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Achieving right mix in the city's downtown

Here is what we hear on the street about downtown Birmingham: There are too many jewelry stores in downtown Birmingham. Now, there are going to be way too many furniture stores. And why are there nail salons in a downtown rather than at strip malls? What happened to all of the quick and inexpensive places to grab something to eat? There needs to be more women's clothing stores; more kid's stores; a new toy store; more men's stores; another shoe store. There are too many national chain stores in the downtown. ­We need more local boutiques. We need more stores that they have at the mall. What we really need in downtown is an independent bookstore.

The list is endless.

Birmingham, an eclectic and vibrant suburban downtown, is ever-changing, with stores and dining establishments changing over with the times and consumers' needs. And as building owners have vacancies and seek to fill them, often significantly increasing their rents. That is how the city is now being filled with national furniture stores like RH (Restoration Hardware) in a new building development at S. Old Woodward and Brown streets, CB2 at the corner of Old Woodward and Maple, replacing Panera Breads, and Serena and Lily, in the former Linda Dresner location on Maple and Bates. The leases for all three furnishing stores were finalized by landlord Ron Boji, who is bringing new and significant retailers to the city.

Birmingham has long been a jewelry shopper's mecca – at one point about 15 years ago, there were 21 jewelers in town – and today is no different. The addition this spring of Brilliant Earth in the new building on Pierce and Merrill just adds to the variety.

The Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) has helped play a vital role in recent years in ascertaining what is in the downtown mix – what sort of retail is needed, and what perhaps there is too much of for shoppers. Former BSD Executive Director Ingrid Tighe held regular roundtables with landlords to hear their concerns and needs, and today, current Executive Director Sean Kammer works with a retail consultant in retail attraction, helping guide real estate brokers to the right fit for right now. It's a two-prong effort, and one that is a high-wire balancing act because, unlike in a mall, building owners cannot be told what they can put in their spaces. Analysis now underway by the BSD of the city's needs and retail holes that could be filled will be a valuable tool for everyone involved.

While there is always some retail storefront turnover, Birmingham has held a low retail vacancy rate for well over a decade, since the after-effects of the 2008 Great Recession and the city's efforts to revitalize the city's walkability through its bistro license, first floor retail and other efforts. Continued cooperation between landlords, the BSD and leasing agents will show that when you hit the right mix of retail, dining and entertainment, the city will continue to have a vibrant downtown.


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