Shopping for Uptown retail | CLT Blog
Uptown Retail Vision #1

Shopping for Uptown retail

Posted on 20 Feb 2009 by Justin Ritchie

Street Level Charlotte

photo: Justin Ritchie; view this photo on Flickr

Uptown Charlotte is already an attraction, luring crowds from across the Carolinas by offering the NBA, NFL, nightlife, arts and culture, and fine dining. Yet the Center City still lacks personality. The humanity and convenience of storefronts along the streets can replace the faceless glass of what was once nothing more than a 95 neighborhood.

Built in the early days of Charlotte’s rise to national banking prominence, our buildings at Trade and Tryon make for a glittering but unfulfilling core for the city. That can change according to a vision from Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP).

After posting a few images last April from the 2008 announcement of CCCP’s plans for Uptown, I wanted to follow up with the Center City Partners to see how much closer we are to obtaining the vision. Like every other development opportunity in the US, retail in Uptown Charlotte is currently at a standstill due to the inability for retailers to finance improvements. Even if store owners were able to get loans, few are looking to expand in a recession.

Uptown Retail Vision #1

image courtesy of: Center City Partners

Many buildings in the city’s center were clearly not built for street-level store fronts, requiring significant improvements to house shopping options for pedestrians. Even though Trade and Tryon was once home to a Belk’s department store that opened in the early 1900s, the cheap gasoline and inexpensive vehicles of the 1960s drove shoppers and their stores to areas like the now defunct Eastland mall. Another 60 years may be required to reverse the trend.

Center City Partners has been meeting with its stakeholders to start building certainty around the cost of upgrades but without an interested developer those barriers aren’t likely to be removed any time soon. In tough economic times building owners are more focused on retaining office tenants than expanding offerings.

However, the old saying for retailers goes, “retail follows rooftops” and with a significant number of housing developments slated for completion over the next two years, a burgeoning Uptown residential population may be reason enough for retail developers to take a chance. As additional attractions and infrastructure are completed, the annual average of 25 million unique visits to Center City will only increase. Planning and Development Analyst for Center City Partners said, “We only need one retailer to take a chance for everyone to discover the vast success awaiting store owners willing to enter Charlotte’s center.”

Unfortunately, unique local retail would be initially priced out of expensive redevelopment, limiting initial offerings to national names only. And sometimes even the big guys find rent costs for dense areas too high, as demonstrated by the recent closing of the Home Depot design center.

Out of the existing space in current buildings, CCCP found that 1,374,203 square feet is used for retail with 250,000 SF available for consumer or retail goods without significant upgrades. If you want a feel for how much street-level space is wasted, walk inside many of the uptown lobbies with their lofty ceilings and open spaces. By bringing banks and developers to the same table, Center City Partners will hope to be ready for any impending economic upswings.

Ultimately, Center City Partners wants Uptown to be the living room of the region and nothing would be finer than another reason to linger in the most exciting urban area of the Carolinas.


  1. Andy Ciordia 20 Feb 2009 at 2:21 PM

    We’ve been trying to get the on-street retail in Downtown for a long time. I’m glad to see it’s been slow cooking well. We’d love for some affordable options for opening new shops in the region and hope we can one day be a part of them.

  2. JamesWillamor 20 Feb 2009 at 2:22 PM

    I’d love to see an uptown bookstore like Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.

  3. Ben Eige 20 Feb 2009 at 2:28 PM

    Seattle has done an incredible job of bringing many levels of retail to the city’s core, Charlotte can accomplish the same success with all the players at the table working together.

  4. Kevin YORK 20 Feb 2009 at 4:43 PM

    Having lived in Seattle for nearly two decades (and enjoyed Portland — and Powells! — and Vancouver, BC), I can see the structure of a great urban city waiting to flourish! Speaking for me and my family, we pine for that to happen. Here’s to Uptown’s growth!

  5. JamesWillamor 20 Feb 2009 at 5:04 PM

    The problem was putting everything in the “Overstreet Mall” aka the hamster tubes. I think all the overstreet walkways were created for the bankers who couldn’t bear the thought of walking on the streets among the commoners. It isn’t like winter in CLT justifies it like in the Skyways in downtown Minneapolis.

  6. Brian D. Miller 1 May 2009 at 9:43 PM

    I grew up in Charlotte and remember well the classic Belk’s downtown. Ivey’s was across the street. “Real” cities managed to hold on to their classic downtown department stores. Charlotte was so intent on seeing Tryon St. turned into ghastly modern skyscrapers that it lost the very things that made it unique. With the 1989 loss of Belk’s and the subsequent loss of Ivey’s, downtown was doomed to retail boredom. There were two cafeterias in Belk’s–one in the basement of the 1956 building and one on the 6th floor of the former Efird’s building (1923). There was also a mezzanine lunch counter off the main floor of the 1956 building (corner of 5th and College Sts.) My mother used to take me in that great old Belk’s all the time. I was in high school when it was razed; I saved four transoms from the fifth floor of the 1910 addition on Trade St. and have one installed in my house now.

    Sadly, Charlotte will never regain the uniqueness that was its own–blinded by the quest for “world-class-city” status, Charlotte lost the heart of its retail history when these great old stores closed. New York still has Macy’s, Philadelphia still has Wanamaker’s (now Macy’s), St. Louis still has Famous & Barr (Macy’s again), Minneapolis still has Dayton’s (Macy’s again), but Charlotte–which could have had the neatest mix of old and new downtown–abandoned it all for boring, glitzy bank buildings.

    • Robert D. Meek, Jr. 29 Nov 2009 at 11:34 PM

      Born in Gary, IN, my family moved to Charlotte 1974. So, I finished growing up there. Having been in mere suburbs of Chicago (Lansing, South Holland, Dolton, IL), I was initially ill equipped for Charlotte, but I soon came to love it.

      One of the many things I loved about Charlotte was Belk #4, downtown, and yes, Ivey’s, as all. Beautiful, elegant, even glamorous, in design, with large chandeliers, dark rich mahogany woodwork, and service that made even the most minor of client feel tended to, and even dare I say, pampered.

      One of my first jobs while still a very young man was in the downtown Belk store, which I prided myself to work in the mens’ clothing department, dressed in my suit.

      It was there that I discovered Aramis Devin cologne. I had often taken the bus to & from work, for not only was it highly economical at $10.00/month for unlimited passes, and not only was it relaxing to not have to drive daily in the traffic, but it solved the issue of finding and paying for parking, as well.

      I received more adamant compliments on that Aramis Devin, on that bus, than you could ever possibly imagine.

      My heart grieves that we have lost such beautiful historic work as these buildings, which, IMHO, should have been preserved on the National Registry as historic.

      - Robert, Loris SC