Uptown Charlotte will someday be a retail hub that is home to local vendors and national brands alike, if city leaders have their way.
Home now to a sprinkling of small retailers in Founders Hall, uptown Charlotte is hardly the shopping destination it was before major department stores Ivey’s and Belk closed their doors years ago. But Michael Smith, president and chief executive of Center City Partners, sees signs of progress.
“There is something afoot in the Charlotte retail space,” he says.
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Smith, whose group promotes uptown development, says fast residential growth in the area has created the desire for more retail options. Pop-up shops, such as denim boutique Blue Hem’s this week in Latta Arcade, as well as standalone local vendors, such as ones in the 7th Street Public Market, are rising to meet demand.
The push underway is mostly focused on attracting small businesses, says Chris Hemans, Center City Partners’ director of retail.
Goodwill, for example, is testing a concept this week at the EpiCentre called GW, a millennial-focused boutique selling low-priced designer apparel, jewelry, shoes and accessories. The concept has been tested before in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, Hemans addssays, and Goodwill is considering adding a permanent brick-and-mortar location uptown.
Blue Hem and GW are among several pop-up shops uptown for the holidays. A holiday store called Tinselbox, running through Friday at the Foundation for the Carolinas, features retailers such as Kendra Scott. The 7th Street Public Market is hosting a “Sip and Shop” Wednesday with more than 50 local retailers, free food samples and live music. And a Vintage Charlotte pop-up shop that will run Dec. 11-20 uptown will feature products from 85 local vintage vendors.
National retailers are already starting to recognize that the area is ripe for businesses, Smith says. Whole Foods, for example, will open an uptown store at Stonewall and Caldwell streets. Down the road in South End, Anthropologie recently opened a store in the Atherton Mill shopping center.
More retail uptown will make the area into a more complete neighborhood, with a balance of residences, offices, transportation and retail options, Smith says.
With all the apartment construction, uptown Charlotte’s population is expected to grow to about 15,300 by the end of the year, up more than 13 percent from the start of 2015.
The challenge for getting more retailers into Charlotte? Space, Smith says. Center City Partners is working with developers to make sure many of the mixed-use properties going up have ample street-level retail space.
Mayor-elect Jennifer Roberts, who stopped by Tinselbox Wednesday, says she remembers coming to shop uptown with her mother as a child. Now she sees retail as a potential asset for busy uptown professionals. “Charlotte is creating its own history,” she says.