It’s really interesting to me to see how the downtown areas of cities have adjusted to the fact that many shoppers actually want to shop there. I still think that in my corner of the Southeast, Asheville has made the most of this renewed interest in downtown shopping. Greenville, SC has also re-emerged from the ruins quite nicely, as has Charleston. Still working on it are Savannah, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, and I have hope for those three cities. Unfortunately, Charlotte, NC is pretty much an over-developed lost cause, and I’ll admit I’ve not been in downtown Atlanta since Rich’s closed in 1991.
One of the biggest problems facing downtown shopping districts is accessibility, otherwise known as parking. I know a lot of people who just will not go to downtown Asheville because they have to pay to park. That’s a shame, but because Asheville has a big tourist base that knows a good thing when they see it, downtown is thriving. Tourists are also a major factor in Charleston and Savannah, but in those two cities, there are also large, up-scale neighborhoods that are within easy walking distance of the shopping streets.
I’m pretty confident that is why Berlin’s in Charleston has survived. Berlin’s is primarily a men’s shop, and it has been on the corner of Broad and King since 1883, selling traditional menswear. Their clientele is literally within view of the store’s front windows. In recent years they have worked on up-dating their image, and that is reflected in the shop windows.
There is a small women’s section of mainly formal clothing, and a small children’s section. The store was closed when we were nearby, by I did manage a few nighttime shots.
I could not resist these little girl’s shoes from Vivienne Westwood.
Further up King Street, in the heart of the shopping district is M. Dumas and Sons. This is another long-time Charleston store, opening sometime around 1920. The store itself seems to have been decorated in the 1920s, with an old Otis elevator, and a mezzanine level that looks out over the selling floor. Even if you don’t intend to shop, you need to go into the store just to see that stores looked like 80 years ago!
Today they sell mainly the sort of haute preppy style that seems to be so popular in Charleston, but there is some nice menwear from firms like Filson and Balbour. If you love a good sale, check out the mezzanine, where everything is 70% off. A lot of it is borderline vintage. My last trip there I bought all the made in the USA Levi’s in my size that they had left.
Aren’t those vintage Levi’s banners super?
There are several other notable, locally owned businesses in downtown Charleston. Bob Ellis Shoes has been there since the 1950s, and Ben Silver is the ultimate men’s haberdashery. And there are several beautiful boutiques, including Christian Michi and Hampdon Clothing.
But for the most part, King Street has the feel of a shopping mall, with stores that can be found anywhere in the USA: Gap, Talbots, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Apple and on and on… Worst of all, the large Saks Fifth Avenue store that was built in the 1990s is now a huge Forever 21. It makes cities like Asheville and Savannah, who have more of a home grown feel, seem all the more inviting. The trick to shopping in Charleston is to skip the chains, and focus on the local.