Mall blues: East end loses another business
December's First Friday will be Sage Moon Gallery's last First. The five-year-old art gallery plans to turn in its keys December 15, and its space joins the neighboring empty storefronts on the 400-block of the Downtown Mall's east end.
"We're sorry, we're very sorry," says co-owner Morgan MacKenzie-Perkins. "We're having to walk away from a big dream."
The gallery at 420 East Main was formerly Grand Piano & Furniture. "This location is large and quite costly," says MacKenzie-Perkins. Rent on the Chuck Lewis-owned, 8,200-square-foot space is over $8,000 a month, she says, and with utilities, comes close to $10K a month. "We can't afford to dip into our pockets any longer," she sighs.
MacKenzie-Perkins blames the economy for shrinking art sales. "People who can afford to collect are holding on," she explains. "It's called fear. We're in a fear mode."
On the upside, "If anyone wants to buy fine art, now is the time to buy," advises MacKenzie-Perkins. Sage Moon will be selling art through December 10.
Despite the Pavilion, Transit Center and controversial 4th Street mall crossing, for which MacKenzie-Perkins was an advocate to help people more easily navigate the mall, the east end has struggled.
Except for a stint as Obama headquarters, the A&N building on the corner of East Main and Fifth Street SE beside Sage Moon has been empty for three years, and in May, Order from Horder across the street at 425 East Main closed its doors and remains unoccupied.
"I never could figure out how that gallery could pay for that space," says developer Oliver Kuttner. As for the east end of the mall, "I don't think it's the beginning of the end, but hard times are coming."
In particular, the city plans to rebrick the mall, which closes outdoor cafes until the work is done in May. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," opines Kuttner. "The city is almost amplifying the negative impact on businesses."
Despite the barren storefronts on the mall– and Kuttner reminds that three buildings beside Wachovia on the west end of the mall have been empty for eight years– "I do know people want to be on the mall," he says. "I get phone calls at least once a month."
Certainly MacKenzie-Perkins intends to return to the mall. For now, she'll hang art at Siips and market through her website. "I think it will turn around," she says. "I believe the whole mall is going to be vibrant when we get through this."
And she urges those who love the mall to shop downtown. "Unfortunately, I think people don't realize they have to spend their money here," she says. "If everyone said, I'm going to do my Christmas shopping here, that would help."