, a downtown Durham female-minority-owned boutique that opened in late 2016 and was voted Best Women’s Boutique in Durham County
readers last year, has announced that it will close its brick-and-mortar location on East Chapel Hill Street on February 17
“We have poured our hearts and souls into this beloved storefront, and we will never regret that,” the boutique’s website explains. “The bonds of community and sisterhood that we have forged with so many amazing women in the central North Carolina area have been simply amazing. But as we move into 2018, there’s a sea change happening. In this new year, we feel nudged to go where we are led, and the direction has recently become clear. Our bricks and mortar storefront will close for good in mid-February. It has been a magical adventure with you all, but an adventure that must come to an end.”
“We really had a great group of customers,” says owner Rebecca Kuhns. “We felt like a lot of the town really embraced our concept.”
However, she adds, “We never got to the place where walk-by foot traffic became part of our daily sales. … It’s still such a car culture.”
Liberations Threads isn’t the only downtown business closing this month. So are Scratch Baking
and Magpie Boutique
“I think a lot of people would like to see more retail in downtown Durham,” Kuhns says. The question, she adds, is: “Does downtown Durham support retail?”
Kuhns says she’d like to see more retail clustering—sort of a shopping district, where people can walk around looking at different retail options. “That’s part of what might be working for Vert & Vogue,” she says, referring to the boutique on Main Street.
Indeed, says Matt Gladdek, director of policy and planning at Downtown Durham Inc., the retailers are Main Street—Vert & Vogue and Letters Bookshop, to name a couple—are doing quite well.
“The Main Street retailers have been doing better—places where we have a lot of foot traffic, where people are congregating together,” Gladdek
It’s hard to get data on how downtown retail is doing in toto, simply because there aren’t enough retailers to generate the necessary data points. Gladdek says much of the information he gets is anecdotal, and each retailer’s story is unique—“a furniture store is different than a bookshop, which is different than a clothes shop”—which makes drawing general conclusions difficult.
All the same, the city is actively seeking to boost downtown foot traffic, Gladdek says. A recent change to the unified development ordinance prohibits parking or residential uses on the ground floor of buildings inside The Loop. And speaking of The Loop, which ferries cars through downtown rather than encouraging people to park and walk, the city’s trying to get rid of that, too. Last year, it applied for a $12 million grant
to make The Loop a series of two-way streets.
“The Loop—that’s huge,” Gladdek says. “One-way streets kill walkability and retail.”
While the city is waiting to see whether that grant comes through, Gladdek stresses that DDI is available for any retailer that needs assistance. “We’re here to help retail businesses with market data,” he says, “to help promote and help list and help them find space. We’re trying to increase walkability in downtown.”