OH, THE weather outside's delightful, and I'm skipping down the street with my bags full, ta dum dee dum dum dum...for a Jewish lady, I sure do love my Christmas shopping.
Well, under specific circumstances. I don’t do midnight sales or barnburner specials on flatscreen TVs. I hide the credit cards from myself so I don’t wake up in January with a hangover and a bill from buying the dog her own set of Le Creuset cookware.
I also swore off malls during the holidays after I had to go all Mortal Kombat on a ferocious pack of tweenage girls while trying to procure a pair of Hello Kitty! earrings from Claire’s (what can I say, they were on someone’s Chanukah list.)
Like many of you, I do my best to boost our local economy by keeping my hard-earned dollars close to home. Locals only! was my battle cry this season as I sought out gifts made and/or sold by folks who live in my zip code.
After perusing many beautiful things in the Drayton Design District and along Liberty Street that I would have liked to buy for myself (Santa, baby, listen, I know I’m not on the list, but maybe there’s an extra Satchel clutch in that sack?), I hit Broughton Street, where I immediately found a parking space (it’s the season of miracles, after all!) and plenty of under-$20 items for everyone on my list.
For a friend, a six-pack of Southern pecan bath fizzies from Nourish. From The Salt Table, smoked paprika seasoning and lavender sugar for the children’s teachers (the mean ones got an unlabeled pinch of habañero salt, teehee.)
Before I could head down to buy bottles of honey mead from Savannah Bee Co. for my favorite neighbors, I spotted artisan Dicky Stone turning one of his exquisite wooden bowls on a lathe outside of Kobo Gallery, just off the main drag on Barnard. We chatted for a hot second with Goosefeathers proprietor Michael Meeks about this year’s real estate sweep by Ben Carter, regarded by many as the Grinch Who Stole Broughton Street.
Most pressing is the concern that as Carter refurbishes his buildings and jacks rents, big box brands will run out the locals and Savannah’s storied commercial corridor will morph into a steroidal stepchild of Rodeo Drive and the Mall of America. With new hi-profile tenants moving in, there seems to be something to this fear of encroaching homogeny.
“I just don’t want it to be a pine forest, full of the same kinds of tree,” said the sagacious Dicky, nodding his head towards the intersection where three haberdasheries owned by the same megalodon corporation now occupy three out of four corners.
I wished I had more time to talk and for a Goosefeathers whoopee pie, but I had more prezzie procuring to do.
I was still mulling over some incomplete idea of buying the forest for the trees when I sailed past a phenomenally decorated window featuring a headdressed mannequin fighting off a polar bear.
“Hey, I know that feather mohawk,” I chirped, recognizing the work of Savannah Arts Academy ingénue and style savant Troy Allen.
I pushed my way inside the shop to find a local fashion wonderland: Allen’s cropped oxford tops hanging next Brooke Atwood’s sexy lambskin t-shirts. The black-and-white elegance of April Johnston’s Mangled Courtesan sheaths shimmering across from a rack of Mamie Ruth’s Coachella-chic harem pants. Gold-coated arrowheads by M.Liz Designs laying next to Leslie Miller’s intricately-beaded bowties, the cheery playwear of Lovelane Designs on the same shelf as Well-Loved’s leather handbags.
What is this paradise? I wondered as I encountered more wares from Savannah’s cadre of working designers and jewelers, including an ingenious bicycle wrap skirt from Forest and Fin (extra buttons at the hem to prevent wardrobe malfunctions on windy days, brilliant!)
I had stumbled upon Broughton Exchange, popped-up for the holidays in the former Gaucho locale. Inspired by Manhattan’s Dover Street Market, the shop blurs the lines between art and commerce and braids them into a dazzling hybrid.
“The whole store is entirely local designers and artists,” explained manager Abbie May Hastings as she handed me a cup of complimentary PERC coffee.
“The concept is to display their collections and their stories in a well-curated space.”
The gallery ambience comes via Robby Perkins, the creative force behind the fabulous interiors of Soho, Public and Local 11 Ten. Hastings built the displays herself out of recycled palettes, and Ridley Stalling’s patriotic wood sculptures lend a festive note all on their own.
Over 22 local entrepreneurs share the floor, including candlemaker Wild Wix and whimsical floral artist Plantasia. A few already have their own storefronts but wanted a presence on Broughton for the holidays: Future on Forsyth is showcasing its choice vintage frocks, and Starland’s NOLA Jane has a satellite rack of kitten-soft sweaters.
The experiment has been a success, and while Broughton Exchange is slated to close at the end of December, plans are in the works to make its pop-up status permanent.
How fantastic! I gushed to Abbie. What a coup to have a store full of locally made art and clothing when Big Bad Ben Carter is turning Savannah into a bland suburban hellhole!
It says a lot about the depth of Abbie’s class that she didn’t flinch when she gently revealed that Broughton Exchange’s landlord and main backer is none other than...Ben Carter.
Wait, what? The same guy who wants to pour milk over Broughton and toast it all the same color? The Devil-in-A-Linen Suit Himself?
“I have been blown away by the talented locals I have met and consider them an integral component of the future of Broughton Street,” Carter explained via his publicist, Karen Guinn of Collective Marketing.
“Part of what attracted me to Savannah is the diverse culture and lifestyle that exists here, and I proudly support Broughton Exchange as a platform for locals that may otherwise not be able to support a store wholly on their own.”
WELL. This does muddy up the party line that Ben Carter Enterprises is The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Savannah.
For real, we need to be protective of our signature charms, and we never have taken kindly to outsiders. Carter’s got a reputation as a difficult fellow, and his disastrous interview in October with GPB’s Emily Jones certainly didn’t do him any PR favors.
I’ve not met the man in person, and I have no pugs in this fight. But a short list of his contributions to Broughton in 2014 seems to belie intentions to turn it into Blah Street: $300K to help the City string lights across the avenue for the first time in 50 Christmases. Bringing in famous Macy’s decorator Charles Taylor to dress the windows of empty storefronts then inviting local charities like Savannah Center for the Blind and Low Vision to personalize them. Pumping up the coffers of Savannah’s Fashion Night and Fashion Week.
He spent his own cash to develop a streetscape plan, parts of which may be incorporated into the initiative the City is taking public comment for in 2015.
Maybe the guy smashes people’s mailboxes in his spare time, but you can’t say he isn’t putting his money where his mouth is. Yeah, the rent’s gonna jump as it always has, but I’ve heard of one Broughton slumlord in particular who’s been charging triple-net for decades and won’t even fix a toilet.
Someone may egg the Absurdivan for suggesting this, but Ben Carter Might Not Actually Be the Anti-Christ.
Especially if next year he gets Mr. Taylor to decorate a Chanukah window.