Urban Outfitters’ downtown plans get mixed reception

Urban Outfitters plans to open a store at the corner of Haywood and College streets in downtown Asheville.

Ken Masri, the director of store development, said the national retailer hopes to open in the former CVS drugstore site by this fall. Plans call for removing the building's façade to expose the original brick; the two-story, 8,000-square-foot store will feature a central staircase and big windows.

Urban Outfitters, a national retail chain, plans to open an 8,000-square-foot store at the corner of Haywood and College streets before the end of the year. In this rendition, shown to Downtown Commissioner members, the store's signage is not yet included.

"We've been looking at Asheville for five years but never felt the timing or location was right," said Masri.

Downtown Commission Chair Jesse Plaster warned that small retailers will be concerned about Urban Outfitters' impact on them, adding, "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 said the news will spark renewed debate about the impact of chains on Asheville's central business district. "The whole issue of chain stores in downtown has been a rather abstract discussion," he noted, though downtown is already home to Subway, Marble Slab and Mast General Store. "Your introduction into the community is going to be a great magnifying lens on that conversation."

Commission Vice Chair John Rogers, meanwhile, 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, who owns Frock, said that while she didn't automatically object to Urban Outfitters, "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, who owns Talu, opposes having Urban Outfitters downtown. "It's against everything Asheville stands for," she said. "I'm anti-corporation: Corporations drive out people like me. … But unfortunately, we have people who shop there."

Masri, however, said: "We thrive on having a closeness with other retailers. I'm not going to compete with your business: I'm going to increase the draw to downtown."

The publicly traded company also owns the Anthropologie, Free People and Terrain retail chains and specializes in adaptive reuse of older buildings.

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