attorney and philanthropist Porter Byrum bought the center in 1967, then in 2011, Byrum donated the 425,000-square-foot center to Wake Forest University, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University.
The schools quickly sold Park Road Shopping Center to Edens for $82 million.
Edens is now trying to breathe fresh life into shopping centers like the one at Park Road, which for years became a quieter place amid the population boom in the suburbs and the emergence of enclosed shopping malls like SouthPark, which opened in 1970.
"This center was really busy, then it got really sleepy about 6 p.m. It’s almost like you cut the lights off," said Matt Crosland, Edens' vice president of leasing.
Edens wants to return Park Road Shopping Center to its former, one-stop-shop glory.
To extend the hours people spend at the center, Edens has added restaurants and bars such as Flour Shop, Midwood Smokehouse and Dot Dot Dot, as well as entertainment such as the new AMC movie theater n the old Park Terrace spot. To make it a fitness hub, it's added boutique studios like CorePower Yoga and Sweat Cycle Studio.
But the developer has also worked to keep some of the historical design elements that shoppers have said they love, including the center's iconic sign.
"When (Park Road Shopping Center) opened in the late 1950s, there was nothing else like it. Americans — and Charlotteans in particular — love what’s new," Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett said. "By the late 1970s, there were much bigger and fancier shopping malls like SouthPark and Eastland."
History and preservation
Edens owns 125 shopping centers nationwide, most of which are anchored by a grocery store. The company last week acquired nearly 120,000 square feet of retail space in Denver's River North Art District, pushing the company's footprint farther westward. About 70 percent of the shoppers at Edens' centers are female.
Previously based in Columbia, Edens has six regional headquarters: Boston, Columbia, Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta and Dallas. The company also has an office in Charlotte, where it employs about 10 people.
The first shopping center Edens bought in Charlotte was Kenilworth Commons in the late 1990s. Along with that one and Park Road Shopping Center, Edens owns the Myers Park shopping center on Providence Road as well as Atherton Mill, the historic manufacturing site in South End that's in the midst of a massive overhaul.
Edens is taking a similar approach with Atherton Mill as it did with Park Road Shopping Center, with a blend of local and national retailers, including restaurants like Living Kitchen and apparel retailers like Anthropologie.
Women's clothing maker Free People opted to open its first Charlotte store at Atherton, for instance, something Edens' Managing Partner Lyle Darnall called "a huge coup." Atherton was also the first Charlotte store for popular eyeglass maker Warby Parker. Edens also recently announced it has signed West Elm, the restaurant chain Cava and the Charleston bathing suit company Las Olas, among others.
Darnall said Edens wanted to preserve historic elements at Atherton Mill, including the trolley barn. Edens used New York City's High Line urban trail as inspiration for the design of the rail trail that it will reroute between the trolley barn and the retail center.
At Kenilworth Commons, Darnall pointed to the addition of Duck Donuts and Foxcroft Wine Co. as ways Edens has sought to increase foot traffic at the Dilworth shopping center. Edens recently signed the popular local chain Yafo there, too.
Fast-growing neighborhoods that are in relatively close proximity to the city center are becoming increasingly popular destinations for traditional retailers like the ones Edens has been adding at Atherton Mill and Park Road Shopping Center. With the thousands of apartments being built around South End, residents often want walkable shopping and dining options.
"People know they have to shop SouthPark at some time or another, but I don’t think the people who live in this area are real fired up about going down to SouthPark," Darnall said.
Shopping and dining areas walkable to homes are increasingly popular at a challenging time for retail. Darnall said a place like Atherton Mill offers an option for retailers looking to survive or expand.
2017 was an especially difficult year for most brick-and-mortar retailers as customers opted to shop more online, causing physical store traffic to fall. Store closing announcements nationwide more than tripled last year to about 7,000, a record, according to retail think tank Fung Global Retail and Technology.
A report last year from Credit Suisse estimated that between 20 to 25 percent of malls in the U.S. will close within five years.
"Malls are not the answer for retailers in every market," Darnall said.
Of course, ownership changes can present challenges.
When Park Terrace Stadium closed in December, members of the community mourned the loss of what was a mainstay of the shopping center for more than 50 years. Observer readers reached out to share their stories of date nights and first jobs — and to complain about the property's landlord.
“Oh, the community let me have it. They were quite active, which is great," Darnall said.
Over the years at Park Road Shopping Center, rising rents have prompted several other longtime tenants to relocate.
A watch shop called A Time n’ Place, for instance, moved from Park Road to another spot on Woodlawn Road in 2015 because of rising rent. Also that year, Toys & Co. consolidated all its operations to its other location in Cotswold. It "didn't make good business sense" to keep the Park Road store, Stone told the Observer.
Charlotte's retail scene "does feel like something is shifting and changing," former Bag Lady owner Karen Coffin said.
For Edens, change is good if it means customers spending more time at its shopping centers.
"You have a lot of places you could go," Darnall said, "and we want as much of your time as we can get."
Observer researcher Maria David contributed.