Blending the serendipity and local flavor of street-front shopping with the parking and air-conditioning of mall shopping, a new retail concept called Union opens Nov. 9 at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.
The collection of 18 retailers, almost all Valley-based, fills a 7,200-square-foot strip on the east side of the upscale, open-air center, next to Stingray Sushi and Seasons 52.
It’s the first such project for mall owner and operator Macerich.
“We wanted a street of shopping,” said Mary Boyd-Williams, senior leasing manager for Macerich, which runs the Biltmore and other malls throughout the nation. “There’s great independent retail in Phoenix, but they don’t get a lot of foot traffic. And people love shopping in malls here, so this is the best of both worlds.”
Boyd-Williams partnered with longtime Phoenix retailer Lew Gallo, formerly of home-decor boutique Haus, to assemble the mix of retailers, determine the aesthetic and work out a lease appealing to family-owned businesses.
Union includes a variety of established Valley brands, including Whoopie Baking Company, Queen Creek Olive Mill, the candy store Smeeks, the Willows Home and Garden and the restaurant and wine bar Trattoria del Piero, which will be run by the olive mill.
Architect Hayes McNeil of Plus Minus Studio, who will run a mini Royal coffee shop at Union, designed the space as a mix of concrete and reclaimed barn wood, with unfinished ceilings that expose lighting and ducts.
Retailers were responsible for their own buildouts.
The lease is possibly the most forward-looking aspect of Union. A one-year term as opposed to the typical three, with 20 pages of “fine print,” as opposed to 40 for national retailers and with communal utility bills.
“I feel like this project will influence other malls around the country because they’ll see its success,” said Gallo, who will run the home and gift shop For the People at Union. “We wanted it to feel like a great shopping neighborhood like in San Francisco and New York, where everyone shops for everything they need — men’s, women’s, home, skin care, bikes, everything.”
Retailers have long grouped small shops together under one roof, said Bob Kammrath of Kammrath & Associates, a Mesa-based commercial real-estate research company.
But this is the first time it’s being done on a more upscale level in the Valley.
“This is exactly the opposite of what big players who managed malls were doing 20 to 25 years ago, when they just wanted big retailers,” Kammrath said. “And that didn’t work out…. Everybody is scratching their heads asking, ‘What can we try next that might work?’”
This mix of retailers helps to distinguish the Biltmore from other area malls, including Scottsdale Fashion Square, which shares several retailers.
And it enables the mall to appeal to the central Phoenix shopper, one who has demonstrated a preference for locally produced goods and Arizona-based retailers, Gallo said.
Cassandra Hunsdon, operations manager for Smeeks, the women’s and gift boutique Frances, and Frances and Charlie’s Newsstand, said Frances has been looking for a second location and especially wanted to open somewhere near other independent retailers.
“We wanted to come because of more foot traffic, and the big thing is for us to be featured next to other independent retailers,” Hunsdon said. “We are all about community and collaboration, and we have all of these businesses under one roof and this mix of people — it’s all just the perfect fit.”