French village – in Raleigh

In Raleigh, developers are trying something different: a shopping center fashioned as a small French town.

The development, called Lafayette Village, will have a distinct layout. Stores will face inward, separated by narrow pedestrian roads. No cars will be able to drive through. Shoppers will have to park on the perimeter and walk in, or park in an underground deck and take an elevator.

To cultivate a European feel, developers are being picky about tenants – even amid a national retail slowdown. They rejected an application from a hamburger restaurant, for instance, and are shooting for high-end clientele who crave personal service.

With work under way, they've already signed on a gourmet market, gelato vendor, a coffee shop, a salon and spa, and a few restaurants.

And what European market would be complete without mimes and balloon twisters?

Lafayette Village is an interesting and some say risky venture – and it's this week's Next Big Thing. Pages 4-5D.