Adios A&N: Clothing store leaves Mall
Before Christmas, it was business as usual at the A&N store on the Downtown Mall. Some of its narrow aisles were impassable, crowded with bulky parkas and flight jackets; others were blocked with boxes.
After the holidays, seemingly without warning, the discount sportswear retailer sold its last Nikes December 31 and papered over its windows.
"All good things come to an end," says Ron Britt, operations manager for the 52-store, 137-year-old Richmond-based chain. Having new A&N stores at Seminole Square and Pantops, "really was enough to cover Charlottesville," he says.
And the Downtown Mall is "a little rough for a retailer," Britt points out. Besides lower sales, the store at the corner of East Main and 5th Street SE, which had been there since Britt started with A&N 35 years ago, had no back door, he says. The 100 to 150 boxes the store got each week had to be unloaded on Water Street and hiked up a block and a half to the store's front door. "It was pretty tough on employees," he says.
Those employees will be transferred to the two other stores. But downtown residents who shopped at A&N now have fewer nearby shopping options.
"I can't think of another store on the Downtown Mall with such a broad appeal and such affordable prices," says Antics owner/ inveterate bargain hunter Amy Lemley, who liked the store's funky-style accessories along with its basic wear. "Everyday I would see mothers and children, high school-age people, and other shoppers headed there," she says.
And the store filled a need for residents without cars who needed staples– a need that will not be filled by the entertainment-destination kind of businesses and boutiques populating the Mall. "You don't say, 'I need some socks and underwear– let's go to the Downtown Mall,'" says Lemley.
Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville director of economic development, would like to continue to see a variety of retail options downtown, but says that A&N's passing is "part of the orderly, economic redevelopment of downtown." When a new business comes in and refurbishes a property, it becomes more valuable. He cites Woolworth's transformation from five and dime to upscale paper purveyor Caspari.
"I think that's healthy," says Watts. "Worse would be to see it boarded up and sitting empty."
Landlord Gabe Silverman, for one, will miss A&N, where he bought all his Levis and sneakers. "I liked it for what it sold– not food, not fru-fru," he says. "If CVS were to go, that's the last place for the average person to shop."
He expects no problems finding a new tenant for the one-story, circa 1920 store. "Lots of people are lined up to rent or buy," Silverman says.
"It'll probably be another stupid restaurant," he predicts.
Where are you going to find bargain apparel on the Downtown Mall now that A&N has headed for the 'burbs? The athletic store closed its doors New Year's Eve.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER