It is North Carolina’s oldest shopping center, but thanks to a fresh makeover and some hot new stores and restaurants, it is also one of the busiest. Park Road Shopping Center first opened back in 1956, but new owners came in six years ago and business is downright booming with new bars and restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and more. The so-called “Backlot” is now almost as busy as the front, chock-full of fun new establishments like speakeasy Dot Dot Dot, beloved French bakery Amelie’s and Midwood Smokehouse.
Jim Wilkerson, the owner of Blackhawk Hardware (the shop has been there since the ’70s) says, “When it was sold there was a lot of angst, but everything the new owners have done here has been really positive. In the past we didn’t do as well as some of the other shopping centers at night, but all the changes have really increased our night traffic.”
New management took over in 2011 after longtime owner Porter Byrum donated the shopping center to Queens University, Wingate and his alma mater, Wake Forest. The three schools then sold the center for an $82 million profit to Eden’s, the Columbia developers who say, “We have worked to preserve the center’s sense of place and close community ties, while enhancing the family-friendly atmosphere and diverse merchandising mix. Since Park Road opened as Charlotte’s first open-air shopping center in 1956, the center has experienced nearly 100 percent retail occupancy. We know a good thing when we see it.”
So do business owners.
Popular fast-casual salad joint Chopt moved in at the beginning of the extreme makeover.
“Park Road Shopping Center was an excellent location for Chopt to join the Charlotte community nearly two years ago,” says Chopt co-founder Colin McCabe. “We are thrilled to have creative and complementary neighbors in Dot Dot Dot, Va Da Vie, Suarez Bakery and more. We feel it has become an incredible destination, and we look forward to serving crave-able salads here for years to come.”
The owner of Blackhawk Hardware like to joke that the shop has been “locally owned and mismanaged since 1977.” The family-owned business has always had a strong core of regulars, but say they’ve seen a huge influx of customers lately and even adjusted their hours to take advantage of some of the new crowds.
“There is so much shopping traffic now,” Jim says. “The back has been incredible.”
He says they first started to notice a boost when the Flying Biscuit opened – one of the first new restaurants to call the center home back in 2010. Since then Urban Cookhouse, Burtons Grill and Bar, CO, Juice Bar, Rock Salt and more have opened. And people are freaking out that the city’s first Steak and Shake is coming to the shopping center soon.
But it’s not just eateries that have opened. Girls who love a good bargain or just a good boutique have been flocking to Park Road more than ever before.
Bevello and K-la – both high-end boutiques selling the latest trends from top designers — left their old South Park locations to set up shop here. J.Crew Mercantile – similar to a J.Crew outlet store — came in early 2016 with a lot of fanfare. Julie’s, the popular women’s boutique known for dresses under $50, has been there for 48 years and is loving the influx of new shoppers.
Julie’s and the Mercantile are just a few doors down from Park Road Books, the city’s only locally owned general bookstore. Manager James Brewster agrees that all the new blood has been great for business. “We love it. We love the direction it’s going. A lot of the restaurants have really helped our evening business. We have always been a destination, but now more people are finding out about us.” Over the years the bookstore has hosted readings from some of the greats — Pat Conroy, President Jimmy Carter and most recently John Grisham. Now James says people from across Charlotte are buying books from them. “We really can’t afford to advertise but they’re finding us now!”
Park Road Shopping Center is located at 4101 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28209. Find a complete list of restaurants and retailers located at Park Road Shopping Center at parkroadshoppingcenter.com.
All images courtesy of Eden’s unless otherwise noted.
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