Shops to pull into Automobile Alley

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

by Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Automobile Alley is about to be home to three new retailers, including a national chain known for upscale addresses such as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Representatives of Lululemon, the upscale athletic wear retailer, did not return calls to The Oklahoman, but the chain's website shows a "showroom" location opening "soon" at 714 N Broadway in a decades-old former car dealership last occupied by Frontline Church.

Unlike Lululemon stores, the showrooms operate with limited hours. A similar showroom opened recently along Tulsa's Cherry Street and is open Wednesday through Saturday afternoons or by appointment.

Tulsa-based Dwelling Spaces, meanwhile, announced last month it plans to open a store at 25 NW 9 (just east of Broadway) in a building that also is home to The Flaming Lips' Womb gallery. The store is known for its mix of unique fashions, gifts, furniture and toys.

The final addition to this mix will be the Plenty Mercantile, which is set to open by Thanksgiving at 807 N Broadway. Brittney Melton, her mother Traci Walton, and friend and business partner Chris England say they were attracted to the area by the success of another retailer, Shop Good, 3 NW 9.

"We were impressed by the success of Shop Good," Melton said. "We want to embrace Shop Good and all the local retailers."

Melton, Walton and England introduce them- selves as "founders" and "shopkeepers" of Plenty Mercantile, and promise the store will be different from most offerings in the city.

"We are a sustainable lifestyle store," Melton said. "We chose the word mercantile because it allows us to incorporate a wide variety of goods. We'll have lighting, furniture, house wares and some fun stuff in there as well. We have modern designers who are producing consciously socially responsible or environmentally friendly."

England said the shop is inspired by Walton's fashion sense, Melton's commitment to the environment, and his experience in design and branding.

They chose Automobile Alley, England said, because it best represented their desire to promote sustainable retailing through the re-use of a decades-old former Chevrolet dealership. The three say they also will be adding a green roof atop the one-story building that will allow for classes and demonstrations on topics ranging from cooking to gardening.

Automobile Alley was a stretch of mostly boarded-up buildings a dozen years ago. But the strip is now home to Schlegal Bicycles, Broadway Wine Merchants, Rawhide, Treasures Past, Blue Water Divers, Hideaway Pizza, Red Prime Steakhouse, Coffee Slingers, SaraSara Cupcakes, the Iguana Mexican Grill, S&B Burgers, and the Pachinko Parlor.

Allison Bailey, a retail consultant who has worked with Shop Good and merchants in the 16th Street Plaza District, said she is not surprised by the emergence of Automobile Alley as downtown's leading retail corridor.

Bailey believes Shop Good has been a leader in showing how retail can thrive on the corridor.

"Their success over the last three years has given the area a certification that you can make it and do well," she said. "I've always seen Automobile Alley as an ideal location for retail. It's easy walking distance for people staying downtown, and its easy access for those who live outside downtown. People window-shopped along this street many years ago, and it's still set up for that."