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Fashion Stores Declining In Uptown District

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By ELISHA SAUERS
The Capital of Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Inner West Street has been known for enticing entertainment for years: live bands at Rams Head On Stage, coffee and conversation at 49 West, and then, of course, dessert, care of the silky and lacy things sold at A la Mode.

But it’s last call for one of those “nightlife” establishments. The quirky, local lingerie shop is moving to the
hulking shopping district of Parole, as yet another fashion retailer to depart the Uptown District.

Sharon Borland, co-owner of the business, said when the lease came up for her West Street spot, she and her partner Patricia Platt knew it was time to relocate. Their new store at the Annapolis Towne Centre is set to open Jan. 28 and will almost double the size of their current shop, a narrow 11 feet wide.

They’ll have room for more spacious fitting rooms, specialty bra sizes and sexy sleepwear.

“Our shop is a destination shop,” Borland said. “Without having other like-minded women’s clothing stores around us, it became increasingly difficult for us to reach our customers.”

Over recent years, the corridor has changed from a mash-up of businesses to a more cohesive community. The south side of the first block of businesses, which recently dubbed themselves “Gallery Row,” hosts three art showrooms and two restaurants that display exhibits.

The food scene has also remained abundant, with Lemongrass, Luna Blu and El Toro Bravo. And newcomers, such as Latin Quarter and Wild Orchid, have added even more options.

Fashion, however, gradually has dispersed from the area over the past few years. Boutiques like Astrid, Horse, and Saucy Shoes have come and gone.

Although Platt said they’ve enjoyed the small business community of West Street for seven years, customer demand drove them to a more fashion-oriented shopping center. After conducting customer surveys, they realized that their patrons, who tend to shop at stores like Coldwater Creek and Talbots, would benefit from a location closer to clothing stores their undergarments complement.

“Women are busy, and they need to do four or five things,” Platt said. “Sometimes it was a special trip just to come all the way down to see us.”

Downtown business owners have long lamented the threat new shopping centers on the outskirts of town pose to their bottom lines. Some say city parking coupled with limited hours have pushed shoppers out to Westfield Annapolis mall, Annapolis Harbour Center and now the Annapolis Towne Centre in the suburbs.

The owners of Embassy Opticians made the choice in 2009 to move from Main Street to the town center after merging with Chevy Chase Opticians and picking up the My Eye Dr. company name.

Colleen Shields, a representative of the business, said they’re glad they made the leap, even after being a downtown fixture for 27 years. They’ve more than doubled their business and kept about 80 percent of their old clients, she said.

“I think the retail business was dead down there before the start, and it would have died off had it been for the town center or not,” she said. “I think doing business downtown is very rough. (The town center) has anchor stores, it has a draw, but what is the main draw for downtown?”

Katherine Burke, owner of Annapolis Collection Gallery and Annapolis Collection Gallery II, said the Uptown District is thriving compared to some other business sectors in the city.

She believes it’s in the process of shaping a new identity, one that is more evening oriented. The West Street business association is planning spring and fall festivals – first-time events for the corridor – to highlight its more artsy and edgy atmosphere.

“West Street has changed so much in the past five years, we want to stay ahead of the ball and keep it growing,” she said. “It seems like it would be foolish for us to just sit on our hands.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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