Moving in

As Oklahoma City has
improved its image on the national stage, thanks to the Oklahoma City
Thunder and the opening of Whole Foods Market and Sunflower Farmers
Market, others that had so far bypassed the metro area — sometimes in
favor of Tulsa — are coming, or at least sniffing around.

For
Dave & Buster’s, general manager Bob Ball says it was all about
demographics. The recently opened arcade and eatery opened a smaller
version of its traditional concept, yet 6,000 square feet larger than
the Tulsa store, making Oklahoma City a test market. He says some of the
larger markets have locations that are 70,000 square feet or more; the
Oklahoma City location is 23,805 square feet.

“This
is actually the very first store in this prototype,” Ball says. “This
is a store we are looking at being able to go into smaller markets.”

While
local retail experts might not want Oklahoma City to be portrayed as a
smaller market, Ball says the company does not see the city as inferior;
instead, there are simply fewer people than in places such as Atlanta,
Miami and Philadelphia, with populations of several million. The
Oklahoma City metro area, on the other hand, has a population of about
1.2 million.

right Anthropologie

“We’re looking at population base,” he says. “It fits it perfectly here.”

Sure,
many have noticed larger chains opening, but Alison Oshel, community
redevelopment director with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, says the
city has experienced an influx of smaller stores staking claim or
expanding here. But there is still work to do.

“Penn
Square Mall has added a number of high-profile, smaller national
tenants, including Pandora and Vans,” she says. “These are smaller
users, but every bit as impactful to the consumer’s attitude about their shopping experience in Oklahoma City.”

Then there are other stores
that Oshel hopes will take a closer look at Oklahoma City, noting
H&M and Lululemon Athletica. She says the chamber has been trying to
recruit those brands and others, while some come calling on their own.

She says she is in hot
pursuit of the aforementioned stores, as well as grocery stores Trader
Joe’s, Fresh Market and Sprouts. She also would like to see In-N-Out
Burger, which opened its first Texas stores last year, and California
Pizza Kitchen.

Getting them here is
another matter. “Since they all have access to their own internal
research, what we bring to the table is the ability to inform them of
why our market dynamics are fantastic, even when their own research
department has decided that we don’t meet their criteria,” Oshel says.
“We spend a good deal of time touting our low cost of living, high
disposable income, growing income, increased personal wealth and, not
least, the ease of transportation within the entire city.”

Case in point: Whole Foods.
Oklahoma City did not meet its demographic threshold, but once the
store opened, it was reported as one of the strongest openings in the
chain’s history.

Oshel says small fish
follow the big fish, and fish do swim in schools. For every large retail
win, several smaller ones are likely to follow.

Looking at the successes of
2011, Oshel says perhaps the word is simply getting around that
Oklahoma City can support specialty and high-end retail.

“It’s hard to know what
exactly is driving the new activity,” she says. “I happen to believe
that it is the sum of all the good news that is gaining us new
attention.”

Photo by Shannon Cornman

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