State Street Station still drawing a crowd
by Danielle Jackson
Built in the 1920s as a shopping center for nearby Cone Mill Corp. employees, Greensboro’s State Street Station had experienced waves of both activity and inactivity over the years. But since building contractor John Harmon and mortgage financier Len White breathed new life into the space during the 1980s, State Street Station has become one of the Triad’s most popular shopping destinations.
Often compared to places like San Francisco’s Union Street and Boston’s Newbury Street, the six-block, 65,000-square-foot center now houses 32 locally owned retail and service businesses. Its nine buildings, all constructed between the 1920s and 1980s, offer an eclectic look, with a similar green and white color scheme to tie it all together.
“Something we’ve worked really hard on is getting the mix more oriented toward retail shops to bring back more of the shopping crowd,” says Scott Kutos, operations manager for Alliance Commercial Property Management, which purchased State Street Station in 2005.
“It’s more of a community village, which makes it warm, friendly and inviting not only for customers but also for tenants,” he adds. “It goes back to the old days of shopping.”
A community feel
John and Suzan Magee know State Street Station’s community feel better than most people. The couple, who purchased The Secret Tea Room earlier this year, also live in the neighborhood. Their restaurant is a popular spot for bridal luncheons, baby showers and birthday parties.
“The residents and neighborhood are warm and friendly,” John Magee says. “We just love the atmosphere.”
Earnhardt Optical has been located at the same spot along State Street for the past 14 years. Owner Bill Fonner chose the site for its distinctive, upscale nature.
“We were looking for a smaller location but wanted something that was a bit more unique,” he says. “It’s quaint, upscale shopping with a history.”
Mechelle Lindenberg opened Mechelle’s Resale Shoppe, which sells both new and consigned items, a little over a year ago for similar reasons.
“We’re like a little community,” she says. “So far, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
After having her business in High Point for seven years, Joyce Darr decided it was time to make a change. The aesthetician and owner of The Skin Care Center finally decided to open the State Street Center for Renewal — a community of independent holistic practitioners — there “because it was the perfect location for me to move my business,” she says.
Kathy Flack, owner of Kathy & Associates, had a 3,800-square-foot space elsewhere but decided to pare down the services she offered and focus exclusively on what she does best: hair.
“I wanted a simple situation and liked the fact that people are always out walking on State Street,” she says. “It’s homey, and everyone chats with everyone else.”
Jody Martin, owner of plus-size sister shops Linnea’s Boutique and Rubenesque for Less, considered several areas before relocating from Battleground Avenue earlier this year. She chose State Street Station for its diversity of offerings.
“Each business brings its own unique energy to the street,” Martin says.
“Together, we create a wonderful feeling of community among residents, shop owners and customers.”
James Hogan, a specialty fine women’s apparel shop, is one of State Street’s newest tenants. The shop, which opened in April, has other locations in Boston and Savannah.
“The ambience and charm were paramount, and it reminded us of our other stores,” says Michael Hammon, general manager and buyer for the shop.
“The easy parking and close proximity to our existing clientele also was important.”
A focus on local
Lillo Bella, a shoe boutique specializing in both established and up-and-coming brands, opened for business at State Street Station two years ago. Owner Emem Ikon believes that the spirit of each shop owner is at the heart of the district.
“All of the shops are locally owned and operated, allowing for more emphasis on customer service,” she says.
“As small-business owners, we come together to support and encourage each other, especially in these difficult economic times.”
Many of State Street Station’s businesses — including Lillo Bella and Mechelle’s Resale Shoppe — are members of Buy Triad First and Local Triad First, organizations that encourage residents to shop at locally owned, independent businesses. Monthly Ladies Night Out events round out the shopping district’s hometown community feel.
“We love to have area women come enjoy an appetizer and drink during Ladies Night Out,” says Diana Carl, owner of Southwyck Antiques and Gifts.
“It’s a lot of fun walking store to store,” Lindenberg says of both the monthly events and the shopping district as a whole.
“It’s different from anything else in Greensboro.”
Danielle Jackson is editor of Triad Living, Wake Living and Fifteen501 magazines.