Birmingham’s style is evolving with its cityscape. There is a definite counter-culture brewing in neighborhoods like Avondale, East Lake, Woodlawn, Morris Ave and 2nd Avenue North. One manifestation of the resurgence is emerging via fashion.
Downtown clothing stores possess an entirely different temperament from shops in Birmingham’s surrounding suburbs. Downtown shops aren’t your typical cookie-cutter boutiques – they are risk-takers. Establishing a downtown presence before the rest proves that these retailers have grit, determination and a vision for the future.
Working with SW broker Robert Crook, bridal designer Heidi Elnora found her new space on picturesque Morris Avenue. Elnora’s new flagship store opened last summer. Brides from all over the country are visiting Heidi’s shop from far and wide for her couture designs, and they are experiencing downtown Birmingham along the way. Although she used to be in Pepper Place, her new space embodies her dream of owning her own building, the start to her Southern bridal empire!
Crook and Elnora scoured the downtown landscape for months before they found the right building. Crook specializes in selling and leasing downtown properties.
“Downtown retail is unique in that buildings are not just a white box with parking at the front door. You can create something totally unique. The space can help build a brand, make a stamp of who you are, and in turn increase sales. Each dress that Heidi makes has its own identity just like her renovated 100-year-old building. I think Heidi was smart in the purchase of her building on Morris Avenue and I feel confident in the future many more retailers will be following suit,” said Crook.
Retailers that have already opened storefronts downtown may have been the smart ones, securing space while it’s still affordable. There is an obvious trend moving inward with major retailers like Warby Parker getting into the mix. Soon rental rates will begin to increase, and there will be less and less wiggle room on retail spaces with bare bones and crumbling facades.
Brandon Hays opened Artefact Supply, next door to El Barrio, after visiting other cities that had great downtown shopping districts. “I have been witnessing the revitalization efforts happening downtown in terms of condos, restaurants, bars and what we were missing was retail,” Hays said. He is confident that more downtown shops will surface as the city’s gains more momentum, “the more the better, as far as I’m concerned,” Hays said.
Droves of multifamily units are nearing completion and more offices are moving their operations downtown, creating opportunity to build a retail customer base. Daytime populations, or the people present during normal business hours, are a huge part of sales for boutiques in city centers across the globe. Downtown Birmingham has been a food and shopping desert…until now.
Downtown shops have an unexpected element of cool that has been, until now, virtually unknown to Birmingham. Each product is carefully placed in a curated manner that creates a unique experience for shoppers. Target audiences for these stores are different from that of a suburban boutique. Veteran downtown Birmingham boutiques like What’s on Second and Charm understand that downtown shoppers are looking for something with a little more edge than you might find in our typical retail shops. Besides the shops mentioned above, a few more to check out are Alchemy 213, Club Duquette, Winslet & Rhys.
As a whole, Birmingham’s fashion scene is rounding out nicely with more traditional, preppy Alabama shops in Homewood, Mountain Brook and other ‘burbs, while downtown is taking on something fresh and new, something for everyone.