A slow but steady rise is occurring in downtown Winston-Salem retail, as the resident population grows and tourists visit specialty stores.
Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, said that the partnership is actively trying to create more retail downtown although downtown retail faces
“We’ve been slowly picking up momentum,” Thiel said.
In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s downtown was the center for retail. According to Thiel, this changed as suburbanization, and the opening of the Hanes Mall and other shopping centers threatened downtown retail. However, retailers downtown are slowly starting to come back.
He noted, as residential life expands in an area retail grows. Since 2005, 880 apartments and condos have been built downtown and 575 housing units are currently under construction, according to Thiel.
“There is a tipping point in housing construction,” Thiel said. “That is going to be directly related to retail demand.”
In the world of downtown, Thiel noted that there are two different types of retail. Neighborhood support retail, such as pharmacies and dry cleaners, which depend upon the number of people living in the area. Destination and specialty retail, including art galleries and vintage clothing shops, is the second type of retail and currently the strongest retail downtown, according to Thiel.
Fiber Company, located on the corner of Sixth and Trade Street in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Downtown Art District, is an example of the specialty retail Thiel noted. According to its website, Fiber Company is a working studio of six textile artists weaving, painting, and designing fabrics. The shop carries hand-made items by partners and a gallery of local artists’ wares. However, according to Fiber Company member Carolyn Glazener, most local people do not even know the shop exists.
“We’ve been here for 26 years and honestly I don’t think people know we are here,” Glazener said. “Our best costumers are tourists; half of the people in here today were not from Winston-Salem.”
According to Glazener, restaurants and events that draw people downtown bring business to Fiber Company. If people come into downtown Winston-Salem for dinner or an event, they wander into Fiber Company, when they would not have, if not brought downtown for different reasons.
A different type of retail than Fiber Company, CVS stands an example of the neighborhood support retail that Thiel described. Gentry said that he believes that the majority of people who shop at CVS do so out of convenience, because they live downtown.
Similarly to Fiber Company, people wander into CVS pharmacy on West Fourth Street, who come downtown for different reasons, other than to visit the store, according to CVS worker Jonathan Gentry.
“People leave restaurants and bars and walk down here to buy little things like cigarettes,” Gentry said. “Our number one sale is cigarettes.”
Ronnie’s Country Store on North Cherry Street is an example of both specialty retail and neighborhood support retail. Ronnie Horton, owner of the store, said that the unique items his store has draw customers, especially the sugar cooked country ham.
“We sugar cook country ham,” Horton said. “You can get ham a lot of places, but not sugar cooked.”
Old-fashioned candies and homemade jellies and jams are other popular, unique items that bring people to Ronnie’s, according to Horton. He added that many of the same people come into the store every day, sometimes even more than once, to pick up things to eat.
“You see a lot of the same people in here everyday,” Horton said, “I’ve got folks that stop in on their way to work and on their way back from work.”