Is UNION at the Biltmore in Phoenix Half Empty or Half Full?

Janessa Hilliard
The front entrance to UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.
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.

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?

Location Info

UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park

2502 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

Union features pretentious products at outrageous prices. The average Phoenician who wants to support local businesses is priced out of Union the moment they walk in. 


This is basically the same concept as many similar ventures in other cities, such as Chelsea Marketplace in NYC, which is an awesome venture between a bunch of shops and restaurants. Like most things in Phoenix, it's a learning curve, and we're still growing and figuring out what we want or what works for us. I hope Union flourishes! 

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