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Downtown Birmingham sees surprise surge of new retailers

While some downtowns, malls and shopping centers struggle to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on in-person shopping and office space needs, Oakland County’s downtown Birmingham is emerging as a bright spot.

The sidewalks and parking structures are busy once again with visitors and downtown workers on lunch break, and at least eight retailers and four new food establishments have in recent months opened, expanded or made plans to open in the future in the multiple-block downtown area that already has roughly 600 businesses.

Existing retailers are reporting strong rebounds in their sales numbers and demand for downtown Birmingham office space is at pre-pandemic levels or higher, according to interviews with business owners and real estate insiders.

While downtown Birmingham has long been a destination for upscale and mid-market shopping and generally weathered past recessions, this latest influx of new arrivals underscores the area’s resilience and persistent popularity.

“Downtown Birmingham provides both the approachableness and the sophistication in the customer base and as a shopping destination,” said Michael Tamte, co-founder and co-CEO of Evereve, a nationwide women’s apparel brand Tamte oversees with his wife. They  expanded the Birmingham store in September.

“The tenant mix is for the most part aspirational, but it’s not pretentious,” he said. “It’s not snobby.”

Real estate insiders say that a popular retailer is looking to open a new store at Maple  and Old Woodward, going into space previously occupied by Panera Bread and the shuttered Tiger Shoe Repair. A big announcement could happen soon, sources said.

Much of the momentum in downtown dates to just before the pandemic when RH, the upscale home décor retailer formerly known as Restoration Hardware, revealed plans to build a four-story building for its new store at 300-394 S. Old Woodward Ave. that could also feature a restaurant.

Mary Ann Santerini, a manager at Roche Bobois, told the Free Press that they considered staying in Birmingham but could not find a suitable location that didn’t require significant renovation.

Deals lead to others

Sean Kammer, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, called RH’s announcement a catalytic event for downtown that encouraged other retailers to give Birmingham a look.

The district has been working with real estate consultant Cindy Ciura of CC Consulting to help plan and market the downtown and attract new businesses.

One of the coming arrivals is State & Liberty, a men’s apparel company that launched in 2015 as an online-only retailer, but now has 17 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

“People talk about e-commerce as the future, and in a lot of ways it is,” co-founder Steven Fisher said. “But we’ve all seen through this (pandemic) how important actually seeing and touching and being able to try something on still is.”

The anticipated arrival of RH wasn’t the sole reason State & Liberty decided to open in Birmingham, he said. Rather, RH’s plans demonstrate why retailers in general like the downtown.

“We are excited about retail areas like Birmingham, where you have a concentrated area with a lot of foot traffic. People are walking around, people are shopping. And that was a perfect fit for us,” Fisher said. “At the end of the day, (RH) wanting to come to Birmingham is more of a confirmation that we chose the right place than it is us saying we’re coming because of them.”

Asking rents up

The vacancy rate for downtown Birmingham space is about 6%, although poised to drop once the latest batch of new retailers finalizes leases.

Asking rents range from about $60 per square foot (triple net) for the most highly sought retail space to about $24 per square foot for office space, and the current average is $34.74 per square foot, or about $1 more than before the pandemic, according to Kammer, the shopping district director.

While other shopping districts or malls in the region worry about too many empty storefronts, downtown Birmingham faces a different problem.

“We are running out of space right now,” Kammer said. “There are stores that will contact us … looking for commercial space, and I’ll talk to brokers and I’ll talk to Cindy (Ciura), and we have to break it to them that there’s nothing really available that fits what you want right now.

“I just got a call today from a retailer,” he added. “They actually have a brick-and-mortar (store) in downtown Detroit and wanted to do kind of a test market up here for a while, and we really didn’t have anything we could offer.”


Posted By: Detroit Free Press on November 13, 2021.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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