By Kaitlin Candelaria
Shopping in the Over the Mountain area is changing.
“I really think the trend within the shopping center business is to engage more local retailers and restaurants and bring those businesses to places like The Summit,” Sam Heide, vice president of Bayer Properties, said. “It’s like putting together a puzzle. We’re always looking to bring in best-in-class retailers and we want to provide our customers with a unique experience they can’t find anywhere else in the area.”
Sprout and Pour co-owner Amanda Blake said she and her husband weren’t looking to expand beyond their Edgewood Shop when they were approached by Bayer Properties several months ago. Now, they are planning to open their second store, at The Summit on U.S. 280, in early August.
“We had just gotten our doors open so we originally told them we were just a small business and we weren’t interested,” Blake said. “They contacted us a few more times and after several months, we decided it was OK to have this conversation. It was surprising to us because we don’t fit their ‘profile.’ We’re a small family-run business. But it was definitely an opportunity we wanted to hold onto if we could.”
With the growing trend to shop local and unique, shopping areas Over the Mountain are evolving to stay competitive. Lane Parke, a new development in Mountain Brook, will bring in new-to-Birmingham tenants such as a boutique coffee shop and an upscale “fast-casual eatery committed to using natural and organic ingredients.” John Evans of Evson Inc., the developer behind Lane Parke, describes their choices for tenants as catering to a more “sophisticated market.”
Sprout and Pour will join other local businesses such as Steel City Pops and Gus Mayer at The Summit. The Summit still is known for its offering of national brands not otherwise found in the state – Trader Joe’s will be opening its first Alabama location there in October – but management also is increasing efforts to add more local tenants to the mix.
Heide said The Summit always has embraced local retailers and points to restaurants such as Urban Cookhouse and Zoe’s, both of which have been successful staples of The Summit’s scene for many years.
“It’s our duty to our customers and our community to help cultivate the next round of successful businesses,” Heide said.
Brookwood Village is also chasing the trend. The mall was purchased in mid-2014 by Cypress Equities, which recently began a year-long renovation project. The goal, according to officials, is to create an upscale but comforting environment.
Todd Minnis, managing partner and chief investment officer for Cypress Equities, said that, despite the popularity of online shopping, consumers are still looking for something unique.
“When it was previously owned, Brookwood was more of a traditional mall,” Minnis said. “But there was no reason for people to drive Over the Mountain to go somewhere that has the same tenants everybody else has. Now, we instead want to focus on an overall shopping experience. We’re focusing on making it feel less anesthetic and dry and making it feel more like a space within a home. We want to create a comfortable atmosphere.”
“We want to create unique offerings with smaller and local businesses spread throughout the center next to national brands,” Minnis said. “It creates a really unique place for people to go. We’re able to create a variety of reasons to steal away three or four hours of a family’s time.”
Angela Jacks, marketing manager at the Riverchase Galleria, agrees that it’s important now to have a good mix of tenants.
“Our shoppers definitely still want national brands and want to shop at department stores, but there are a segment of shoppers who want to buy locally and we’re catering to that as well,” she said. “We try to have a good mix of tenants. We have a fresh new look now that’s more apparent to who we are and we have several new stores coming in.”
Local stores such as Molly Green already have gained momentum at the Galleria, and they now will be joined by retailers such as Lily Magnolia, which specializes in items made in Alabama.
Ultimately, the shopping center managers all agree that, whether they’re bringing in national or local businesses, they’re basing their decisions off of what their consumers are looking for.
“We’re going to continue to seek out national brands that are needed here in Birmingham,” Heide said. “We want Birmingham consumers to come to The Summit and get what they would expect to get in any large city in America. But we also want to give a flavor of what Birmingham has to offer locally.”