Why Retail Space in the Booming Atlanta Market Is Getting Harder to Find

On a September afternoon last year, Louis Vuitton offered its own version of southern hospitality when the Paris luxury brand hosted a trunk show at Atlanta’s historic Biltmore Hotel.

Influencers, stylists and top-tier clients mingled over cocktails and bubbly before sitting down beneath glittering ballroom chandeliers to preview artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière’s fall collection.

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This marked the first time the maison hosted such an event in Atlanta — and judging by the enthusiastic reaction from guests during the shopping portion of the afternoon, there was abundant demand for its apparel, footwear and accessories.

Inside the Louis Vuitton fall ’23 presentation and trunk show at Atlanta’s Biltmore Hotel.
Inside the Louis Vuitton fall ’23 presentation and trunk show at Atlanta’s Biltmore Hotel.

Indeed, brands and retailers — across all segments of the market — reported to FN that Atlanta is a high-performing city for fashion and footwear.

Matt Lafone, president of The Athlete’s Foot, which is based in the city, said, “From my point of view, Atlanta has become a top-three sneaker market behind New York and L.A.”

Giuseppe Zanotti has had a boutique in the city’s upscale Phipps Plaza mall since 2013 and has seen more luxury competitors enter the area to capitalize on its increasingly affluent clientele.

Antony Goureau, managing partner of Giuseppe Zanotti in Atlanta, noted that — unlike the brand’s Miami and New York stores — his customers tend to be locals rather than tourists, with some of those customers being artists like Usher, Cardi B, Missy Elliott, Jennifer Lopez and numerous athletes and actors working and living in the area.

“Atlanta has become a hub for creativity and entertainment,” said Goureau. “We have a lot of high-end customers that are shopping here, and we have a lot of stylists who pick up shoes for clients or photo shoots.”

Giuseppe Zanotti’s Atlanta store.
Giuseppe Zanotti’s Atlanta store.

The city’s booming economy and growing population has resulted in a strong retail real estate market.

Daniel Duque, a retail associate from the Atlanta office of brokerage firm CBRE, noted that, with the rise of hybrid and remote work since the pandemic, Atlanta’s central business districts have stagnated, but intown neighborhoods like Toco Hills and Summerhill are on the rise — plus anything along the wildly successful BeltLine trail project. And longtime retail strongholds like Buckhead and Midtown remain key destinations.

Rental rates remain favorable as well, averaging $33 per square foot in Buckhead and $32 in Midtown, according to CBRE Econometric Advisors. (That compares with $669 per square foot in Manhattan’s prime retail corridors.)

Julie Hogg, CEO of the streetwear hotspot Wish Atlanta, said, “The growth here in the last five years is just unheard of. Everywhere you look, there’s some sort of development project in all the neighborhoods. And for retail, it’s a great time for the Atlanta consumer to just have new options in terms of places to shop.”

Wish ATL
Wish Atlanta opened its doors in 2006 in the city’s funky Little Five Points area.Courtesy of Wish ATL

But retailers looking to break into the Atlanta market may face logistical challenges. Availability for retail space is at a historic low, with only a 4 percent vacancy rate at year’s end, according to CBRE. And just 62,000 square feet of new space was under construction.

“Pricing for land to develop retail is the highest it’s ever been, so that’s making retail developers think twice, simply because they can make the numbers work,” said Duque. “And construction costs have also made it not financially feasible to build a lot of new strip centers.”

Current players in the market have gotten creative as a result. Last year, The Athlete’s Foot redesigned its existing location in Midtown’s Atlantic Station, to test out a new store concept. “The neighborhood that surrounds it has a good mix of demographics from a racial standpoint and with a higher household income,” said Lafone. “You have a lot of nicer high-rises and a lot of professional athletes live there. We thought it could be a litmus test for different kinds of stores.”

Meanwhile, The Whitaker Group — which has multiple retail banners in the city, including A Ma Maniére and Social Status — opted to construct a new five-story building in the Sweet Auburn district downtown. The first two floors will house the next A Ma Maniére door, while the top levels will be home to the company’s Living boutique hotel concept and its Eats dining experience. The project is set to open this year in the spring or summer.

A Ma Maniere Atlanta
A rendering of the A Ma Maniere flagship slated to open in Atlanta in mid-2024.Courtesy of The Whitaker Group

If competition for space intown has become too heated, Duque said there’s still plenty of opportunity outside Atlanta’s I-285 perimeter, particularly on the south side — one of the fastest growing parts of the metro area and home to Trilith Studios, which produces many of the Marvel films.

Lafone said The Athlete’s Foot is eyeing opportunities in those markets, as well as suburban markets like Newnan, Conyers and Macon. “Because Atlanta has been such a huge hub for most people, a lot of retailers tend to forget about these other places,” he said. “We don’t need every store to be a $5 million store. We just want to make sure that it’s in the right communities.”

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