Retail market making comeback in Auto Alley

Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 7:00 am By: Kelley Chambers

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City's Automobile Alley -- that mile of Broadway Avenue from NW Fourth Street to NW 13th Street -- was once home to 56 of the city's first 92 auto dealerships.

Nine decades later, local retail is making a comeback.

David Lack became the newest retail tenant when he opened Broadway Wine Merchants at 824 N. Broadway Ave. in December.

He said Automobile Alley was the only place he looked. The 3,300-square-foot shop is in a corner spot in the European Motors Building.

"I saw a niche downtown," Lack said. "And just look how much Broadway has changed in the past year."

Lack said he draws customers from nearby neighborhoods like Heritage Hills and Mesta Park, along with residents in apartments downtown.

Architect Rand Elliott's Buick Building added Keith and Heather Paul's Red Prime Steak in 2007 and Chris Salyer's CD Warehouse continues to have a dominant presence.

Steve Mason has leased space to local retailers on Automobile Alley and along NW Ninth Street. Mason said he has no interest in seeing large national retailers move to the area.

"I'm a small business guy and I like small businesses," he said.

In addition to his Iguana Mexican Grill at 9 NW Ninth St. and a leased cupcake shop next door, Mason bought and renovated an old Cadillac dealership at 1015 N. Broadway Ave. The building houses Mason's firm, Cardinal Engineering, and local retailers Coffee Slingers and Bicycle Alley.

Mason said he is in talks with four other local retailers about spaces nearby and envisions the area being a hot spot for local retailers.

Kim Searls, director of marketing at Downtown OKC Inc., said local retailers help define a downtown.

"In a downtown a local business often works a lot better than a national business," she said. "Why would people want to come downtown and see something they can see anywhere?"

Alison Oshel, director of community redevelopment with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said one reason Automobile Alley is seeing an influx of local retailers is because of the vision for the district laid out by its property owners.

"Automobile Alley has had some success because they have such a strong owner's association," she said. "They came together early with a vision of what they wanted that district to become."

Oshel said some areas, like Bricktown, have thrived with a mix of national and local retailers, but said that is probably not the recipe for success on Automobile Alley.

"I'm not sure that area really lends itself to national tenants," she said.

Lack said he recognizes the challenge of being on a strip of road that quiets down after 5 p.m., and his close proximity to large retailer Byron's Liquor Warehouse.

"It's something you think about," he said.

"But I think with all the new residents downtown people are ready for another option."

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