Retail booms in Biltmore Village
Joe Scully’s two restaurants are two miles apart. But Chestnut, on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville, and Corner Kitchen, on Boston Way in BiltmoreVillage, feel like they are in separate worlds, Scully says.
Downtown is people-packed pavement, music blaring from passing cars and musicians on the street corners. BiltmoreVillage is cobble-stoned, tree-shaded sidewalks. Chirping birds.
But in the last six months in BiltmoreVillage, the old world is feeling a whole lot newer. Since winter, six businesses have opened in the historic district, most of them independent businesses.
“It’s quaint, charming and peaceful,” said Cathie Robbins, who opened Origami Ink, a specialty paper and writing shop, with her husband, Jonathan, across the street from Corner Kitchen at the end of May.
For six years, the Robbins family ran Origami Ink on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville. “(BiltmoreVillage) feels like a good fit for our business,” Robbins said.
Origami Ink, as well as the second location of Weaverville‘s Well-Bred Bakery, which opened Thursday, are housed in the former location of Chelsea’s & Village Tea Room, which closed in 2013.
“We have just had some properties that have opened up,” said Gail Noland Dowell, director of marketing for Biltmore Property Group, addressing the village’s recent retail and restaurant boom.
Declared a local historic district in 1989, the village now houses more than 30 shops, 13 corporate chains and 10 cafes and restaurants.
Originally designed as a residential outpost for the Biltmore estate by the property’s chief architect and landscape designer, construction began in the 1890s and was complete in 1905.
The Biltmore continues to play a key role in BiltmoreVillage’s growth, with business owners citing the influx of tourists to the historic home as a big economic driver in the area. According to LeeAnn Donnelly, Biltmore’s senior public relations manager, the estate sees around 1 million visitors each year, “with the concentration of them visiting during our Christmas at Biltmore event.”
Judy Glicken, who owns Well-Bred Bakery with her husband Ruben Tirado, said opening an eatery near a tourist destination was “a no-brainer.”
Glicken, who opened and still operates Well-Bred Bakery in Weaverville in 2002, said the demographics of residents near BiltmoreVillage also encouraged her to open her expansion bakery in the area.
According to Dowell, 39,329 people live within a three-mile radius of BiltmoreVillage.
“There are also so many people who work here,” said Laura Bogard, general manager of Well-Bred Bakery. Bogard’s hairdresser at Wink Salon and Boutique on nearby Brook Street first suggested the bakery look into a BiltmoreVillage expansion. “We are going to get a lot of local workers.”
And each new business means more employment opportunities for Asheville residents. Katina Turner moved her shop, Turner and Scott, from Biltmore Park Town Square to BiltmoreVillage about a month ago.
She expanded her business model from beauty-based retail to including more services, like nail, hair and skin care. She will also add massage options soon, Turner said.
That means she’s upped her staff from two members to seven. “We are trying to stimulate the local economy, too, and pay people well,” she added.
The Biltmore and nearby hotels, which includes The Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville on Boston Way, has prompted her to expand her wedding service.
Weddings are big business in Asheville: According to The Wedding Report, the estimated market value of the wedding industry in the Asheville metropolitan area is $75,587,722, this year, up from around $66 million in 2008.
The Biltmore hosted more than 200 weddings in 2013 in its nine different venues.
“So much of our walking traffic is from the hotels,” Turner said. “People are in town for a wedding and they forget their lipstick, moisturizer … and they have everything here under one roof. They can do get the nails and hair done, too.”
This is the second time Turner has operated a business in BiltmoreVillage. She ran Turner & Co. Apothecary on Brook Street from 2004-07.
“It has a totally different energy from the first time we were here,” she said. She says there are more stores and more diversity.
“There are a lot more national and international brands,” she said. “I think that helps us local business owners because it brings in that crowd that may be looking for Lilly Pulitzer and they may discover something new (from a local business) that they might not have seen otherwise. That’s the carrot. And I’m happy for the carrot.”
She partnered with BiltmoreVillage’s Lululemon, an athletic gear store with locations throughout North America, for a recent event. She worked with the Kitchen Place business for a celebration of one of the store’s fitness ambassadors; her shop provided treatments for a team of local fitness instructors.
“We are not operating in a vacuum,” she said. “We are part of a vibrant, excited community of people who want to help each other. We want to see our community grow.”
Cathie Robbins said she experienced that sense of community as soon as she opened Origami Ink on Boston Way. Other business owners brought the couple flowers to welcome them. “It feels more cohesive than downtown,” she said. “(To succeed) as independent retailers, you have to have that, to have a cohesive shopping area and everyone is on the same page.”
She said they started looking for a new location a couple years ago. “Downtown was challenging sometimes,” she said, noting that customers often complained about parking issues. Many of her local customers need to drop in every few months to get pen refills, so they would spend more time searching for parking than shopping.
Panhandling was also an issue for Robbins. People would enter her store and ask her or her customers for money, she said. “It was a little dangerous,” said Robbins, who would often work alone or in the company of her 10-year-old daughter. “I didn’t want to relocate our business, but I felt like it needed to happen.”
The wedding business is also a big part of Origami Ink’s business. The proximity to Biltmore will help expose the shop’s invitation services to couples visiting the estate, she said. And people visiting Biltmore tend to be interested in history, in the preservation of traditions, like letter-writing and penmanship.
Robbins’ customers, still, are a solid mix of tourist and local, she said.
BiltmoreVillage also attracts a similar demographic, Scully said.
He opened Corner Kitchen 10 years ago. When he opened the restaurant, “a lot of locals who I talked to just wouldn’t come to BiltmoreVillage.”
The addition of popular national brands, such as kitchen supply chain Williams and Sonoma, has helped attract new shoppers.
“We all reach out to the local community,” he said. “In the wintertime, we really depend on the locals. It’s becoming more compelling for John Q. Asheville to come and hang out and be a part of it.”
The community has also organized new types of events this year to help draw more of a local crowd, Dowell said. This spring, the Historic Biltmore Village Partnership hosted a beer and food event featuring village area businesses, such as Catawba and French Broad breweries, and food from Corner Kitchen, Fig and Village Wayside Bar & Grille. Both nights sold out, she said.
The partnership also plans to host a free concert in the village this September, she said.
Scully said he thinks the village is developing in a direction that is more inclusive, with, for instance, a range of eateries at different price points.
He would like to see the area attract more residents. “I want more housing, more people living there,” he said. “If we get more people, it’s going to be an awful lot easier.”