200 days into the pandemic, Overstreet Mall is still a ‘ghost town’

200 days into the pandemic, Overstreet Mall is still a ‘ghost town’
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After 27 years in business, two recessions, and a pandemic, Sue Teta packs up the last of the makeup and handbags at her shop’s Overstreet Mall home.

“Each month sales were getting worse,” Teta, owner of Merle Norman in BB&T Center, tells me before closing one day in late August.

It’s lunchtime on a weekday when I meet Teta in her cosmetics shop. The halls of Overstreet are nearly empty, save a few security guards. Restaurants like Zen Taco and Salsarita’s, which would have had lines before the pandemic, are closed. Just temporarily, signs say.

Foot traffic is what kept Teta and other retailers in business all those years. Most didn’t jump on social media or launch an e-commerce site — their business models were built on face-to-face service.

It’s been almost seven months, more than 200 days, since the halls have been filled with workers.

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overstreet mall merle norman closes

Sue Teta in August, one day before closing her shop in Overstreet Mall.

“15,000 people walk past this sign every day. That’s a lot of mouths to feed,” an advertisement reads on one of the vacant restaurant spaces in Overstreet. I stand there for five minutes — two people walk by.

As most Uptown employees continue to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Overstreet’s tenants face an uncertain future. At least two, Merle Norman and Blis, have already closed their brick-and-mortar locations.

The Overstreet community is a resilient bunch, but many wonder how much longer they can hang on and if “normal” will ever return.

“I’m afraid it won’t,” says Teresa Farson, owner of The Beehive Gifts.

In response, she plans to launch online shopping by the end of the month thanks to an innovation grant from the city. And she’s ramped up the gift shop’s social media presence on Instagram and Facebook.

Beehive is one of the oldest shops in Uptown, opening in 1985 when Charlotte’s skyscrapers held just a fraction of the more than 100,000 employees they hold now. The building itself was only a decade old when Farson and her sister Betsy Almond opened Beehive.

Their employees have been with them almost as long. Lynn Broadway walked into the shop 20 years ago looking for a job, got one on the spot, and has been there ever since.

“As a native Charlottean, it’s so sad to see it go from a vibrant center to a ghost town,” Broadway says.

Laura Cline, who owns CC’s a few doors down, compares it to a water faucet. Like the ominous advertisement said, thousands of people would walk by every day. The faucet was on full blast.

Then, Cline says, “the faucet just turned off.”

While there’s a sign at CC’s advertising a closeout sale — everything 50 percent off — Cline’s hope is to hang on a little longer.

“As long as I can get some customers,” she says.

beehive overstreet mall

Lynn Broadway and Teresa Farson of The Beehive Gifts.

I’ve visited Overstreet three times in the past few weeks, and with each visit a few more cars fill the parking lots. The line at Chick-fil-A grows just a little longer.

The faucet is no where close to flowing, but there’s a drip.

Center City Partners President and CEO Michael Smith is confident the Uptown workers will come back. “We are going to return to the center city,” he says. “This place is just too important for us.”

Big employers such as Ally Financial have said they won’t return in full until at least 2021, but in the meantime, CCP has plans to draw more people Uptown.

[Related Agenda guide: A few of Charlotte’s largest companies just told employees they’ll work from home for the rest of 2020. Will others follow?]

This weekend, October 9 to 11, the city is restricting parts of Uptown to pedestrians only for an outdoor festival of sorts. There will be live entertainment, open-air shopping, and street-side dining. Plus, parking will be just $1. I paid $7 on Monday for one hour for reference.

Programming will continue in the future with possible outdoor movie nights, art installations, pop-up shopping events, interactive holiday displays, and more, the Charlotte Observer reported.

And while you’re in Uptown, Overstreet tenants hope you stop by.

Markers instruct people where to stand while waiting for an elevator.

Ivy & Leo relocated its inventory to another location, but it hopes it reopen its Uptown shop when workers return.

Brownlee Jewelers still has a sign out advertising a “winter sale.” The long-standing jewelry shop hasn’t reopened yet.


What’s currently open in Overstreet?

RETAIL/SERVICES

FOOD

Note: Hours vary and are subject to change. Call ahead or just show up and explore. Did I miss your business? Send me an email: emma@charlotteagenda.com.

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"It's good. I promise." - Emma   Emma Way