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DigitalSky

SouthPark's unwritten dress code

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Charlotte Observer www.charlotte.com

A clue: Bib overalls stick out at SouthPark

Like it or not, this upscale mall has an unwritten dress code

GAIL SMITH-ARRANTS

If you're new to Charlotte, I'm going to clue you in to a little secret.

You'll feel out of place if you go on a shopping excursion to SouthPark Mall wearing jeans and a ragged T-shirt.

SouthPark is Charlotte's upscale shopping destination, and it's not for those faint of heart or light of credit card.

If you haven't been there yet, SouthPark mall is at the corner of Fairview and Sharon roads.

Last week, a reader named Emily said she sensed "an air of appalling exclusiveness" at the south Charlotte mall.

Now, I don't plan to continue this discussion in future columns, and I'm not going to let today's column become a print version of the Jerry Springer show, with shouting shoppers angry about how they're treated.

However, I have gotten some responses about SouthPark that weren't too nice. I'm not defending anyone or any place, I'm just telling it like it is.

SouthPark, like south Charlotte, has evolved over the years.

When I arrived in this area in 1980, it was an extremely nice and thoroughly sedate Southern mall, not the designer haven it is today. Now it has a certain aura. When I was there last month, I was amazed at the number of "beautiful people," or at least, the number of people in beautiful outfits.

I'm also not praising high fashion, or critiquing it. (I'm not one to evaluate the merits of high fashion. Just ask my kids.)

I've heard from people who don't like SouthPark's transformation.

One reader said it's a totally different place now, with the old standby Sears gone, valet parking out front and a passel of new stores.

"If you are looking for unique gifts or products, SouthPark is your mall," says mall marketing director Julie Harrell.

"Just look at our tenant mix: 40 percent of the stores at SouthPark are exclusive to the Carolinas, which means you would have to travel to Atlanta or Washington, D.C., to find duplicate stores," she said in an e-mail. She mentioned SouthPark's Sur La Table, Kate Spade, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and others.

A regional attraction

The mall brings more visitors, dollars and traffic congestion to the area. An earlier study by developers estimated the mall will generate $33.5 million in annual property and sales tax. Already, SouthPark has added more than 500 new jobs."People get very frustrated when a mall changes as much as SouthPark does. Because the stores aren't where they used to be. I've been lost about four times trying to find (locally owned jeweler) Perry's," said Greg Kahn, who studies shopper behavior. He's founder and CEO of the Kahn Research Group in Huntersville.

He compared SouthPark with Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, which has similar stores.

"It's very much an upscale mall and getting more upscale every day," Kahn said. "If you're looking for a bargain, go to Concord Mills."

SouthPark area resident Jack Calaway said shoppers should be prepared, and dressed, for the experience.

"Why would anyone want to underdress to shop at an upscale destination like SouthPark?" he said, referring to Emily's email published last week.

"Would she attend a wedding or funeral in bib overalls? Go to the speedway in a formal gown? If Emily is as classy as she says she is, she should dress for the occasion, especially if she's going to pay a premium for clothes, jewelry and accessories.... Otherwise she shouldn't expect clerks and fellow customers to defer to her," Calaway said in his e-mail. "Emily's self-perceived snub has nothing to do with where she's from. If she wants egalitarianism, `when in SouthPark do what the SouthParkers do.' "

SouthPark has a devoted clientele. Some even drive from afar to get here, like Steven Swain who e-mailed from Rocky Mount in the mountains of southwest Virginia.

"It's a three-hour drive and I make it to the mall at least six times a year," he said. "I haven't had a whole lot of trouble getting respect from salespeople ... regardless of how I was dressed, and I'm African American."

He added "ninety-nine percent of the time SouthPark rocks."

The price of growth

Some people would like SouthPark to remain the way it used to be, back in the '80s when it had a movie theater and Sears. I've even talked to newcomers who have been here just a couple of years and barely recognize the mall.

More than 30 new retailers have opened in the past year or so, such as Nordstrom, known for its fascinating array of boots and shoes. I haven't bought shoes there, but over the holidays, a man was playing the piano over by the escalator. It raised the already lofty aura of the shoe department.

Tommy Taylor, who lives in Concord, said that level of shopping experience has come at a price, with unfriendly mall customer service representatives.

"The air there is getting a little thicker or `mightier than thou,' " he said in his e-mail.

Jill Opdyke grew up with SouthPark "when Record Bar and Chick-fil-A were the best things SouthPark had going and shopping there was fun."

Opdyke recognizes that SouthPark has changed.

"It's not that I don't want to support SouthPark, but SouthPark clearly has outgrown me," she said. "I guess that's the price of `progress.' "

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I actually sometimes make a point to dress as low-maintainance - ragged, chilling-at-home-esque, what-have-you - as possible when going to South Park mall just because I think it is fun. Yeah, there is sort of an unwritten dress code, but that doesn't mean people necessarily look down on you if you ignore it. Some do, but the casual observation of the social consequences is the main reason I do it.

Having said that I only go there about once every few months, so it's not enough to publish a study or anything, and I do not feel like giving any deep philosophical commentary on so meaningless a subject. That may sound sound hypocritical, but it's just a way to better enjoy my shopping, and to rebel against the status quo ^_^

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Southpark is by far my favorite mall in the Charlotte area. Primarily due to the fact that some types of people just do not go to that mall like other malls in the area (i.e. Eastland Mall). I general dress in a way that isn't "homely" so when I go to Southpark it's not like I'm dressing "up" but given that, some folks there do really dress up, but I'm pretty sure many of those do that a lot anyway. Just for example of the type of people, watch a Frasier re-run on TV, I believe this is more or less the social group that Southpark caters to. I'd rather try to be involved with this group than the social group that Eastland caters to.

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The only time I go to a mall is when I need a particular item at a particular store. South Park is a nice mall, and I have been several times in the last year. I normally wear jeans and a t-shirt every day. The thought of dressing up to go get something I want or need has never even crossed my mind. I have never experienced any looks because of what I have worn at South Park. One particular time, I went to Nordstrom with my girlfriend because there were some suits on sale and she was going to see if she could find something semi-affordable. I had on sweat pants and an old t-shirt. I didn't feel out of place at all. But, maybe it's just me.... We also ate in the little cafe in Nordstrom and the service and food were really great, even though I had on my favorite fuzzy sweatpants and my old comfy t-shirt. :D

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Southpark is by far my favorite mall in the Charlotte area.  Primarily due to the fact that some types of people just do not go to that mall like other malls in the area (i.e. Eastland Mall).  I general dress in a way that isn't "homely" so when I go to Southpark it's not like I'm dressing "up" but given that, some folks there do really dress up, but I'm pretty sure many of those do that a lot anyway.  Just for example of the type of people, watch a Frasier re-run on TV, I believe this is more or less the social group that Southpark caters to.  I'd rather try to be involved with this group than the social group that Eastland caters to.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Neo, your elitism and veiled racism is pathetic. I have lost what little respect I had left for you. You are a sad man.

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Neo, your elitism and veiled racism is pathetic.  I have lost what little respect I had left for you.  You are a sad man.

Sorry if I offended, I suppose just like Bill James I am just supporting a bit of the truth that no one really likes to talk about. Honestly, I'm scared to even step foot anywhere around Eastland. This is not that I'm racist because that area does contain diverse peoples, but point blank, Fubu clothing stores and sneaker shops do not spark my interest in the least. The shops at Southpark cater more to my tastes and to be quite honest, I feel absolutely safe in Southpark, a feeling I would not have at Eastland. Please state your reasons for calling me racist and elite with proof that I've said I was both. I don't recall ever saying I was racist or that I was elite.

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I dont think Eastland had the shootings in December that Southpark did LOL, I think thats funny.

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I dont think Eastland had the shootings in December that Southpark did LOL, I think thats funny.

True, but Southpark doesn't have any gang problems or curfew requirements like Eastland does. When was the last time half of CMPD had to be called to Southpark to arrest a group of people for their behavior? This is a little different than someone shoplifting.

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I have never had any problems shopping at Eastland...I like to use the Sears there.

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Neo, you're absolutely right. I agree with everything you said. For any idiot to call you an elitist or racist for wanting to go to a descent mall with people that are a little classier shouldn't be allowed to have a computer. I prefer a mall where teenagers aren't running around wild, using filthy language, and hanging out in the parking lots. I'm no prude, but I just like a little of the better things that I have spent my life working hard for. If some lazy, useless asshole is offended by the way I feel, screw him :rofl:

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I have never had any problems shopping at Eastland...I like to use the Sears there.

When was the last time you were there? :P

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I think issues of malls and minorities are tough.

When my wife and i buy stuff, we get what looks good in our circle of friends and workplace, mostly found at South Park. We do go to a couple of stores at Eastland occasionally, because the have better prices, and often still have sizes or styles that are already sold out other places (both of which are symptoms of poorer sales at Eastland).

My wife teaches high school in a minority school (2% cauc), and most of her students would NEVER wear banana republic or some other preppy brands. Kids that live in Myers Park, however would NEVER wear dickies or a do-rag (or whatever). It appears racial, but it more cultural and the result of target marketing.

Stores and retail always cater to certain demographics because they must find their niche, and rely heavily on somebody thinking their stuff is "cool" or makes other people envious. Really, clothing is just fabric stitched together to fit on people.... the world has gotten very good at creating basic clothing at extremely cheap prices (think 50c or less for a hanes undershirts as an example).

The main way to make money (which is the entire goal of businesses) is to market in a way for people to think very highly of your product (and tweak the product to cater to that). This is true in ALL demographics, but businesses can make the most money by catering to the people that have the most money.

Malls have been competiting for quite some time now with stores like walmart that try to make clothing a commodity with lowest price possible (like dickies or no-name brand stuff). This serious competition has pulled away much of the high volume, low price sales to the lower classes. Malls have learned that the only real way to survive is to cater to the middle and upper classes.

Most malls targeting middle class don't have as much air of exlusivity, because most americans view themselves as middle class. Stores like Gap and Express don't have to be exclusive because they market themselves as affordable fashion. It is "cool" because it is "what everyone else is doing", so it is a matter of fitting in with the rest of the middle class. Another way to look at the stores in these malls, is that you can build a regular in-fashion wardrobe without breaking the bank. South Park used to be like this, but it was getting old and run down, which made even the middle class folks prefer to go to Carolina Place.

South Park is surrounded by upper middle and upper class neighborhoods, but was losing a lot of potential revenue because the exclusive shoppers would travel to get their fancy, exclusive brands at stores in Atlanta or other big cities. (this is not my life, but if you are in the crowd where your whole existance revolves around your wealth, you really need to have your gucci luggage to survive the gossip :) ). The owners of the mall realized that to make the most money, they needed to rebuild the place to the standards of the upper class, and have the right mix of stores to get the rich people spending their money in town. This has happened, and it is working for them, and now pulling the middle class back in because it is newer and nicer and still has some stores that are affordable.

Eastland is surrounded by lower and lower middle class neighborhoods, who are primarily now shopping at Walmart. The loss in volume has made it hard for most stores make money, since they can't make up the lower volume with higher prices, so most have left the mall. To survive in an area with those demographics, it has turned to stores that get their demographics to spend the most money, namely stores like Fubu that are the fashionable/"cool" clothes within minority circles.

There are so many complexities in cause and effect in this subject, lack of neighborhood integration, concentration of poverty in racial groups, sprawl, white flight, cultural differences in perception, etc.

Footnote: i hope no one on this forum is racist, but given the complexity of the subject i will assume for now that the comment was just insensitively worded.

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Last time I was there was 5 years ago when I got a flat tire near there and had to have Sears repair it (bought the tires at the Concord Sears, etc etc). It's definately gone downhill since the early 90's when I used to frequent it, but the neighborhoods around it have gone into SERIOUS decline over the last 10 years. Just YESTERDAY there was a gang related shooting not even a mile from the Mall on Albemarle Road. My parents were forced to sell their house nearly 10 years ago because of the skyrocketing crime rate in the area. People don't feel safe there. Robberies, fights, shootings - all commonplace in that area now, sadly.

Eastland Mall is garbage. Who is more "racist"? The people that say it's "mostly black" or the people that own the "mostly black" stores in the mall?

Just nicer stuff at SouthPark, plain and simple.

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Footnote: i hope no one on this forum is racist, but given the complexity of the subject i will assume for now that the comment was just insensitively worded.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Actually I think the comment was worded very well. There certainly much more politically incorrect ways to say it. The problem is that this is a taboo subject in Charlotte (among several others) yet the the appalling public behavior of the demographic that frequents Eastland is very real and is directly responsible for the decline of that mall from one of the Carolina's best to one of the worst.

I remember Eastland when it opened in 1975 and it was a great mall but I don't go there anymore. Eastland doesn't really scare me but I just don't like to be around people who have not been taught respect for others. Bill Cosby was right.

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it's about the culture, not the color. There is nothing racist about not wanting to be around a certain culture.

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When was the last time you were there?  :P

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

In December...I did some of my Christmas shopping there.

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Neo, your elitism and veiled racism is pathetic.  I have lost what little respect I had left for you.  You are a sad man.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Hey man, ease up on the over-sensitivity. While it could be argued that what Neo said was slightly elitest (although I don't think so, and I already discussed not trying to identify with the SouthPark demographic), he never said anything remotely racist. In order to find enough justification from his post to point that kind of finger at him, many assumptions, deep cynicism, and perhaps some insecurity would have to be involved.

It is a strong opinion of mine that constant over-sensitive false accusations of racism in this country do as much to hurt the healing of the racial division as any other factor. I grew up in a minority neighborhood and witnessed this first hand. When people are called racist over and over again for no reason, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Eastland caters to the african american community for the most part. there are still american eagle, express, eb games, sears, etc, places that everyone goes. but so many apparel stores there sell clothing that is marketed specifically to the AA community. The mall has evolved to cater to the community around it and thats not a bad thing.

i lived halfway between southpark and eastland in charlotte and went to both depending on my needs. its really as safe a place as any to visit.

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I really don't feel comfortable at Southpark or Eastland. I'm not a Walmart person either... Most of my stuff comes from Target and other stores from chain malls I suppose. I'm not a very materialistic person, so price for value is paramount for me.

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I personally don't mind Eastland, but my friend did get her car broken into there about a year ago. It's unfortunate how blighted the surrounding area has become. :(

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I've only been to SP Mall a couple of times, but I was never dressed that nice. Jeans and a polo at best I'd say. But I never felt out of place or anything. Maybe that code is just for the hardcore shopoholics :)

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"I prefer a mall where teenagers aren't running around wild, using filthy language, and hanging out in the parking lots."

Wow, then you must never go to a mall. The spoiled rotten teenagers who run amuck at South Park are even worse than those at Eastland. They just have rich parents who threaten to sue when security says something to their children.

You just don't notice these teenagers because they are white. There have been more assaults, shootings, and breakin-ins at Southpark mall in the last year. But of course you are not afraid of crime, you're justa fraid of black people.

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