She began looking at downtown properties — and ran into multiple landlords who seemed more interested in filling their storefronts with restaurants or other food and beverage uses.
“Very few were interested in retail,” she said.
Leap of faith
The Main Street storefront became a leap of faith — not only because of the new location, but because it nearly tripled both the store’s square footage and its rent.
Gaines said she was looking for a bigger storefront — although not necessarily three times the size of the 1,400-square-foot Uptown Village location — but her two biggest criteria were the new storefront’s location and visibility. The site at the corner of Main and Ninth Streets was a good fit in both cases.
Wild Fern also adds to a historical legacy for the building, which was once home to a men’s clothing store called Melvin’s. Gaines said several shoppers in the first few weeks have said they’re happy to see a clothing store return to the site.
“We hear it every day — (people say) ‘Oh, this brings back so many memories,’ ” she said.
The bigger space led to an increase in staffing, inventory and furniture, Gaines said, although she’s also taken advantage of the extra room to space the racks and tables farther apart to give the store a calmer and airier feel.
Gaines said she worked to make Wild Fern a core part of the local community when it was in Uptown Village, and she wants to do the same at the new location.
The new site features a loft above the back half of the store that’s being used as office space and inventory storage, but Gaines said that once she gets more settled in, she wants to turn it into a pop-up space for local artists and designers.
Foot traffic key
The customers so far have been a mix of familiar faces from Uptown Village and new visitors from the downtown area, she said, often workers wandering in on their lunch breaks. Gaines said she sees that as a positive sign, because the growth of retail will depend on making it clear to downtown workers and residents that the area has become an easily walkable shopping district.
Wild Fern is making its downtown debut as the area undergoes a retail renaissance following years of struggling businesses and vacant storefronts. The resurgence has been evident in the number of new bars and restaurants that have cropped up in the past few years, but other categories of retail have been slower to take off.
Wild Fern joins a lineup of downtown clothing stores that is still relatively modest but has been showing signs of growth. Believe Boutique opened last year. Gaines said she’s confident the trend will continue, and she hopes the early arrivals will be able to inspire future rounds of retail growth.
Gaines said she expects future arrivals to build off of the current round of retail stores. The stores in the current retail clothing lineup focus on either women’s clothes exclusively or clothes for women and men, but Gaines said she expects a men’s clothing store will be able to establish itself before too much longer.
“We really hope with this corner location, and it having been a clothing store in the past, that it will kind of help revive the retail industry,” she said. “As more people jump on that bandwagon of being local entrepreneurs, we’re going to do well down here.”