Raleigh's Cameron Village shopping center is stepping out into the fashion spotlight.
Eight years after finishing a major facelift, the center has become a destination for those with more fashion-forward sensibilities.
Now it's upping its hipness quotient yet again as several stores aimed at a younger clientele open, relocate or expand. Among them:
The United Colors of Benetton. The Italian fashion chain known for its urban flair and edgy ad campaigns is moving from the Streets at Southpoint in Durham around the beginning of April. It is going into the spot now filled by Beanie and Cecil.
Bevello. The locally owned women's fashion store is moving from its current Cameron Village location to the two-story spot just vacated by Priscilla of Boston. The idea is a boutique department store. Look for a late February or early March opening.
Sugarland. The Chapel Hill bakery known for its late-night martinis as well as its cupcakes is re-creating the look and feel of its Franklin Street shop as it expands to Raleigh. Renovations have started in the old Lavender & Lace spot, and the plan is to open April 1. It will be open until 11 p.m. on weekends.
ivy&leo. The trendy sister to Julie's, a longtime family-owned women's clothing store in the Charlotte area, will open in the current Bevello space in the spring. This is the first expansion into the Triangle.
Those shops join Italian shoe retailer Rangoni Firenze, which has relocated from the Streets at Southpoint, and the Art of Style, which sells designer fashions for men and women and showcases young designers from N.C. State. It is owner Kendra Leonard's second store; the first opened in 2010 in Alexander Promenade at Brier Creek.
The changes are part of the biggest growth spurt Cameron Village has seen in recent memory and come as the shopping center prepares for an influx of even more shoppers once the Gallery at Cameron Village, a 282-unit apartment complex, opens in 2013.
Britt Beemer, who tracks retail trends as founder of the Americas Research Group, says Cameron Village's success can be traced to its mix of mom-and-pop independents and national chains.
"It's not unusual for those retail centers to do well even in a tough economy because of the variety of shops, the independent restaurants," he says. "And [it has] parking everywhere so you can get in and out."
Lynne Worth, vice president of retail leasing for York Properties, which manages Cameron Village, says the moves and expansions are an indication of the confidence retailers have that the economy is coming back.
Chan Namgong, the 27-year-old entrepreneur behind Bevello, is a poster boy for such confidence. Namgong, a UNC graduate who went to Ravenscroft, has done the almost unthinkable: opened a retail store during a recession and then expanded it, several times over.
"I was naive," he says with a grin. "If I had known how difficult it was going to be and how bad the economy was, I would have been scared."
But the bad economy did have an upside: There was open space in many shopping centers. He found an empty corner at Cameron Village and convinced Worth to take a chance on him.
Since opening Bevello in Cameron Village 21/2 years ago, he has added stores in 12 markets in North Carolina and Virginia and soon will open his 13th in Houston.
The current expansion at Cameron Village will be his boldest effort yet - a flagship boutique department store with triple his current space. There will be a women's clothing section, a full shoe department, gifts and the area's first Dylan's Candy Bar, a shop within the shop featuring the gourmet candy of Dylan Lauren (Ralph's daughter).
His model? Anthropologie, he says without hesitation, referring to the trendy women's fashion retailer.
The key to his success, Namgong says, is a combination of the right locations, customer service and trendy fashions at affordable prices - dresses from $60 to $150 and designer shoes in the $80 to $150 range.
Deciding to expand at Cameron Village was an easy call.
"The economy is improving unequally," he said "But we have a niche market [here], and it is recovering comfortably."
Katrina Ryan, owner of Sugarland, could say the same.
Ryan, a former pastry chef at La Residence in Chapel Hill, opened the bakery four years ago with her husband. The idea, she says, was "a place for grownups to sit down to talk ... and have dessert and a martini." Demand created a need to expand.
"We're now in 600 square feet doing a million dollars a year worth of dessert. We have to borrow space. ... When we decided to build a commercial kitchen, we decided we should expand our market as well."
Ryan discovered Cameron Village when she started making wedding cakes for Priscilla of Boston.
"It seemed like a place you want to linger. Not a place you shopped and left," she says. "It is the Franklin Street of Raleigh."