Go by Overton Square during lunch or at night, and the place is usually overflowing with visitors – some who want lunch, dinner or a libation, and some who come just to enjoy the simple pleasure of people-watching.
Construction is in full swing as Loeb Properties works to bring back Overton Square, including work on repurposing the old Palm Court and adding several new retail tenants to the Square. (Daily News/Lance Murphey)
Restaurants such as Bar Louie, Bayou Bar & Grill, Memphis Pizza Cafe, Local Gastropub, Boscos Squared, Le Chardonnay and Bari Ristorante e Enoteca; three operating live theaters; and Malco Theatres’ Studio on the Square, all help keep Overton Square bustling during the afternoon and evening.
But that’s not enough for Loeb Properties Inc.
Loeb, which is investing more than $20 million to bring Overton Square back to life as a theater, arts and entertainment district, is implementing a retail strategy to draw more daytime foot traffic there to complement and support the already thriving restaurant and entertainment scene.
Loeb has emphasized attracting locally owned retail businesses as another way of establishing deeper roots between Overton Square and the city. The company has signed five local, retail-based leases at Overton Square: Cardio Barre, Sweet Noshings, Breakaway Running, The Attic and Delta Groove Yoga.
“The restaurants are really gaining a good lunch crowd, and the addition of the retail tenants will also add daytime traffic,” said Elizabeth Berglund, Loeb’s community relations director.
Loeb’s vision is to build symbiotic relationships in the district, where theaters, retailers and the aforementioned restaurants – plus nearby places such as Chiwawa, Lenny’s Sub Shops, YoLo and Golden India – all support each other.
The locally owned retailers are a key part of the brew, according to local retail professionals.
“I think that it is a good strategy, as it complements the bustling nighttime businesses,” said Brian Whaley of CB Richard Ellis Memphis. “You have a lot of families in the Midtown area, with children and work-at-home mothers that should be able to support the daytime businesses coming into the area.”
Cardio Barre is an exercise studio that combines dance-based movements and light weights. Sweet Noshings is a candy store that will offer a wide range of sugary options, including candy, cookies, cake, popcorn, chocolate and a coffee bar supplied by Memphis-based Ugly Mug Coffee.
Breakaway Running will feature its mix of running shoes, fitness apparel and accessories. The Attic is a boutique retailer that will carry unique men’s and women’s clothing and accessories appealing to a wide variety of ages and sizes. And Delta Groove features a variety of yoga classes, an extensive healing-arts center, clothing and accessories, juices and vegan snacks.
“I think all of the news about Overton Square is great,” said Danny Buring of The Shopping Center Group LLC. “For the square to be successful again, it needs to have a mixed-use feel with entertainment, traditional retail and hopefully at some point a residential component.”
The Attic will be located next to Bar Louie, while Delta Groove Yoga is located next to Memphis Pizza Café.
Alexandra Rushing, co-owner of The Attic with Ben Scharff, said Overton Square appealed to her business sense – it’s centrally located, providing a broader audience – and her sentimental side.
“I wanted to help be a part of that revival because I remember Overton Square before it declined,” said Rushing, who also owns The Ivory Closet and Adel Amor Cosmetics in Harbor Town. “I was really thrilled when Loeb decided to revive it. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Cardio Barre, Sweet Noshings and Breakaway Running signed leases in the Palm Court building, on the side facing Madison. The Palm Court building, which used to include an ice-skating rink, had a hollowed-out second story that basically served as a sort of balcony, with small areas of commercial space.
Loeb, while preserving the unique ceiling featured there, gave the building a true second story.
“We filled in what we called the donut hole and made it two stories,” Berglund said.
Cardio Barre leased two second-story bays on the Madison side. Breakaway Running and Sweet Noshings will occupy two of three bays on the ground floor facing Madison, leaving one bay for rent on the ground floor facing Madison.
The portion of the Palm Court building facing Trimble has two retail bays available, one with roughly 1,500 square feet and the other with 3,700 square feet. That portion of the district is seeing the most construction activity.
A city-funded 450-space parking garage with a floodwater detention basin is under construction at the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Florence Street, and a centerpiece courtyard designed to include a play space for children and a spill-out area for busy restaurant nights is being built on the north side of Trimble.
Construction began this week on the new Hattiloo Theatre at Overton Square, at the northwest corner of Monroe and Cooper Street. Hattiloo will join Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse and TheatreWorks once it opens.
The master plan for Overton Square emphasizes using Trimble as a type of multipurpose street focused on pedestrians, with vehicle traffic being directed to Monroe, Florence, Cooper and Madison. The emphasis on pedestrian traffic should help attract retailers and make moving about Overton Square easier. But that vision can be difficult for some retailers to grasp while the area is covered with construction activity.
“It’s still a little bit of a challenge to lease the bays facing Trimble because there are often construction vehicles in front of them,” Berglund said. “In the next 60 days, the courtyard will really begin to take shape and will be a place-making opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate. When that is complete, we think the locations facing Trimble and the parking garage will be hot commodities.”