Shopping in Birmingham thrives despite challenges
Piper is one of the friendliest shopkeepers in town, greeting customers with all the enthusiasm she can give. She is really happy to see you stop in to see her at Wachler Estate Collection on Old Woodward Avenue in downtown Birmingham.
“They love her,” said Gary Wachler, co-owner of Wachler Estate Collection, which has been selling high-quality luxury jewelry since its opening in 2013. “She’s very warm and friendly.”
Piper’s charm is helped, of course, by the fact she is a tiny 2½-year-old Pomeranian dog that brightly works alongside her owners, Wachler, his wife, Susan, and their son David.
“She definitely helps the business,” Wachler laughed. “She’s our mascot.”
Not that Wachler Estate Collection (also known as Wachler’s Diamonds) needs much help with business these days.
“It’s been our best year ever,” Wachler said, adding that his business engages savvy social media advertising and Internet sales.
“It’s good to be diversified in how you sell,” he said. “We do business nationwide through
the Internet at Wachler.”
Wachler Estate Collection also benefits from being nestled in the heart of downtown Birmingham, one of the most high-end and coveted shopping districts in the region.
“The Birmingham Shopping District continues to remain a hot spot for retailers, restaurants and businesses to locate and do business,” said Ingrid Tighe, executive director of the Birmingham Shopping District.
This year, she added, new retailers like St. Croix, Kohler Signature Store, White Birch and Verizon have opened. Spotify, a streaming music service, opened an office, as did service providers like Alex and Emilio Salon and Union Barber, and food service providers like GrabbaGreen.
Currently, the retail shop occupancy rate is 96 percent, and Tighe expects the downtown will continue to thrive. “People love to visit downtown Birmingham for its charm, walkability, great shopping, fabulous restaurants and ambiance,” she said. “Visitors love Birmingham’s sophistication and energy.”
“The diversity of businesses is essential to the success of the BSD,” she said. “These businesses all complement a thriving downtown with businesses such as marketing/advertising agencies, law firms, financial institutions and more.”
Wachler agrees, saying that in his years doing business in Birmingham he has seen the downtown offer a mix of independent shops and regional chain stores.
“There’s a nice depth of business here,” he said. “There’s a lot of depth in blocks. A lot of cities don’t have as much depth as that.”
Another element that makes shopping and doing business in downtown Birmingham so special, Wachler added, is the amiability of the business owners, who often support one another and know many of their customers by name.
“I think it’s very personable, and it’s very friendly,” Wachler said. “It’s more of a social thing. Sometimes customers stop in just to say hello.”
In this spirit, Wachler makes sure to mention how he adopted Piper from Toys & Teacups, a Pet Boutique, which is located nearby on Merrill Street. “We try to support other businesses,” he said. “We’ve been customers of and friend to each other.”
This spring saw the beginning of a massive road and sidewalk replacement on Old Woodward Avenue. Though it threatened shopping activity just as the weather got warmer, Tighe said businesses have been resilient.
“Overall, the downtown businesses have weathered the construction well,” she said. “The majority of our retailers reported that their business remained steady during construction and even a handful of merchants stated that their business was stronger during this period compared to previous years.”
A few retailers, like Wachler, got creative in an effort to preserve business during the construction: The store has offered free valet for customers. It has been so popular that Wachler is planning to make it a permanent offering.
“We’re all for keeping the valet after the construction,” he said.
Wachler acknowledged that most business owners in downtown Birmingham are eager for the construction project to be completed (it is slated for completion in early August 2018), but said the finished product will be worth it.
With wider sidewalks, a new main street and new plantings to brighten up the surroundings, it’s going to be very pedestrian-friendly, Wachler said.
“There is excitement for [the construction] to be over,” he said, adding that it has not hampered shoppers’ excitement about downtown Birmingham. “People are still determined to come to Birmingham and shop.”
For more information on the downtown Birmingham Shopping District, visit ww.allinbirmingham.com. wFine dining or casual fare, Birmingham Bloomfield area
offers it all
If the Birmingham Bloomfield area has world-class business and shopping, it makes sense that it would have only the best dining options as well.
Downtown Birmingham alone is home to more than 50 eateries of all kinds, from longtime favorites like Dick O’Dow’s, where you can have a pint in a traditional Irish pub setting, to newer gems like the Mad Hatter Bistro, where you can get afternoon tea surrounded by Alice in Wonderland themed décor.
New this year to downtown Birmingham is Vinotecca, an upscale full-service wine bar and restaurant that offers wine education classes and tastings, and live blues and jazz music.
Not to be outdone, Bloomfield Hills offers its own gastronomical delights. Most notably, the old Kingsley Inn property is being completely renovated and will include fine and casual dining options, said City Manager David Hendrickson. Joe Muer Bloomfield Hills opened last year on the site to great success.
In Bloomfield Township, the biggest food news is probably the opening of Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace. But quite a few new restaurants have opened recently, said Bloomfield Township Community Relations Director Greg Kowalski, including Rusty Bucket, Roadside, 5th Tavern and Beau’s Grillery.
In Beverly Hills, the venerable Beverly Hills Grill has been serving daily breakfast and contemporary American cuisine for 25 years. The Village of Franklin is home to Farmhouse Coffee & Ice Cream that, as its name suggests, serves its homemade fare in a charming converted farmhouse.