Downtown Mobile is certainly a different atmosphere than it was a few short years ago. It is no longer strictly a business district for suits or a Saturday night hangout for the college crowd.
When taking a walk down Dauphin Street on any given day, you’re sure to see tourists snapping photos of the newly renovated Van Antwerp Building, hear a few foreign accents and notice locals lunching at one of the many sidewalk tables available at favorite spots such as Spot of Tea, Mediterranean Sandwich Company or Mama’s on Dauphin.
As you would expect in any booming city center, the retail scene has grown rapidly. From clothing boutiques to art galleries, you can’t help but want to take a peek inside each store once you see the stylish windows dressed for the season, enticing sidewalk signs announcing weekly specials and wide-open doors inviting you in.
Stepping into KABL & Co., the newest shop on the block located at 451 Dauphin St., you are greeted with a smile, friendly staff and the aroma of unique candles. The store is family owned and operated.
Asked why downtown Mobile was their first choice for a store location, co-owner Lindsay Grandquest responded, “Downtown Mobile was chosen for the store location because of the need for shops and activities in the downtown area. When the partners and I speak to several of the homeowners and locals of the downtown area, they all have a similar statement — they stay in the area and don’t like to leave their surroundings for anything. They try and shop, dine, grocery shop and take care of any other needs directly with the downtown businesses. When we heard that, we knew that clothing and gifts would be a great complement to those locals. So, we did it!”
Many people pride themselves on being boutique-exclusive shoppers, not only because of the limited quantities of each item sold but because of the unique selection of products not found in big box stores. When you walk into a department store you’ll find a larger selection but you might also see the same dress on your best friend at brunch this weekend.
“Luckily, we have been well accepted and ‘welcomed to the family’ with the downtown community. We have not had any issues with returns, inventory or sizes since we opened in October 2015,” Grandquest said. “I think the members of the community love the breath of fresh air that our store has offered the area. The downtown locals don’t usually shop at department store chains, so the value and the business that they recognize in us makes me believe that we have chosen the perfect location for KABL & Co.”
Small boutiques offer limited quantities, a certain unique flair and the convenience of one-on-one styling, if needed. All merchandise is hand-picked by the buyer, who is also often the owner, based on their clientele. This can make your shopping experience feel much more personal if you are a regular shopper. You’ll find locally made products, up-and-coming brand names and a chic hostess gift for that friend who has everything.
A national retail trend that has been a great success downtown is the incubator concept. Urban Emporium, at 260 Dauphin St., was established to help ensure the success of new or expanding retailers in Downtown Mobile. Urban Emporium is a project of the Downtown Mobile Alliance and Springboard to Success Inc. The incubator offers training in all aspects of retailing, from loss prevention to inventory control, in addition to regular meetings with an experienced retail consultant.
In its first year and a half of operation, three tenants moved out of the Emporium into their own storefronts. With more than 20 vendors in one location, ranging from clothing and accessories to paper products and botanicals, it is the true “one-stop shop” in Mobile.
On a side note: I’d like to shake hands with the window decorator, because I have yet to walk by without walking inside. Those spring colors are hypnotizing.
Retail can be a tough avenue for a downtown business district. In order to thrive, the stores tend to need to be within walking distance of offices and residences alike. The growth of downtown is promising for local retailers because the crowd is there no matter what time of day, developers are seeing promise in the older buildings and the downtown condos are in demand.
If you haven’t checked out the downtown scene within the last few months, I suggest planning a date night or family outing to Artwalk on the second Friday of each month. You’ll observe a bustling city center, friendly faces, open doors and a shopping experience so very different from department stores.
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