free_people_3_asheville_2015 Word on the street is that Urban Outfitters Inc. had boots on the ground around Asheville recently as company reps scouted for possible locations for their Free People store/brand. The intel was reported by Rebecca Hecht, the owner of Adorn Salon on College street downtown and a member of the Asheville Downtown Commission.

Hecht opposes the presence of chain stores in Asheville’s unique downtown, which is mostly populated with local independent stores. The recent announcement that Urban Outfitters was locating an Anthropologie store downtown – another one of its stores/brands – has stirred some backlash, and Hecht urged the formation of a new subcommittee of the Downtown Commission to begin to look at ways to slow or control the opening of more chains in downtown.

Anthropologie is planning to open its first Asheville store on Lexington Avenue next to the Lexington Avenue Brewery later this year.free_people_1_asheville_2015

Free People sells clothing, shoes and accessories self-described as “bohemian fashion.” More from the Free People site:

Founded in the ’70s by Dick Hayne, Free People began as a small store in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today the label is loved for its unique brand of bohemian femininity, eclectic patterns and free-spirited cuts across a collection of breezy dresses, textured knits and draped tops.

Business Insider reported earlier this month that Free People is one hot brand right now. From the story:

Sales at Free People stores open at least a year grew 14% in the most recent quarter. By comparison, sales at Urban’s namesake brand grew 2%.

“Amazing is the word that comes to mind when I hear the Free People story: thirteen consecutive quarters of double-digit comp sales growth. It’s a remarkable story and a tribute to the extraordinary performance of the Free People team,” CEO Richard Hayne said on a conference call with analysts.

Images of Free People styles via Facebook.

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64 Comments

  1. Pippip Cheerio says:

    Just another “bohemian” clothing store I can’t afford to shop at.

  2. 2 other comments still awaiting moderation?

  3. If we are purging chain stores from downtown, can we start with The Hookah Hookup?

  4. If nothing else, maybe we should consider the companies or chains that Asheville does business with. Things like their labor practices. Article below is about their labor history. http://www.ecouterre.com/allsaints-urban-outfitters-forever-21-fail-to-address-forced-labor-in-cotton-sourcing/

  5. I think a lot of frustration is these clothing chains are not the ones leading the charge for revitalization. Where were they in the 80s and 90s? The perception is that local businesses do all the hard work for years, taking the risk in areas that no one want to go, only to be cast out in favor for higher paying tenants.

    That being said, the space next to The Lab sat empty for an eternity and might never had been occupied. At least someone is using it now.

    • Best comment yet. Thanks Orbit DVD.

    • luther blissett says:

      Fair points, in the abstract. But they crumble when you look closer:

      “Where were they in the 80s and 90s?”

      The 80s? That’s going back a long way. The Laughing Seed opened in 1991. You might as well call everything that’s opened since 2000 a pack of bandwagon jumpers.

      Where has “the perception” been borne out in the downtown core? Urban Outfitters replaced a drab CVS. Subway is gone. The fro-yo and bubble tea chain on Biltmore is being gobbled up by Curáte. Smokey’s closed, but that was a combination of the AC Hotel construction and messiness with the landlord. If there’s a rent squeeze on independent stores, the retailers are keeping quiet about it.

      Most downtown retail turnover is still from local business to local business, which isn’t unusual. People retire or sell up or the market changes. The people in charge fall out with each other or their landlord. Some downtown retail businesses are run as hobbies, some are nice ideas that don’t pan out, some expand, some have a ton of outside money thrown at them. (Some like the S&W end up as “Event Spaces”, which is short for “we can’t make anything else work here.”)

      There’s not that much fuss as less glamorous downtown retail goes away on Hilliard and further south — the auto parts store on Coxe, the foam and fabric place on Biltmore. Those places seem to be more disposable than $60 Haircuts R Us, or Expensive Trinket And Smelly Thing Market.

      • Good points, Luther. However, I do enjoy the occasional stroll through the Expensive Trinket And Smelly Thing Market.

      • Not really true. Ask any downtown leasing agent and they’ll tell you stories of both national and regional chains chomping at the bit to get into downtown Asheville.

  6. I am disappointed that there are chain stores being allowed to come in to downtown asheville. The attractiveness of the downtown area will not be reduced by the lack of chain stores. Local operations need to be upping their game to keep their businesses viable. What makes Asheville unique is its strength of local and independent operations. I am sad to see all of the chain influence coming so close. Staples was the first and it is a slippery slope. Keep other chains OUT! people that want that can shop elsewhere.

  7. I want to decide who gets into downtown and who doesn’t because I know best!
    I will also reserve a back alley for Chris and Harry so they can take their lovefest somewhere private.

  8. I moved to the Asheville area full time about 1 year ago. What attracted me was the mountains, the beauty, the local organic movement and Asheville being original and unique. I loved the fact that downtown is mostly independently owned businesses. I’m from Philadelphia where there was an area called South Street which was originally galleries, good restaurants, and independently owned stores. It was great!! Then some chain stores came in and paid high rents. Then all the property owners started asking high rents that eventually forced out 95% of the independently owned businesses. South Street became just like an outside mall with mostly chain stores. Even a lot of the chain stores can’t make it now and there are many vacant properties. I hope Asheville doesn’t become this way because I do love it here. I’m not against growth and as far as chain stores Urban Outfitters is top notch but believe me if property owners do raise rents then it will become all chains. I know because it happened to me.

    • luther blissett says:

      “I moved to the Asheville area full time about 1 year ago.”

      So, about ten years after Vincent’s Ear closed?

      Downtown has been losing its quirky independent edge for about fifteen years now, and yet it still seems to have plenty of locally-owned galleries and trinket shops that very few people who live locally actually frequent. I’m only surprised that people haven’t said you jumped on the bandwagon too late.

  9. Hopefully the chains will run the hippies out of town,

  10. I am so farking over the chain store vs. local store debate.

    • Hear, hear Mike

      I am over it as well. Asheville develops a “brand”. People love that brand. People begin to migrate to Asheville and to visit in droves…and not just because of Biltmore as it was before. Downtown thrives. These people bring their wallets and open them up in good ol’ Appalachia. More money, more jobs, a bigger pie for everyone…all due to Asheville’s “brand” which includes and is largely based on quirkiness, local focus, and a beautifully eclectic mix of people and perspectives. How does it all work? Who knows for certain…there is no one answer to this. It’s complicated and ever-changing, but it works. Asheville thrives.

      And what is the consequence? Success brings growth. Growth brings mass and even more diversity. This diversity includes people who want to shop at Urban Outfitters and Trader Joe’s, and to sometimes eat at Chick-Fil-A. They want to open their wallets and to spend their money. Just not at a locally-owned, locally-sourced community-focused employee-owned living-wage enterprise. They don’t want someone who was born in Asheville or who arrived ten years earlier to tell them how to think and how to spread their funds around. Why? Because we are all different. And this is a cornerstone of Asheville’s uniqueness. That one can be different be they buttoned-down, or trailing a cloud of patchouli. So as that new arrival or tourist cannot be forced to “shop local”, the native Ashevillian cannot be forced to buy their groceries at Walmart. Seem fair enough so far?

      It’s simply freedom of choice, and as the market grows, people demand more and different choices.

      I said it in another comments section a while back. People in Asheville are rather progressive on the whole. Virtually no one would argue that “separate but equal” is a fair or justifiable mindset or policy in virtually any venue. But when it comes to businesses owned by outsiders, “corporate” concerns or “chains stores”, well by golly…there is no equality and please stay out of my downtown so we can remain separate.

      The hypocrisy is mind-numbing and, I believe, largely the product of numb minds.

      Local businesses should compete on their own merits or they should fail. So should the “coprporate” or “chain” stores. The market will decide this. And Asheville’s consumers are a hell of a lot more locally-oriented than most anywhere I’ve ever been that is not compelled to be so by third-world conditions. So by and large, local businesses which are well-conceived, adequately funded and well-managed should be fine over time despite (gasp!) outside competition.

      For local concerns to hang a “Do Not Enter” sign on the edge of downtown (or at the city limits, for that matter), even if only aimed at a certain few concerns, is a grave mistake. This would be a sad state of affairs, and indicative not of outrage and not of reason, but purely of motivation by fear.

      Asheville can do better.

      • I hope you enjoy downtown when it has been assimilated and looks like an airport mall.

      • Itsbeenagoodrun says:

        Nope… Sorry Adrian, but you’ve got this wrong. The way Asheville works is that a large, wealthy visiting population pays our bills. Always have, always will. They don’t care about “buying local” while they’re here because it’s not local to them. There are 9 million of them and 90,000 of us. They set the tone. One day when the caravan of leased Mercedes from Charlotte pulls up they will only see the same stores they’re used to in the Southpark mall. They’ll realize that it’s not worth the drive or expensive hotel to shop at Anthropologie and GAP and whoever else sets up camp and they’ll move on. It’s happened here before. And when they move on Anthropologie and GAP will break their leases and leave a boarded up downtown just like Woolworths, JC Penney, Sears and whatever other examples that yahoo above me referenced from the good ‘ok days. When they moved on the downtown area became a desolate $#|hole. Is that the future we want? We are a playground for the rich and until be build industry of our own here in Asheville our quirky independent brand is all we have.

        • Itsbeenagoodrun says:

          Pleas excuse my ridiculous phone autocorrects in the above post… You get the idea…

        • SuperHappy Trivia Challenge says:

          Actually, I work in the upscale service industry and believe me, those visiting here DO want local. It’s almost all they ask about.

        • Nope…not wrong or missing the point at all. What I did not mention above is that I am not local to Asheville. I live out of town and visit often. I have friends who are local. My family generally stays in rentals somewhere in the county when we visit (money into the local economy) and spends lots of time downtown when we are there (ditto).

          While our daughter and her friends are in Urban Oufitters, which draws them like a moth to a flame, my wife and I shop local…sometimes we pick up something cool in the old Woolworth building (which is actually not boarded-up, but quite well re-purposed…Asheville is good at this…give your town credit) or some trinket at the funky little Nepali store. We eat at the Early Girl or Chai Pani a lot. Just a couple of the laundry list of examples I could put forth.

          And then our daughters inevitably head for the funky little “Street Fair” (hope I have the name right) shop on Battery Park and drop some more of their teen dollars in there. Sure UO gets their cut, but UO also promotes and add to downtown in a way which purely local establishments cannot (for better or for worse, depending on who you ask).

          Yes…we are tourists. And yes, when in town we buy “local” while our kids often buy “corporate” or “chain” as they are wont to do because of peer influences, social media, etc.

          If UO were not downtown, we’d be headed out to Biltmore Town Square or the Asheville Outlets with the girls for their tourist shopping fix, and the wife and I would not drop that money downtown, would not eat at a local establishment, and the girls would not spend a dime at any of the other places like “Street Fair”. We would not spend as much while in town and would eat crappier food so that our daughter and her friends get what they want. This is what parents do. So should we do this downtown, or out in some suburban Asheville mall? Or perhaps just spend all our money at home as you suggest above?

          So you see, Itsbeenagoodrun, perhaps you have it wrong. We out-of-towners are not as monoilthic as you believe. We do come in and contribute to the local economy. We don’t “set the tone” as you indicate above. In fact, we respond to the tone which is set locallyn and contribute our dollars to your city accordingly.

          And you do have a very well-developed industry in Asheville which pumps tens of millions into the economy each year. It is called “tourism” and Asheville does a great job at fostering and growing that industry.

          Damn straight we pay your bills. But that does not mean we are mindless Vineyard-Vines-wearing zombies. And we’d love to keep paying your bills while Asheville stays funky. The funky and the weird and the cool-as-hell are why we come there at all. Just don’t be so freakin’ afraid of change as someone tries to put in place options for people who don’t think like you. Then our dollars can stay not just downtown, but in Asheville as a whole.

          • Itsbeenagoodrun says:

            Urban Outfitters is what draws you to downtown Asheville? With all due respect, I believe you are in the minority here. And while I’m sure that our downtown business owners appreciate your money I don’t think anyone who lives here wants to see Asheville develop its brand around the spending habits of tweens with the hope that the local businesses will get some leftovers from the bored parents.

      • Adrian –

        You’re not quite getting the point here. The issue is if our downtown sprouts chain store after chain store, we will lose our uniqueness and become like every other city. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t hear the consensus saying “no chain stores anywhere!” Put up a Trader Joe’s next to a Harris Teeter, next to a Chick Fil A; fine. Put an REI and a Barnes and Noble and a Which Which in Arden; fine. Anthropologie in Asheville doesn’t bother me, it’s fine if people want to shop there, but Downtown is not the place for cookie cutter businesses.

      • Amen X 1000. Thank you.

  11. Downtown has a long history of chains — Woolworth’s Belk’s, Bon Marche, Sears, Kress, S&W, etc.

    And today the chain police are very selective about what chains they are outraged by and those that are OK becasue they are considered”cool.” These include Mellow Mushroom, Doc Chey’s, Marble Slab, Farm Burger, Tupelo Honey, etc.

    If you extend the boundaries of downtown just a bit you can also include Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s the later being a chain welcomed with open arms even though it displaced no less than THREE locally owned businesses.

    • Do you just cut and paste this into each thread?

      Should I cut and paste my reply about why you insist on lumping Tupelo Honey in with Urban Outfitters? Because I still don’t see why you can’t see the difference between a local successful company and a chain store running out local businesses.

      Or should I ask you yet again why we shouldn’t be free to pick and choose responsible chains without being forced by your logic to also accept Chick Fil A?

      I am also tired of this fight because no one seems to have any answers beyond “free market enterprise.”

      • Believe me, I am not a free market fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination. My point is that the outrage about chains is selective downtown.

        Mellow Mushroom is a chain, but because it has a hipster vibe to it (complete with the less than subtle drug reference) it gets a pass, Doc Chey’s is a chain. Farm Burger is a chain etc. No complaints about these (aside from the vegans on the later) so who gets to set the criteria as to what chains are allowed downtown? Who get’s to decide what a “responsible chain” is?

        One place’s “successful local company” is another place’s chain. What happens when another town decides they don’t want a Tupelo Honey because it is a chain? And why is it the people so upset about chains said nothing when three locally owned, independent businesses were displaced by Trader Joe’s while the sky is falling when a vacant building on Lexington — which had been vacant for years — becomes the home for a chain?

        Downtown has a history of chains. Yes, it suffered when those chains left for the malls and it was largely independent stores who brought it back and yes, now that the heavy lifting has been done the chains want a piece of the action.

        But that works for Asheville overall. For years it was a quiet mountain town that often struggled to keep from losing population. Now that the hard work has been done the entire western hemisphere want to move here. Asheville has become a victim of its own success and, let’s face it, legally there is very little that can be done to stop chains from moving into downtown.

        I’d love a downtown without chains too, but the reality it otherwise.

        • I just don’t understand why you can’t let people decide that large evil chains are better than local ones or socially responsible ones? Why do we have to play by your rules and lump in progressive, eco-friendly shops that also strive to support local farmers with Urban Outfitters? Seems like your own made up rule.

  12. Ugly clothes. I do think it’s ironic that downtown was saved from becoming a mall, so that it could, in the end, become…a mall. Ms. Hecht’s opposition is too little, too late. The new stores are only the symptom, not the cause. All those high-end condos and hotels doomed downtown. Those folks want to shop at The Grove (L.A.) no matter where they are.

    • Not just a mall, but an “Urban Outfitters Inc.” mall.

      Sounds like a destination! Now we just need an Orange Julius and a Sbarro.

      • Perhaps if they opened an Oranje Julius or Sbarro, they might have a job that you are capable of doing.

        • Conservative humor! Meh.

          I’ve been waiting for a second joke from you, Harry. Seems you’ve only got the one.

          Lemme guess, the rest of ’em are about watermelons.

          Try harder!

          • So Ben Carson is a joke to you and now you bring up watermelons. I never would have pegged you as a racist, but apparently that’s exactly what you are.

          • Wow, but you are a dense one, Harry!

            You don’t even realize when someone is calling YOU out as a probable racist, you with your ‘purge the town of this progressive riffraff’ blather. Your shtick never grows old, because it has _been_ old, for the past 60 years or so.

            And no, Ben Carson isn’t a joke to me, he’s a joke to practically everyone. As is the whole republican lineup. All lead by that orange haired clown and his overt racism and misogyny. It’s a thing of beauty!

          • Ben Carson is no joke, and you clearly are a racist.

          • Project much?

            Ben Carson is a hoot! Please, please vote for him.

            I’m glad that I’ve finally met someone who likes him. And I’m glad it turned out to be you.

            Because of course it would be you.

          • Chris, you will not find a Carson supporter in your group of degenerate friends. I can only assume that they are either communists, or racists like yourself. And I do know racists very well Chris. I have been married to a black woman for 30 years and experienced it on many levels.

          • Congratulations!

            (You do realize, don’t you, that I don’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth, right?)

    • luther blissett says:

      “so that it could, in the end, become…a mall.”

      Hyperbole much?

      Maybe you can fight it out against Harry and the right-wing reactionaries in Pritchard Park.

  13. Laughing Wolf says:

    Bohemian fashion from a company that supports ultra right wingers like Rick Santorum.

  14. Tell Hecht that we oppose the presence of yet another salon in downtown. I count 14 of them. Oh, the vocal minority.

    • Wow. This feels very insensitive to me. Adorn is a long time downtown establishment. I am happy to say that I have had many friends that have worked there at one time or another. Although I don’t know Ms. Hecht, I’m grateful for the opportunity for employment that she has provided for people I care about.

      Perhaps you believe that there is an over abundance of salons downtown, but would you truly say this to Ms. Hecht and her entire staff? Their clientele? The people who love them? The people they support? Is the presence of these salons harming you in some manner?

      I don’t want this comment to come off as condescending or snarky. I am truly interested and concerned about your thoughts.

      • Yes. Yes, I would. That, or you accept that your statement drips with hypocrisy as does Ms. Hecht’s entire position on the matter. Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and now Free People aren’t staffed by robots, last I checked.

        • And let me elaborate, because you may be missing the point.

          – Ms. Hecht doesn’t get to act as the arbiter of all things “downtown.” Who/what does? The market.

          – There being 14 salons already downtown demonstrates that these locations aren’t exactly diversifying the selection of indie shops, which is the backbone of Hecht’s argument (and heck, you could add breweries/bars to that mix, but we all love those, so god forbid we mention that). But you know what, if the market supports 14 salons, then so be it. Just like if the market supports another “chain” that you experts in economics want to punish for growing in scale (they started in 1970 as an indie shop too).

          – If my initial comment is insensitive, then you have to acknowledge that Hecht’s entire stance is just as insensitive, or maybe ignorant to how the marketplace functions. Local, Asheville downtown-loving, job-hungry residents work in these new locations. Would Hecht rather they make half as much selling tie-dye, or folding lingerie at the Mall?

          Bottom line, Hecht doesn’t get to dictate what comes downtown by whining and sending out internet petitions. Asheville isn’t losing its eclectic vibe because a boarded up store front might be filled with a successful business instead of another head shop or trinket store filled with dream catchers that struggles to stay in business and can barely pay their staff a minimum wage (and trust me, I know). If she wants to complain, direct that at developers, but not the business that fill the spots.

          The “we were here first” and NIMBY arguments tied to a weak “downtown preservation” agenda are nothing more than sour grapes.

          I personally thank these businesses for coming and giving me and my neighbors cool places to shop downtown so that we don’t have to trek over to the nuclear fallout shelter that is the Asheville mall or the commuter hell that is South Asheville. I thank them for giving residents of our community great paying jobs and great benefits. I thank them for actually moving in and being considerate of our downtown neighbors in their design (as opposed to an ugly CVS).

          As for Hecht, she should probably be aware that there’s a silent majority that is thrilled these locations are coming to downtown. And the more she complains about it, the more she might alienate potential NEW customers. Particularly me.

          But, I always have 13 other salons downtown to go to ….

      • You didn’t understand a thing that was written above.

    • Is someone planning a new salon downtown?

      Is it going to be a national-chain salon?

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