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NC's Most Beautiful Mall

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All articles are from the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/10/03)


By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Part-time downtown resident Jane Stikeleather likes to pick up produce at the Grove Arcade Public Market and says it is a great place to bring out-of-town guests.

"It has been wonderful. When I bring visitors here, they're just awed," she said.

Montford resident Brian Kelly stops by occasionally for a six-pack from the considerable selection of premium beers.

But neither Stikeleather nor Kelly make the Arcade their primary source of groceries.

Their shopping habits are part of the bigger picture at the arcade, which officially became a year old earlier this month: Business isn't terrible, but it's not spectacular either.

Several merchants and arcade officials say they had hoped for more foot traffic and sales at the arcade by this point, but also say more people are shopping there and that the arcade seems to be heading in the right direction.

"It's a lot better for us at this point this year than it was at this point last year, but we've got a long ways to go," said Ron Ainspan, owner of the Fresh Quarter produce stall in the market and a member of the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation board. "I don't think that very many of the merchants have gotten the traffic (they expected), but things have grown over the year."

"Starting a business of any kind is tough and I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been a struggle," said Jerri Goldberg of Goldberg's Delicatessen.

At Asian Islands, which sells bamboo furniture, crafts and accessories, Ben Berriga said business is "good. We're not losing. We're making a little money."

He expects better days ahead.

"In the long run people will know that the arcade has some good things inside so they'll start coming," he said.


The building, which occupies a city block between Page and O. Henry avenues on the western end of downtown, started life in 1929 as a collection of shops and offices. It spent the last half of the 20th century as federal offices after the government took it over during World War II.

Discussions to put shops, offices and apartments in the building got going in the 1980s. It officially reopened in November 2002 following a renovation that cost $12.5 million in public and private funds.

At that point, only about a dozen retail businesses were open inside the building. The 42 apartments and 25,000 square feet of office space on the building's upper floors were just starting to see tenants.

A year later:

Fourteen retail and restaurant spaces, along with three stalls in the food market inside, are empty. Aaron Zaretsky, executive director of the public market foundation, said he has commitments from retailers for eight of the remaining spaces. The building has 52 spaces for businesses, although some can be combined.

An architectural firm that uses about 7,000 square feet is the only outside office tenant. Richard Loeber, who manages the office and apartment space, said he has one signed lease in hand and three commitments that would bring the leased office space to about half of the 25,000-square- foot total.

Forty of the 42 apartments are leased, an occupancy rate Loeber said "exceeds the market." Aaron Zaretsky, executive director of the nonprofit public market foundation, says he is generally happy with progress so far. Most new retail projects take some time to fill up, he said.


One arcade business has closed, New Roots Organic produce stall. But Zaretsky says starting a small business usually isn't easy - the federal government says two-thirds fail within their first two years of operation - and many arcade merchants are in business for themselves for the first time.

"There's more people shopping," he said. "That said, the economy continues to be lousy, and it's been difficult for some of our merchants."

The arcade has restructured rent payments for some tenants who incurred more expense than they expected getting their spaces ready for business, said Louis Bissette, chairman of the foundation's board.

The foundation itself has not reached a break-even point, Bissette and Zaretsky said, and has relied on donations to make up the difference between expenses and income. Both, however, said that situation was expected.

Business "is about what I expect given the length of time" the arcade has been open, Bissette said. "You've just got to figure for the first year it's going to be sort of chaotic and it has been."

Economic factors have also influenced use of office space, Loeber said.

"Asheville has just been a very soft marketplace (for office space) for the past two years," he said.

Loeber is having some of the office space finished out into smaller suites in an attempt to attract smaller users that he says are the bread and butter of the local office market. The space had been left open to give potential tenants more flexibility, but, "smaller users tend to pick already constructed space," Loeber said.

Retailers on the first floor may not be getting as much business as they would like, but the arcade and the area around it clearly see a lot more activity now than they did in the days when the building was surrounded by a high chain link fence.

Outdoor tables at restaurants on the arcade's southeastern corner seem to see a good flow of customers on nice days. City government found this summer that the corner of Battery Park and Page avenues saw the second highest number of pedestrians of any downtown point surveyed.

"The word is spreading," said downtown worker Yvonne Dendy, a frequent visitor. "It's definitely picked up."


It may be that the arcade has had an easier time attracting people from out of town than it has developing a strong flow of local customers. Two food vendors said it is particularly important to see more locals making a habit of shopping at the arcade.

The arcade has gotten publicity in some national and regional media. Rob Everett, owner of the now-closed New Roots Organic, said he frequently fielded questions that appeared to come from people visiting from elsewhere.

"Anybody who isn't immediately appealing to that tourist dollar and is relying on a local crowd, they're going to have a rough go of it," he said.

About half the visitors to crafts shop Mountain Made are local and half are tourists, said store manager Melinda Kneis.

She was among the most upbeat shopkeepers.

The first year "started off really slow, but it's ending with a bang," she said. "October was our best month. It's been real good."

Fairview resident Jeff Racer said he has had great success selling his Balm of Zarahelma handmade soaps from a day table just outside the arcade. The additional business has allowed him to scale back visits to festivals to sell soap from two or three a month to four or five a year.

"I've just been really pleased. This has worked well for us," he said.


Some merchants say their efforts to attract more local shoppers are hindered by parking concerns and the perception that shops cater only to a high-dollar crowd. The arcade's inability, so far, to lure a bread bakery, fish stall and butcher may also have an impact on food shoppers because their absence lessens the chances that a shopper can do all of their week's food buying without visiting a traditional supermarket, some vendors said.

It takes a while to change habits, said Chris Sparks, manager of businesses that sell cheese, poultry and other foods in the stall market. Most people are used to just going to the supermarket to get their groceries, not parking on a city street and walking to a collection of shops, he said.

City government plans to build a large parking garage nearby on Haywood Street, to the north of Battery Park Apartments, but work won't begin until at least early next year and would take 15 to 18 months to complete.

"People generally are able to find parking when they come but as we continue to grow we're going to need additional parking," Zaretsky said.

Ainspan said produce prices are competitive, but he acknowledged that shoppers may not see things that way.

"For a long time in the beginning, there was a perception that this building is so grand, it's an upscale place and I can't afford to go there," he said.

Everett said his business folded in part because there are so many places in the area to buy fresh produce, including increasingly popular tailgate markets. A new grocery store under construction on Merrimon Avenue, near its interchange with Interstate 240, will provide even more competition, he said.


There have at times been strained relations between some retail tenants and Zaretsky and the rest of the foundation.

Two tenants are involved in lawsuits with the foundation over rent payments and lease terms. Some tenants brought concerns about management to the foundation earlier this year, Zaretsky and Bissette acknowledged.

"It's unfortunate that we had to have some tough, strenuous conflicts," restaurateur Goldberg said. People on both sides said relations are better now, though discussions continue.

"We've still got some work to do," Bissette said.

The arcade continues to add new tenants - something existing merchants say helps them as well. Zaretsky said eight more are coming over the next few months.

Mauricio DeLaCruz said the arcade was easily the most logical spot for his juice bar, Juice From the Grove, which opened a few weeks ago.

"I just love the Grove Arcade building. I knew (the best location) was here," he said.

Ainspan said he is still optimistic.

"Three or four years from now, this place is filled with people elbowing each other to get to their favorite shop," he said. "I wish this would happen faster . (but) I don't hear anybody saying I don't think this isn't going to happen."

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

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By Angie Newsome

By the Numbers

The history:

- Number of stores and businesses before Feb. 1, 1927 that wanted to be in the arcade: 250

- Number of applicants from cities other than Asheville: 31, including seven from New York City

- Kinds of businesses that applied to be located in the arcade: 35 real estate, four cigar stands, six candy stores, two waffle shops, two telegraph offices, three dentists, one chiropractor, two theatres, two coal offices.

- Year completed: E.W. Grove, who planned the arcade, and Charles N. Parker, who designed the building, completed the Grove Arcade in 1929

The specs:

- How big?: 256,658 square feet

- How many elevators?: 4 (includes one service elevator)

- How many floors?: 6 (one below-ground, five above)

- How many apartments?: 42 (40 are rented now)

- Cost of rent: $1,000 to $2,600 a month, depending on the apartment

- Difference in ground level, north to south end: 16 feet

- Wall board used in the latest renovation: 29 acres

- Paint needed: 3,500 gallons

- Additional stories that could be supported in the center of the building: 18-22, depending on who you ask

- Number of first floor businesses spaces: 52

- Architectural features

- What do the intertwined hearts near the roof mean?

They represent the building's intent to be the "heart of the city." There are 48 sets of entwined hearts, 48 single hearts, and 150 double hearts.

- How many gargoyles are on the building?

Fifty on the inside, 88 on the outside. The Gargoyle with the pig nose allegedly represents a Grove contemporary who cheated him in some land deals and wrote him a bad check. Others have curly hair, bulbous noses, and wrinkly foreheads.

- How many grotesques decorate the building?

Four. Grotesques are the winged cherubim-like creatures decorated with grapes that perch near the north and south corner of the central elevator lobby.

- How many rams' heads are on the building?

Eight. The bearded and horned rams heads border the entry arches to the building.

- If you were to turn the Grove Arcade building up on end, it would be taller than the BB&T building.

What can you buy at the arcade?

The choices are nearly endless, but here's just a sampling:

- Terrariums in clear Christmas balls: $9 each at Sprig's

- Pecan pie with chocolate ganache: $3.50 a piece at Pie in the Sky

- A framed tarantula: $89 at Natural Selections

- A galloping horse weathervane: $65 at Mission at the Grove

- An 150-year old painted Chinese chest: $698 at Dragonfly

- A pomegranate: $2 at Fresh Quarter

- A Siberian mammoth tusk: $3,650 at Enter the Earth

- A handmade wasabi bowl: $4 at The Warren Wilson Store

- A jar of watermelon rind pickles: $4.50 at Sunny Grove Farmer's Market

- A can of whole kernel sweet corn: 75 cents at Grove Corner Market

- A plain hot dog: $2 at Cats and Dawgs

- A pink panel skirt embroidered with butterflies: $177 at Patty's

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By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

It's been suggested that the Grove Arcade, with its tiered structure, intricate decorations and skin of cream-colored tiles, resembles a giant wedding cake.

Now area chefs get a chance to show how successful they are at baking an anniversary cake that looks like the Grove Arcade.

The arcade's public market is having a cake baking contest Nov. 22 to celebrate the first anniversary of the building's reopening. Cakes are supposed to resemble the building or any architectural element of it.

Entries will be judged in four categories: chefs who are 12 or younger, chefs ages 13-17, adults who are not culinary professionals and culinary professionals.

Winners in the 12 and younger and 13-17 categories get a $50 arcade gift certificate. The winning amateur cake baker will receive a $200 certificate, and a $300 certificate awaits the best pro.

The celebration runs from noon to 5 p.m., and cakes will be on display for looking and tasting at the end of the competition. The event will also feature live music, face painters, giveaways, demonstrations and samples.

Cake contest entry forms may be picked up or faxed from the foundation office and must be returned by Friday. Call 252-7799 to get a form or for more information.

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The Grove Arcade Public Market is without a doubt one of the finest buildings in the South, if not the country. Better even than the beauty of the building is the fact that it once again serves its purpose as a public market, a meeting place, and as a beating heart of Asheville.

While it's a shame that the originally planned arcade skyscraper never came to pass, Asheville has still become home to a building most any city would envy. It's wonderful to see the Grove Arcade back up and running after lanquishing so long as a federal building!

Happy (belated) birthday, Grove Arcade! Here's to many, many more!

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A glimpse of the Grove...


A hand-carved griffin, one of two at the north entrance to the building


A better view of one of the griffins.


A view of the interior, including one of the spiral staircases.


A view of the exterior, with colorful awnings, new plantings, and new streetlights.


Another look inside.

Ain't she a beaut' folks?

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This looks like the way an enclosed mall would have looked like around the late 1800s or 1910. It also looks European. Asheville has such great architecture. I don't think any city in North Carolina can touch it. Could you imagine what Asheville would be like if it were a big city with this kind of architecture?


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I agree, this mall looks awesome. That is DEFINITELY the way developers should be building malls... if they really had to build malls at all. Asheville impresses with its achitecture and I can see it becoming a really big tourist attraction. The city (and the local developers) need to build on this and not ruin Asheville's chance to become a world-class small city.

Nice thread. I would love to see even more pictures of the Grove.

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Here are a couple more pics of the Grove Arcade Public Market (pics courtesy of Matthew)


North entrance, with griffin, "Grove" flanked with hearts, and a typical downtown Asheville denizen (note bandanna/doo-rag)


Interior, taken by the Stall Market, a unique grocery store. A sure sign of downtown vitality is whether or not a city can support a downtown grocery store. As the articles posted above mentioned, however, the Arcade has had trouble attracting a bakery, and fish and meat vendors, which together would help the Arcade compete against any supermarket. Fortunately for downtown dwellers, however, a full-service organic supermarket, complete with a meat department is located on the south side of downtown.

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