If city planners and developers get their way, South End will one day be as much of a destination for big-name clothing retailers and up-and-coming fashion boutiques as it is for apartments and breweries.
Alongside the multi-family construction boom in the Charlotte neighborhood, developers see a big opportunity to make the area a retail destination, answering a demand from young urban dwellers.
They’re set on creating a mix of local and national retailers, both in the “soft goods” category – apparel, jewelry, footwear – and the food sector, from restaurants and bars to grocers. They’re also working to make South End more walkable, the kind of place where theoretically you wouldn’t even have to get in your car over the weekends.
To me, that description sounds like the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C., or Chicago’s Lincoln Park. But Allison Billings of Charlotte Center City Partners says the future South End will be a place of its own that others around the U.S. will try to emulate.
“The mix of transit, retail, residential, office and recreation that we envision for South End doesn’t really have peers,” said Billings, Center City’s vice president for Neighborhood Development, Transportation & Sustainability.
To get an idea of the mix that developers envision, look at Atherton Mill, where Anthropologie, the trendy clothing and home goods retailer, sits next to the eclectic Luna’s Living Kitchen, with its vegan taco salad and zucchini noodle lasagna. Across the parking lot stands the Atherton Market, where local vendors sell hand-poured soy candles, watercolor paints and freshly baked bread.
“We keep hearing that Anthropologie at Atherton Mill feels like a neighborhood boutique,” said Meaghan Riordan, the store’s senior visual manager. “Customers also appreciate the way we weave references to local culture and history into our visual displays.”
Lyle Darnall is managing director of Columbia-based developer Edens, which manages the Atherton Mill and Park Road Shopping Center, among others. Darnall says he plans to make Atherton into South End’s “retail hub,” triggering retail growth in other nearby developments.
“You’ve got a smattering of (South End) retail. You’ve got an awful lot of restaurants, but there really is no central retail focus. With all of the growth and everything around there, we feel like there’s a serious demand for it,” Darnall said.
A Charlotte Center City Partners survey conducted this summer of more than 400 South End residents showed their two top preferences for retail development were more clothing stores and more restaurants, and that respondents preferred local options for both types over national brands.
Already independent retailers of all types are popping up in South End. Men’s clothing store Silverfly Sport opened on South Tryon in June. Bulldog Beer and Wine will open this fall as a one-stop shop that combines a mini-convenience store with a full line of craft beer. The popular French bakery Renaissance Patisserie, a longtime farmer’s market fixture, opened its first store on South Boulevard in May.
At the same time, national names such as Lowe’s Home Improvement, Off Broadway Shoes and CVS Pharmacy are all showing staying power.
Lament against the clearing of homegrown businesses to make way for national chains is a common theme in Charlotte-area development. In South End, developers say when they do add chains, they want to give priority to those that cater to the area’s influx of young professionals. They also say they’re interested in preserving the local flavor.
Consider the retro design of the new South End Harris Teeter, which will anchor the Sedgefield shopping center redevelopment. Sedgefield is the original site of the grocer’s second-ever store, and it operated there until 1988.
Elsewhere in the shopping center that’s slated to open in 2017, developers Aston Properties and Marsh Properties haven’t announced names for the other 14,000 square feet of retail, though they’re “biased towards more local tenants,” said George Dewey, president of Aston Properties.
Dewey said the residential growth in the area, both in Sedgefield and across South Boulevard along the light rail, determines the kinds of businesses going into the shopping center.
“With the amount of people living within half a mile of this site, there has to be a place where you can get your haircut or pick up your dry cleaning,” Dewey said.
Goal: Make South End more walkable
Some in the area have voiced concern about pedestrian access and safety on busy South Boulevard. To that end, Charlotte Center City Partners is working closely with the city’s transportation department on ways to make all of South End more walkable, said the agency’s Allison Billings, who declined to provide details on the plans.
“There are some places where (walkability) works well, and there are some places farther down where it really starts to really feel uncomfortable and unsafe for pedestrians,” said Billings, Center City’s vice president for Neighborhood Development, Transportation & Sustainability.
At the Sedgefield redevelopment, in addition to the two new crosswalks coming to South Boulevard, developers estimate that a total of 3.5 miles of sidewalks will be added throughout. That includes installing 15-foot sidewalks on South Boulevard to allow for outdoor dining as well as streetscape improvements at the pedestrian level.
Developers are required to construct and pay for the streetscape improvements, which include new sidewalks and curbs, said said Jamie McLawhorn, president of Marsh Properties.
“That’s something that really encourages people to walk. We heard from South End neighbors as well as from Sedgefield neighbors that they would really love to be able to walk to the retail,” McLawhorn said. Katherine Peralta