What about national retail in Oak Cliff?

H&M is coming to Dallas, but it will not open a store in Oak Cliff. And neither will any other national retailer.

When discussing potential spots for corporate expansions, not one commercial real estate expert brought up our neighborhood. And when asked about it,Dallas real estate investor and former city councilman Mitchell Rasansky had this to say:

“I’ve lived in Dallas almost 74 years, and I don’t do any buying in Oak Cliff. I don’t like the demographics. To me, if people don’t have the money, they’re not going to go shopping.”

Insulting? Perhaps, but for many Cliff dwellers, the your-neighborhood-doesn’t-fit-into-our-box mentality is worn as a badge of honor. The rest of Dallas can keep its Olive Gardens and JC Penneys, thank you very much. We’ll take independent restaurants and mom-and-pop boutiques any day of the week.

The crown jewel of this type of retail in our neighborhood is, of course, the Bishop Arts District, the success of which is starting to trickle down West Davis and into other nearby intersections.

“With Hattie’s and Tillman’s and Eno’s, they all feed off of each other — those eclectic, fun, special, non-chain kinds of places,” Robert Young says. “People love it, but I don’t see Chico’s and White House Black Market and Sonoma or many of those people congregating there, probably because they’ve deemed that that’s not where their customers are and not a critical mass.

“Oak Cliff is a niche market, and a niche market does have the potential for unique restaurants and small shops. I don’t think that people who populate the malls or other shopping districts are worried about coming to Kessler Park or Bishop Arts or Oak Cliff.”

So no critical mass of national retailers, but Oak Cliff has reached “a critical mass of cool destination restaurants,” Mike Geisler says. “I think now that they’ve broken that barrier, they have all kinds of potential for additional dining.”

Great, but what about more grocery stores, especially the boutique sort?

Geisler’s brokerage company, Venture Commercial, has been working on the Sylvan | Thirty Project along Sylvan between I-30 and Fort Worth Avenue, trying to identify a grocer for the site. At press time, the project’s developer, Brent Jackson, stated that a grocer has signed a letter of intent, but he hasn’t identified the grocer because the contract isn’t final.

“We’ve just had a hard time,” Geisler says of luring a grocer to the project. “It’s hard to see how deep a market it is. We’ve shown it to many specialty grocers — the Sprouts and Newflowers and Whole Foods of the world.”

Whole Foods in particular knows it has extremely loyal customers in Oak Cliff, Geisler says, in part because one of the Whole Foods Oak Lawn store managers lives in our neighborhood.

But “they cannot figure out if there are enough real Whole Foods types of customers to support a Whole Foods type of store,” Geisler says. “There’s a real need, and a sophisticated, educated, quality-conscious customer. All the grocers are saying, ‘I see those customers, but are there enough of them?’

“I think it’s a matter of time. Oak Cliff is continuing to turn over, and lot of people are buying homes and updating. It’s one of my favorite markets.”

A number of large retailers are starting to look seriously at Oak Cliff, whether neighbors want them or not. Geisler mentions Target as one such retailer and says that “a huge theater needs to service that population somehow.” The challenge for both is land availability.

“Oak Cliff is very built out, so trying to find a larger parcel for a Target is hard,” Geisler says, “and the land values are expensive enough that it’s almost prohibitive at times.”

This won’t be enough of a barrier for much longer, predicts Mark Miranda. He and partner Craig Schenkel own and manage various properties in our neighborhood, including Jimmy John’s and medical offices on the corner of Bishop and Colorado across from Methodist hospital, and Café Brazil, Anytime Fitness and others at the corner of Bishop and Davis.

“A real estate representative from fill-in-the-blank company, I’m assuming that they have to make so many deals a year to justify their existence at the company,” Miranda says. “It’s a lot easier to go to Preston and Forest, Frisco, Rockwall. There are corners there with 10 acres, and the demographics are appropriate. I think the demographics are appropriate in Oak Cliff; it’s just finding a space.”

Miranda believes the chains are seeing the success of independent stores in our neighborhood and are changing their thinking. He hears from real estate brokers that major companies have demanded the brokers to “get creative and find us a spot” in Oak Cliff.

“I think one person or one company takes that leap, and that others will follow that herd mentality,” Miranda says.

Jackson, a Kessler Park resident, says he hopes his mixed-use project will be the tipping point. Sylvan | Thirty’s design includes roughly 11,000 square feet for the grocer anchor, spaces for residential and office, and more than 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

“Our site sits at a very lucrative location,” Jackson says. “It serves truly as a bridge — from a macro standpoint between North and South Dallas, and on a micro standpoint, it serves as a bridge between Oak Cliff and West Dallas.”

Monte Anderson lives in our neighborhood and owns Options Real Estate, a firm focusing on properties in Oak Cliff and Southern Dallas. He also owns the Belmont Hotel caddy corner from Jackson’s development.

Anderson agrees with Jackson that “right now at this time in history, the only place a grocery store would go is Sylvan and I-30,” which would “take care of all of Kessler and all of the traffic going to Grand Prairie and Arlington.”

As for any other soft good stores — textiles, clothing and such — “it’s coming, that’s all I can tell you.” Anderson is on a personal mission to convince Buffalo Exchange, a national consignment store with an independent feel, to move into our neighborhood.

But according to Kerstin Block, owner of Buffalo Exchange, when her Lower Greenville store managers visited Bishop Arts, they reported back to her that “it’s just too slow over there.”

Bishop Arts has the vibe she’s looking for in a Buffalo Exchange locale — “artsy people, people who are into fashion, people who like to hang out at coffee shops, go to clubs” — but her other essential in a location is walking traffic. Bishop Arts is “just really dead,” Block says, “except for maybe Saturday nights, but we’re not really a nighttime business.”

Anderson’s other main target is American Apparel, known for keeping its clothing manufacturing inside the United States. He points out the American Apparel store in the Montrose area of Houston, “right in the middle of nothing — stuff that looks just like Bishop Arts. They’ve just got more density down there right now.”

Anderson is not a fan of density for density’s sake. As a board member and past president of the Congress for the New Urbanism North Texas Chapter, he is more interested in “quality density built into the fabric” — three or four stories of residential units integrated with retail, all of it “walkable”, or drawing customers that could walk, cycle or ride metro transit to the site. This is the kind of retail that would work with Oak Cliff’s terrain and appeal to its customer base, Anderson believes.

But traditional retailers don’t usually think in these terms, he says.

“They want to see a big box, have all the cars in a parking lot, and get in, get their products and get out,” Anderson says.

This suburban style of retail won’t work in the urban environment of Oak Cliff, Anderson says.

For the most part, he says, “we haven’t learned yet to be urban in Dallas. If we had, they would come over to Oak Cliff and say, ‘Oh my god, look at the buying power.’ ”


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Oak Cliff.