Charles Cuthbert knows moving day will come soon for his business. It’s the price of progress.
He’s not sure when he’s moving, exactly, but he knows the dance studio he owns and operates in downtown Sandy Springs can’t stay put. He’s already looking for a new home.
“We are looking for another place, however we haven’t found one yet,” he said. “It’s hard to find a place. It’s hard to find a place like we’ve had. We’re just trying to balance the realities between our wishes and our budget.”
Cuthbert operates the Atlanta Ballroom Dance Centre, a 7,500-square-foot, mirror-walled dance studio in the Hilderbrand Court Shopping Center. His studio provides lessons in tango, swing, rhumba, cha-cha and a variety of other dance styles.
The business, he says, has operated for more than half a century. Cuthbert bought it in 2005 and has operated in the same location the entire time. Now, Cuthbert and the owners of other businesses located at Hilderbrand Court suddenly find themselves looking for new locations.
Hilderbrand Court stands at the intersection of Roswell Road and Hilderbrand Drive. That’s just a few hundred yards from Sandy Springs’ planned new City Center, a $200 million project city officials say will create a performing arts center, a city office building, parks, and places to live and eat.
Developments such as the City Center spin off more development. Hilderbrand Court recently was rezoned for a new complex that will create more than 300 apartments and 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of new shops in place of the aging, single-story shopping center. The planned mixed-use complex, being developed by Mill Creek, is one of several projects proposed around the City Center project.
“It’s like this whole Roswell Road [area] is a giant Etch-A-Sketch and Sandy Springs is going shake, shake, shake…,” said Ian McPherson, owner of Ruin, a skateboard shop he started in 17 years ago in “this exact space” in Hilderbrand Court.
His narrow shop, crowded with skateboards and clothes, is the only place his business ever has been located, he said.
The coming change angers some affiliated with current businesses.
“It is heartbreaking that this development is forcing this [Atlanta Ballroom Centre] business to close,” Cindy Johnson, an instructor at the dance center, said in an email. “Atlanta Ballroom is a legend in the dance community. … Most of the other businesses in the center have been in this location many years also.”
But Cuthbert, McPherson and other business owners say they aren’t surprised that they’re going to have to relocate. They’ve watched the public discussions about what’s coming. Cuthbert said he attended Sandy Springs Planning Commission meetings where the project was discussed.
Some of the kind of shops in the old shopping center – nail salons, a smoke shop, a thrift store – don’t fit the image Sandy Springs city officials are shooting for in the city’s new downtown development, they say.
“Here’s the deal: Sandy Springs is changing in an enormous way,” Cuthbert said. “When it became a city, that put Sandy Springs on a new trajectory. I think they’re making it a modern [city] on the perimeter of Atlanta. Where we are is directly across from where the new City Hall will be. I can’t imagine us having a dance studio in that valuable piece of property.”
So, for long-time tenants of Hilderbrand Court, it’s time to move on. McPherson says he’s talking to a possible new landlord in Dunwoody, where the city operates a skate park.
Bruce Alterman, owner of The Brickery, a two-decade-old restaurant that has become a Sandy Springs landmark, says he’s looking at a bigger location elsewhere in the city. He said he and his wife, Sally, are also seeking an operating partner interested in getting involved with the business. “Over the next several months, The Brickery will no longer be operating at its current location,” he said.
Other business owners also expect to have to find new locations by the end of the year.
“We’ve got to just move,” said David Besay, who said he’s managed the Paint Unlimited store in the shopping center for nearly 18 years. “I’ve never had to move before. I know that’s a lot of work. …It’s sad to see business leaving Sandy Springs.”
Kwang Lee W. Yi, owner of Sushi Mio, says he plans to take his time before deciding what to do after closing his restaurant, which has been in operation at the center since 1999 and which he’s owned since 2003. “I don’t have any plan,” he said. “I need to take a break. Since I came to this country 25 years ago, I have never taken a break, taken a vacation.”
Still, he thinks he’s too young to retire, so he plans to take several months off and then he’ll figure out what to do next.
Several of Hilderbrand Court’s business owners worry they will face higher rents after moving. They also expect rents for space in the new development will be higher than those in Hilderbrand Court.
In fact, McPherson said it was the shopping center’s low rents that helped him get his business up and running when he started the shop as a 22-year-old skater being financed by his mother. He opened his shop in Sandy Springs originally, he said, because it lay at the center of the area where metro Atlanta skateboarders lived.
“No one would lease to me – because it was a skate shop – except this mall,” he said one recent afternoon as he assembled a skateboard for a customer. “Can we find someone to lease to us [now]? Well, now we’ve been around 17 years, paying rent.”
So he believes he’ll find a new landlord. Several other business owners believe they will, too. They just know they have to move quickly.
“The wrecking ball is coming sometime this year,” Cuthbert said.