Ken Masri, Urban Outfitters' director of store development, told a downtown development advisory board that it hoped to open in the former CVS drug store location by fall. Urban Outfitters plans to remove the plaster covering the exterior of the building to expose original brick, Masri said, and improve the "eyesore" of a building. The two-story, 8,000-square-foot store will feature a central staircase, large windows and merchandise tailored to the Asheville market, he said. It would bring life back to a large, two-story building that's been vacant since the closing of the drug store earlier this year.
"We've been looking at Asheville for five years but never felt the timing or location was right," Masri said. "Now we feel it's time."
The store's plans got a mostly positive reaction from members of the Asheville Downtown Commission.
Small downtown retailers will be concerned about Urban Outfitter's impact on them, commission Chairman Jesse Plaster said. "However, I feel like you're really animating what's been a dead corner for some time. I think there's real potential to help downtown."
Commission member Harry Weiss told the store representatives that their proposal will spark debate about the impact of chain stores on Asheville's downtown business district, which is mostly populated by independent boutiques and locally owned small businesses.
"The whole issue of chain stores in downtown has been a rather abstract discussion," Weiss said, despite the fact that there are chains in downtown, including Subway, Marble Slab, Mast General Store, and formerly the CVS drug store. "Your introduction into the community is going to be a great magnifying lens on that conversation," Weiss said.
John Rogers, another commission member, said, "It's wonderful, I think, to have you here. The building is such a dog the way it is now."
Downtown retailers offered mixed reactions. Betsy Bradfield, owner of the clothing store Frock on Haywood Street, said she didn't automatically object to Urban Outfitters, but added that "I think if we had more than one national chain, it would be detrimental to downtown. I definitely don't want this to be a trend."
Tamara Serapio, owner of the Talu clothing shop on Haywood Street, said she was opposed to Urban Outfitters coming to downtown.
"It's against everything Asheville stands for," Serapio said. "I'm anti-corporation. Corporations drive out people like me. I make clothing, I work directly with the people who make clothing for me. I do fair trade, and these people are going to put people like me out of business. But unfortunately, we have people who shop there."
The owners of the Union clothing store on Haywood Street directly across from the proposed Urban Outfitters location declined to comment.
Masri told commission members that he understood the apprehension about a national chain moving into a small town.
"We thrive on having a closeness with other retailers," Masri said, adding that Urban Outfitters won't be in direct competition with other retailers. "I'm not going to compete with your business. I'm going to increase the draw to downtown," and that will help all businesses, he said.
Urban Outfitters is still ironing out design details and a construction schedule, Masri said. But the store hopes that it can be up and running by Thanksgiving.
Urban Outfitters sells everything from men's and women's clothing to accessories, novelties, books and rugs. Urban Outfitters is a publicly traded company that also owns the apparel stores Anthropologie and Free People, and retail stores Terrain, which sell home and garden products. Aside from its retail business, Urban Outfitters specializes in adaptive rehabilitation of older buildings. It's headquartered in restored buildings in an old U.S. Navy yard in Philadelphia.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor
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