By Kristy Alpert
Pack your suitcase but not all the way to the top — on your next trip to the South you’re bound to find lots of things that you want to bring back with you.
When it comes to shopping, Southern cities and towns have a flair for creating authentic retail experiences and welcoming groups of all sizes. Scattered all across the lower continental United States are destinations touting everything from acres of outlet shopping splendor to boutique shops nestled along the cobblestone streets on the National Register of Historic Places.
Whether groups are looking to spend bonding time together or spend some green on their own, here are some of the top Southern shopping hot spots for destination group travel.
Started in 2003 by friends Katie Runnels — a Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) graduate — and Amy Zurcher, shopSCAD is a boutique shopper’s paradise with thousands upon thousands of original pieces of artwork available for purchase — or just available for inspiration. The store features everything from jewelry and photography to sweaters and paintings, all made exclusively by SCAD artists.
“Katie and I had been best friends forever, and we had always wanted to create a store full of fabulous things celebrating fashion, art, jewelry and things like that,” explained Zurcher, director of shopSCAD. “When we started looking around, we realized there’s enough talent at SCAD, so the way we would be different is that we’ll limit our offerings to only fine art and designs made by SCAD artists. Everything in the store is from a student, alum, faculty or staff member of SCAD.
We get new work in pretty much every day. We’ve got such a wide variety of things. We specialize in almost the bizarre. That’s what’s really made us different, special and successful.”
Groups will find one-of-a-kind pieces throughout this creatively designed space, which recently underwent a complete renovation to make the shopping experience more interactive. A massive jewelry case in the center of the store has 15 drawers’ worth of unique jewelry; historic art gallery walls now showcase drawings, paintings and other artwork. Shoppers have the chance to experience as much or as little artwork as they choose to explore.
“What I really enjoy is when I watch people in this shop, the artwork encourages all this dialogue,” she added. “They are not only shopping but they’re having this experience where they’re walking through the artwork and the designs, and they’re discussing it. This year, we renovated the store, and now we have this whole interactive part of the store that’s keeping people in the store longer. It’s made people feel like they’re discovering something, and I think that enhances the shopping experiences.”
Shortly after playing host to the World’s Fair in 1984, the city of New Orleans began developing the fair’s Mississippi waterfront land into what is today known as the Riverwalk Marketplace. Although the mall stretches from the busy steps of Canal Street and has attracted shoppers and tourists alike, it has not undergone any major enhancements since its grand opening in 1986 until now.
“This summer we made the very exciting announcement that Riverwalk will undergo an extensive renovation and reopen as the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk late next year,” said Katie Fauquier, a representative for the Riverwalk Marketplace. “Although the mall will be closed during construction, the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk is expected to open in late 2013.”
The remodeled Riverwalk will feature national and local retailers along with more than 250,000 square feet of shopping space appropriate for groups. The focus of the remodel is to revitalize this historic area into New Orleans’ first upscale downtown outlet, but the planners knew that it wouldn’t be a New Orleans attraction without some good Creole cooking and live music options as well, and made sure to include plenty of space for dining and entertainment. Although there is no set opening date in 2013, Fauquier quipped that it will be well worth the wait for groups looking to spend some time — and money — in New Orleans. More information on the remodel and the reopening plans is available at the company’s website.
From high-end shoes and vintage clothing to fishing gear and artisan treats, King Street in Alexandria, Virginia, has more to offer groups than most amusement parks would have for children. Touted as “historic authenticity with modern shopping,” this street features shops located in historic buildings that date back to George Washington’s time and is located only minutes from that former president’s famous Mount Vernon Estate.
“Knowing you are walking where our nation’s president walked is not something every city can offer,” said Laurie Bledy, group sales manager for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, who also noted that King Street is one of the few shopping destinations listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “My favorite thing about Alexandria shopping is talking to the store owners. There is a real sense of pride and dedication they take to not only make their own store succeed, but the community around them as well. They are personable and offer high-quality merchandise.”
Groups exploring the streets of Alexandria will find everything from boutique shopping at the Shoe Hive to booths where local artists can sell their original pieces at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The area also boasts great dining options, such as the historic Fish Market, which sells award-winning clam chowder. The La Fromagerie Cheese and Wine Bistro is a great fit for those who may be more inclined to take a load off and sit back with a glass of vino after a fun day spent shopping with friends.
Another key to this city’s success as a shopping destination is that groups shopping along King Street can simply hitch a ride on the free King Street Trolley to give weary arms and legs a rest from struggling with bags filled with recent purchases.
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