When Nora Alexander was a student at Rhode Island School of Design 10 years ago, the only things that routinely drew her and her classmates into downtown Providence were live music and “dive” bars.
Little did she know then that in 2012 she would open a handmade-jewelry and paper-goods shop on Weybosset Street that aims to give people another good reason to visit the heart of the city.
“We never went across the river – downtown could almost be a scary place,” Alexander said from Noon Design, the shop she opened with fellow RISD alum Maie Liis Webb at the end of September. “Now there are dorms and so many kids, boutiques and restaurants. It’s just a more inviting place.”
Noon, which has taken over the first two floors of the former home of Providence Optical at 75 Weybosset Street, is part of the latest round of downtown shops and restaurants to open, or getting ready to open, in the second half of this year.
They include a new artisan bakery, bar, wine bar, wood-oven restaurant, student gallery and art-supply shop, skateboard-apparel store and the latest outpost of the expanding Alex and Ani jewelry empire.
The downtown boutique retail scene has been growing for many years and appears to be picking up momentum again after weathering the recession and end of the historic-tax-credit program that helped fuel it in the previous decade.
With major residential-commercial redevelopment projects soon to be completed at the Arcade and former National Grid buildings, downtown boosters are preparing for more growth on the horizon.
“The interest in the whole district has grown in the last six months,” said Joanna Levitt, director of retail leasing and marketing at Cornish Associates, the developer responsible for transforming a large chunk of Westminster Street. “We have been on this trajectory, but it is now exponential. Every year it grows that much more. Washington Street is really coming around on the tail of Westminster.”
With all of its retail space leased on Westminster Street, Cornish this year has been focused on Washington Street and the new ground-floor retail spaces added to the refurbished Biltmore Garage.
So far the developer has signed two tenants for six new storefront units.
The first was Ellie’s Bakery, which will be run by the team at Gracie’s restaurant a few blocks away on Washington and will produce handmade bread and pastries.