Southern Season has 2 sites in mind for Charlotte location

Don’t worry, Charlotte – Southern Season hasn’t forgotten you. You’re just playing hard to get.

Clay Hamner of Carrboro Capital, the CEO of the Chapel Hill-based specialty food store, says he is negotiating on two sites for the long-awaited Charlotte location and expects to have news to announce within two to three months.

“We’re working hard to get to Charlotte,” he told The Observer this week. He calls Charlotte “our No. 1 market” in desirability because of all the people who have ties to the Triangle, such as university football loyalties, and know the original location of Southern Season.

Southern Season began expanding two years ago, adding a store in Mount Pleasant, S.C., outside Charleston, and a store that is about to open in Richmond.

Its large Chapel Hill location includes housewares and cooking equipment, a full-scale restaurant, a cooking school and multiple specialty departments with cheese, cured meats, wine and imported food products.

Hamner still expects to open a Charlotte store in late 2016. But the Charlotte real-estate market has made it difficult to find the right location, he says.

Finding a spot will mean compromises, he says. While he originally wanted a location with ample parking and a single-floor retail space in Myers Park or SouthPark, he concedes that isn’t likely.

“We start out (looking for) a perfect location, and they don’t exist,” he says.

At the moment, he says, he expects the Charlotte store will have to have a parking deck, and it may have “vertical construction,” similar to the two-story setup used at Whole Foods and several recent Harris Teeter locations.

Asked to name an ideal location, he mentioned Park Road Shopping Center but said there wasn’t enough room there. While he’s looking at other areas, including South Boulevard, he says he wouldn’t go farther out to the University City area, for instance, or south of Quail Hollow.

He won’t look at doing a smaller store in Charlotte, though. A location here would still have a cooking school, like the ones in Chapel Hill and Charleston, and a full-scale retail operation.

“We’re 11 stores in one,” he says. “People don’t come to us as a candy store or a wine store. You come to us for a bottle of wine and you end up buying candy. It’s the synergy effect. We’re a specialty gourmet food store.”