With reports of permanent closings for established downtown businesses as well as the temporarily shuttering of another for six months, rumors of vibrant vendor activity occurring over at the Urban Emporium (UE) are welcome indeed.

“Our recruitment effort for tenants has been rigorous and focused since I’ve arrived,” Kati Lovvorn, the UE’s director said.

“The local economy has improved somewhat and it seems that more people are looking to open start-up businesses. The UE is now in its fourth year of existence, people see that we have staying power and I believe are now deciding it is the time to try retail downtown. Social media and word of mouth has also been a big contributor to our new tenants,” Lovvorn said.

Since inception, the incubator’s mission has been to help aspiring entrepreneurs start a business from scratch and/or assist helping existing retailers expand their current footprint. The Urban Emporium provides staffing, point-of-sale equipment, inventory and loss prevention controls to enterprising companies with the intent of facilitating a lowered entry barrier into the downtown market.

In roughly 90 days, five new businesses have joined the ranks of the Urban Emporium: Little Smack Boutique offering upscale brands of baby, toddler clothes and accessories; EllenJAY Stylish Events + Sweets producing a variety of custom sweet treats; Bottega Collection Boutique designing women’s contemporary clothing, scarves and handbags; Frios Gourmet Pops making gourmet popsicles from local dairy and Chic Jolie Boutique selling women’s clothing and accessories.  

“Kari Benson, owner of Frios, has made the UE her second location — her original store is at the Windmill market in Fairhope,” Lovvorn said. 

Since opening their first store in October 2014, EllenJAY co-owners Lauren Kapluck and Jennifer Christ have been extremely busy with custom orders at their midtown Mobile location.

“When our customers started to ask for something sweet on a daily basis rather than just for special occasions, we decided to open a second retail location inside the Urban Emporium. In less than two months, our business has already benefitted from this partnership,” Kapluck said.  

Commercial real estate moves
Tippy Toes and Dancin’ Clothes have leased 1,600-square-feet of retail space at 19 Shelton Beach Road in Saraland. Amber Dedeaux of Vallas Realty brokered the transaction. The dancing attire retailer expects to be open in their new space by May 1. 

Infirmary Health System, Inc. recently purchased a 24,157-square-foot building on State Highway 181 in Daphne across from the Eastern Shore Center for $2.4 million. The property sits on a 1.90-acre lot on Woodrow Road facing the highway.

The building was originally constructed for Basset Furniture, but was converted to office and retail use in 2012. The property was foreclosed on in 2014 and the Infirmary purchased it from the lender. Vallas Realty, Inc. was the real estate firm that handled the transaction and it was closed with Surety Land Title.

According to Richard Weavil of the Weavil Company, a 20,000-square-foot property located at 1015 Montlimar Dr. in Mobile was leased by Altapointe Health Systems. Weavil represented the tenant and the Bender Real Estate Group worked for the landlord.

Two businesses in Southwood Place Shopping Center across from Providence Hospital have added space. Pour Baby Wine Bar and Restaurant has leased a 1,000-square-foot space adjacent to their current location and formerly occupied by Olivella, a specialty oil, vinegars and artisan foods retailer.

In turn, Olivella has relocated within the shopping center into a 1,200-square-foot retail space with plans for a new grand opening slated for Saturday, March 14. Pratt Thomas with the Merrill P. Thomas Co. Inc. handled both transactions.

Dollar Tree has leased 9,600-square-feet of retail space in Overlook Shopping Center for a new store to be located at 5301 Moffett Road. Amber Dedeaux of Vallas Realty represented the landlord and Jonathan Rudolph of Rudolph Development Group, Inc. worked for the tenant.

A speculator recently paid $280,000 for two former Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Alabama properties currently owned by a local bank and located at 4128 Government Blvd. in Mobile. Bob Craft of REMAX represented the buyer. M.J. Baxter & Associates worked for the seller.

Former general manager of Roberts Brothers, past President of the Mobile Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) and 2014’s Realtor of the Year, Sue Winter recently opened a small business coaching and consulting firm called Great Ideas, Inc. Goals of the firm are to help clients enhance customer service, grow the business’s sphere of influence and facilitate the development of best practice ideas.

“I’m excited to be working with creative, entrepreneurial and community-minded owners who recognize the value of an ‘IDEA’ approach supported by a different perspective,” Winter said.

DMA hosting downtown open house event
On March 21 from noon to 4 p.m. the Downtown Mobile Alliance (DMA) will be hosting “Downtown Open House Saturday.”

“Walkable, mixed-use urban communities are rapidly growing in popularity, both nationally and locally, driven by the desire for the social interaction of great neighborhoods. The goal of this event is to introduce more Mobilians to an opportunity in their own backyard,” Fred Rendfrey, DMA’s director of downtown economic development said.

Fifteen properties will be open to view on the tour, all of them currently on the market for sale. Visitors will see a great diversity of housing options: historic homes, condominiums, apartment houses and houses converted into office use.

The goal of the tour is to focus on residential properties; either a house ready to occupy or one built as a single-family structure, with a current commercial use, that is awaiting conversion into a new residence. A diversity of housing options will be seen by visitors.

Members of the real estate industry who visit a minimum number of properties on the tour will also be eligible to win several prizes from downtown businesses, according to the press release.

“The Downtown Open House is more than a tour; it is an opportunity to experience the downtown lifestyle. A list of properties is on the Downtown Mobile Alliance’s website and maps for the free, self-guided tour will be available in Bienville Square on the day of the event,” Rendfrey said.