J.P. and Amy Phinney considered opening a pet store in downtown Raleigh’s City Market in 2008 but opted instead for a storefront on Lake Boone Trail.
“We ultimately decided there wasn’t enough foot traffic (at City Market), and we think we made the right decision back then,” said J.P. Phinney, who owns Unleashed with his wife.
A lot has changed in seven years, and the business is finally coming to City Market, where the Phinneys plan to open their sixth Unleashed store later this month.
J.P. Phinney said he thinks the location is attractive now because so many apartments have been built nearby.
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“I think a rebirth is inevitable, simply because of its position,” he said of City Market.
Along with residential growth, Raleigh has plans to upgrade nearby Moore Square, which has been perceived by some as a hangout for the city’s homeless.
City Market has already gained some new tenants. Along with Unleashed, ice cream shop Treat opened in May. The City Market Cafe is expected to open in October.
Mike Hakan, owner of City Market, said he wants to attract locally owned businesses like Unleashed to complement the unique shops that are already there, including The Holy Rose, a spiritual supply store.
“We think they do things on a very unique and personal quality basis,” he said of the Phinneys.
Active as possible
City Market opened in 1914 and operated for years as a busy market in Raleigh’s core. As grocery stores became more popular, the market waned.
Now, surrounding blocks that feature shops and offices are also referred to as City Market. Hakan bought the property in 1995 with his late father, Joe Hakan.
It currently has a handful of vacant spaces and during a recent walk-through of the area, Kara Guido, Hakan’s assistant envisioned the possibilities. A vacant building on Martin Street, for instance, would be ideal for a speakeasy in the basement, a restaurant on the main floor and a club on the top floor, she said.
Meanwhile, Hakan is making plans for the future of Historic Market Hall, a 5,900-square-foot space in the center of the market.
Until early this year, the back part of the building was Cobblestone Hall, a venue that hosted weddings and other events. The business moved to the front of the building and now operates as 214 Martin Street.
The space had been empty for years after Greenshields Brewery and Pub left in 2004 following a fire. Now Hakan wants to see the building host community events, along with wedding receptions and other celebrations.
“We’d like this space to be as active as possible,” he said.
Hakan has already heard plenty of suggestions. Maybe dances. Or food truck lunches, in which owners of food trucks set up shop inside the hall to create a sort of food court. Maybe even turn the place into a temporary roller skating rink.
Hakan said he is receptive to “any and all positive-energy activities.”
Hakan Properties joined forces this summer with Artsplosure, a nonprofit in City Market, to launch the City mARTket Fair on the second Sunday of the month. The first event, in July, featured about two dozen vendors who set up under the extended roof in the center of the market.
Moore Square plans
Raleigh has big plans for Moore Square, which is bounded by Blount, Martin, Person and Hargett streets.
A master plan from 2011 calls for entry plazas, a large lawn, a stone perimeter wall, cafe-style seating and a play area.
The city council voted in 2014 to borrow $12.6 million to fund the project.
Last week, the council gave the OK for city staff to move forward with a preliminary design. Once approved, construction could begin next summer and last 10 to 12 months, said Stephen Bentley, superintendent of planning and design for Raleigh.
The city hosted meetings last May to gather feedback about what people want to see at the square. Among the priorities: restrooms, open space for yoga classes or performances, and public art.
Whatever improvements are made, nearby City Market will likely be affected. The area has seen businesses come and go. The space now occupied by Unleashed used to house Epona and Oak, a massage therapy company that left in March.
The Phinneys, who own Unleashed, said they’re confident City Market is a good pocket of downtown to be in now.
They hope downtown dwellers will come to their store for all-natural pet food and other supplies, and they also hope people strolling through the market area will stop to check it out.
“I’m not nervous,” Amy Phinney said. “I feel like the area is growing so much that City Market has to become something amazing.”
She said she’s happy to be near established businesses like Big Ed’s, which has been at City Market since 1989. Unleashed is next door to Vic’s Italian Restaurant, which has been at the space for about 20 years.
Mario Longo Jr., who owns Vic’s with his father, said foot traffic “has definitely picked up over the years” as more people have moved downtown, and he sees plenty of vistors on the cobblestone streets.
“We don’t plan on going anywhere,” he said.
Neither do the Phinneys, at least for a while. They said they signed a five-year lease at City Market.
The Downtown Raleigh Alliance announced Monday that it will offer retail up-fit grants of up to $5,000 to retailers in the DRA Services District. New retailers – and existing retailers who want to expand by 30 percent or more – are eligible for the grant. To find out more details, including the types of retail eligible, go to the #DTRetail page on www.yourhere.com.