LeMond Crayton-Hart can only liken it to a roller-coaster ride: His first vintage menswear boutique, House of LeMond, an eclectic shop he opened in 2013 in Area 15 near NoDa, was the car pulling out of the station.
His move to a bigger location off Monroe Road in southeast Charlotte was the strenuous, clickety-clack ascent up the hill.
And last month, he reached a surprising and exhilarating apex – the chance at an $800-a-month, three-year lease on a prime storefront space uptown at 116 W. 4th St., within shouting distance of bustling Tryon Street.
“The only thing I can do is raise my hands in exhilaration,” Crayton-Hart said earlier this week from his new uptown shop, a masculine dapper-den with jazz on the speakers, incense burning, racks of vintage and gently used men’s clothing and shoes, baskets of ties and pocket squares, and decorative cases holding cigars and lapel pins.
The bargain rent was offered to Crayton-Hart with matchmaking help from Charlotte Center City Partners, in part because of city leaders’ and the leaseholder’s desire to have more “soft retail” uptown. The spot had been occupied for years by custom men’s clothier Abbeydale, but owner David Watkins wanted a more private location for his by-appointment-only services. (Abbeydale is now at 112 S. Tryon St.)
So when the 900-square-foot spot became vacant, Chris Hemans, director of retail for Charlotte Center City Partners, brought in Crayton-Hart and a handful of other local business owners to have a look. Hemans’ job is to help match businesses with spots uptown, although the decision to bring in House of LeMond was ultimately made by the space’s leaseholder.
Crayton-Hart, who calls fashion his “ministry” and customers his “kings,” said he took one look at the space and started crying.
“I could tell from the feel, the aura, the spirit – just the windows. This has always been a dream for me, being uptown.”
Crayton-Hart has long had a following in Charlotte’s fashion and small-business scene, and is known for his dedication to the community: He has given suits and fashion advice to unemployed men trying to land and keep a job and, for years, has sponsored Saturday lunches for homeless people near his former shop location near NoDa. (His store is not consignment, but he welcomes donations of gently used clothing for him to sell, or to give to those in need.)
The move from there to Monroe Road brought more square footage, he said, but it was low on foot-traffic and many months he was barely turning a profit.
Within the last year, he brought in new business partners: Sheena Pickett, who operates Alpha Male Nail Care, and Sterling Green, who runs a shoeshine business. They operate out of his space and pay a portion of the lease. Both made the move to the new location.
Once he was offered the space uptown, Crayton-Hart found a tenant to assume his lease on Monroe Road, and worked night and day to get the new space ready to open. The upfitting took just two weeks.
And in the few days since the store opened, foot traffic has been immense, Crayton-Hart said. He’s already increasing his influence beyond the walls of his store, planning events with local leaders and Friday lunchtime “dapper” walks through uptown, when he’ll offer men a complimentary pocket square or lapel pin, as well as a coupon for discounts at other uptown businesses he connects with.
On Wednesday, veteran Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police detective Garry McFadden walked in with an armful of suits for Crayton-Hart to distribute to those who need them. And shopper Barry Schwartz, who works at nearby Packard Place, showed up with vintage cameras for Crayton-Hart’s window display: He swapped them for a vintage phone Schwartz’s son had fallen in love with on a prior visit.
Hemans, of Charlotte Center City Partners, said he believes the House of LeMond “experience” will draw shoppers.
Crayton-Hart “is from Charlotte and has a passion for Charlotte, and has a great story. It was a great marriage of individual space and a concept coming together at the same time,” Hemans said. “Everything is about having an experience now. When you step in here, it’s like you’re taking a step back in time.”
A recent study of uptown’s offerings showed a 5:1 ratio of restaurants to shopping, Hemans said. “When you look at soft goods throughout uptown, whether it’s shoes or apparel, there are lots of categories we need to work on to try to attract.
“This is at least a step in the right direction.”