For Chris Clouden, the first few days at his new job as head of one of uptown Charlotte’s most visible and bustling retail attractions will be spent the way any new job would be – with orientation.
Clouden, recently plucked from his former post as director of events at the Charlotte Sports Foundation, is still getting to know the names of the 7th Street Public Market’s 16 vendors, which include regional farmers and small businesses like the Carolina Chocolate Company and Pure Pizza. He starts on Monday as the market’s new director. He replaces Mike Restaino, now with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina as director of community relations in Charlotte.
“I’ll be drinking through a fire hose for a while here, trying to get up to speed and get familiar with the tenants,” Clouden says.
Since opening a little over three years ago along the Lynx Blue Line, the 7th Street Public Market has acted as an incubator for small businesses to grow bigger and more profitable. Orrman’s Cheese Shop, for example, which has been an anchor at the market, recently opened its second shop in Raleigh.
Sales by individual vendors in 2014 rose almost 40 percent from the prior year to just shy of $3 million collectively, according to figures from the Charlotte Center City Partners, which provide administrative and management support for the market.
Clouden says building relationships with the tenants will help shape his plans for the bustling retail attraction. Here’s more on his plans for when he might introduce changes, and adapting the market to uptown growth:
▪ On adding new programs: Clouden says he’s not eager to make any sweeping changes to the market’s existing structure, which he says has worked well. For now, he’s getting a better business sense of the market’s operation, such as traffic flow.
While he doesn’t have any formal plans yet, Clouden says he’d like to explore the possibility of expanding health and wellness programs held at the market, such as adding fitness classes or a running club.
He says any changes would have to work well with vendors.
“Whatever goes on in there, wellness or additional programming, I want to make sure it doesn’t impact them negatively,” Clouden says. “I want to be sensitive to their setups and their hours.”
▪ On fitting in with uptown growth plans: Clouden says the market’s in a “unique spot” given its proximity to the handful of nearby construction projects, like the First Ward park, ImaginOn across the street and Center City Partners’ recent Shop Uptown event, in which a number of local and chain vendors set up kiosks on North Tryon Street before Valentine's Day.
And even more market traffic could come through new efforts led by Chris Hemans, the director of retail for Charlotte Center City Partners, to promote uptown’s existing shops and lure new retailers.
“It’ll certainly benefit from (nearby developments), and the exposure will continue to grow,” Clouden says.
▪ On expanding the market: The market is currently at capacity, though Clouden says expanding isn’t out of the question. That is, if it works for everyone else.
“I think there’s opportunity to grow it a little bit. Again, we have really good, successful tenants in there so we have to be mindful of positioning, traffic flow and the usefulness of the space,” he says.
▪ On tapping his connections: When he first moved to Charlotte from New York almost nine years ago, Clouden spent about six months consulting for Center City Partners before moving onto the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, where he held a number of positions for about six years. In spring 2013, Clouden became director of events at the Charlotte Sports Foundation, where he managed events including the Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship and the Belk Bowl.
“The relationships I’ve developed across the region, both in and out of sports, will help me down the road. Certainly they’ve been really good for me both personally and professionally in my time here.”
Clouden, a father of two young kids and a graduate of Fordham University, says his family “loves it here.”
“My mother has moved here, my sister has moved here and my mother in law has moved here, so we have a bunch of built in babysitters, which is fantastic,” he says.