Is UNION at the Biltmore in Phoenix Half Empty or Half Full?
Disheartening. There really isn't another word to describe the feeling of walking in through the back entrance of UNION at the Biltmore. The last weeks of February have been warm, and unseasonably so -- the kind of weather conducive to leisurely patio lunches and coffee catch-ups that morph into all-afternoon affairs. Yet the small outside courtyard of wooden tables, created for just that, is strikingly empty and devoid of chatter.
Janessa Hilliard The front entrance to UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.
A lone barista mans the coffee stand at the opening of the corridor, directly across from an uninviting former restaurant plastered with green liquor license application notices and hopeful signs declaring "coming soon!" It's the post-lunch rush, and no one is milling about inside. No browsing. No window shopping. It's dark, wooden, and looks like a boarded-up ghost town: another promising concept killed by lack of interest, lack of steady business, and seemingly absurdly high turnover.
But looks can be deceiving.
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The barista, Jenni Bill of Phoenix, has worked at Royal Coffee's mini-shop at UNION for three months. And in those three months, she says, the excitement from shoppers hasn't wavered.
"A lot of people walk in and they're like, "Wow! Look at this," she says, gesturing around.
Bill attributes the sudden lack of storefronts to the end dates of individual leases -- not extraordinary circumstances. It's a big spot for tourist shoppers, she adds, because the concept is so inviting.
When Biltmore Fashion Park announced it was opening UNION, a one-stop shop for hyper-local boutiques, the move was hailed as innovative. Social media and local media buzzed in the months leading up to its November 2012 debut. Publications (this one included) devoted ink to its prospects, piquing the curiosity of many Phoenicians. There would be grand-opening parties and giveaways and a busy holiday season ahead.
So, how did such a promising retail project go from full of bustling boutiques to 50 percent capacity within 14 months of opening those wooden doors? And is the glass really half empty or actually half full?