Quality, service keys for Shops at Nottingham Plaza

The Shops at Nottingham Plaza opened as a one-stop home furnishings destination in an area with plenty of new homes to furnish: Union County.

But four years later, amid a cooling housing market and uncertain economy, the Monroe store is relying on diversification to keep customers coming, manager Keith Steare says.

The 45,000-square-foot Shops at Nottingham, in a former supermarket, still offers an array of fine furniture, home accents and related products, like design assistance and custom framing. But the space now houses other tenants, too.

Stone Table Café, a restaurant offering fresh-made food with a gourmet twist, arrived in 2006. Its presence alone has helped attract more traffic, including people coming for after-hours catered events. It also helps spread word of mouth about the Shops, Steare said.

A hair salon, dance studio and cell phone store also now operate at the Shops, he said.

Business is down slightly and “could be a little bit better,” Steare said. Shoppers are being more selective about what they buy. They're paying more attention to how they spend their money, making several trips before buying and focusing more on long-term value than on short-term cheapness, he said.

“They're not buying impulsively anymore,” he said. “They're thinking about their purchases.”

In such an environment, the Shops can survive by focusing on offering quality products and a high level of service, he said.

“That's why we're hanging in there,” he said. “We're finding out that (customers) want good quality and good service, and they're willing to pay that little extra for it. It'll last them longer… they're getting more for their dollar, and they're realizing it.” JEN ARONOFF