'You have to be different to get people downtown.'
ALEX AND ANI INC. founder and president Carolyn Rafaelian.
PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
Downcity’s Westminster Street is a virtual smorgasbord of boutique shops with unique clothing, craft, and coffee shops lining a path from Empire Street to near Kennedy Plaza.
Specialty restaurants and Eno, a wine shop that offers tastings twice a week, helped land the street a must-see mention in The New York Times’ recent long-weekend trek to Providence as part of its “36 Hours” series.
But one block over, its parallel neighbor, Weybosset Street, is more like the proverbial stepsister than a twin when it comes to retail.
With a few exceptions, its atmosphere is much more about convenience, despite boasting the Providence Performance Arts Center.
“You have to be different to get people downtown,” said Steve Smith, owner of City Girl Cupcake at 99 Weybosset St. “It can’t be just restaurants. It’s got to be more to get people here.” Weybosset is in fact set to get one more tenant this fall when Alex and Ani, the popular Cranston-based jewelry company opens a new storefront location at 159 Weybosset. The four-story building previously housed American Apparel, a clothing store featuring goods manufactured in the United States.
The building also will house a Teas and Javas coffee shop – Alex and Ani’s newest retail venture – and the brand new AA University, which the company is billing as an extension of its corporate training program – and Seven Swords Media, the Lincoln media company Alex and Ani bought last spring and renamed from Mediapeel Inc.
“[Creator] Carolyn [Rafaelian] and I had always felt that Providence [was a place] we wanted to have a significant contribution. We hope it helps reinvigorate that whole area,” said CEO Giovanni Feroce. “This situation allowed for us to put our retail location in place and justify the balance of the building with our other efforts.”
Alex and Ani bought the Weybosset building for $3.3 million earlier this year. Plans are in the works to invest around $750,000 in renovations, most of those cosmetic, to bring it in line with the company’s established look.
The announcement came at the same time Alex and Ani revealed it had purchased Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton for $8.45 million.