If the redevelopment of Rock Hill's "Textile Corridor" is a giant, unsolved puzzle, then it could be said that boosters on Thursday proudly touted more pieces falling into place.
Drawing comparisons to the beginnings of what they say could resemble Charlotte's SouthEnd and NoDa districts, officials on Thursday morning celebrated the arrival of high-end furniture retailer New South Interiors to the Cotton Factory in downtown Rock Hill.
Locally owned by Rock Hill residents Chip and PF Pryor, New South plans to open its doors in early April. It joins student loan collection firm Williams & Fudge as the first tenants of the Cotton Factory, a 127-year-old cotton mill renovated last year at Dave Lyle Boulevard and White Street. Downtown boosters hope the Cotton Factory will spur economic development in the Textile Corridor, a tract of land linking downtown to the Winthrop University area, and become the centerpiece for a retail revival.
"We are bullish in our expectations for downtown Rock Hill," said Chip Pryor, New South Interiors co-owner and marketing consultant, mentioning Charlotte's Dilworth and SouthEnd districts as to what's possible. "We believe Old Town Rock Hill and the Textile Corridor can become a regional destination and attract customers from Charlotte, Columbia and the Greenville-Spartanburg area."
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Pryor said New South will be modeled after Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Va. Green Front is one of the nation's premier furniture retailers, growing from a single store 40 years ago to a 15-building, 750,000-square-foot colossus today. It draws thousands of customers annually to its rural location about an hour outside Richmond.
P.F. Pryor, a local interior designer with ties to Green Front, will manage the day-to-day operations at New South Interiors. She said the store will offer premium furniture, artwork and the state's largest selection of handmade oriental rugs. With 22,000-square-feet of warehouse space, the majority of the Cotton Factory's main floor, Pryor said New South will be one of the largest furniture retailers in the Carolinas.
"What I'm trying to sell is the Mercedes of products out there," she said, holding up a dresser drawer as a prop for a crash course in quality furniture construction. "What I want to do is sell the best piece of furniture you can find within your price range that will last forever and become a family heirloom."
While a soft furniture market nationally and the lack of other major retailers nearby could present challenges for New South's long-term success, Pryor insists her concept will draw crowds. She plans to stock more than $750,000 in inventory initially, including Hickory Chair, Hancock & Moore, Sherrill and Yorkshire House, and market her showroom regionally, not just in Rock Hill.
"We all need good, quality furniture, and we all love furniture," she said. "I'm confident the furniture industry isn't going anywhere."
Pryor also is banking on the long-term benefits of the redevelopment of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. plant, the massive project being tackled by businesswoman Lynn Stephenson. Stephenson plans to demolish the plant, also known as the Bleachery, located between Wilson and Stewart streets north of the Cotton Factory, and replace it with a mix of shops, restaurants and residential units. Once completed, investors hope it becomes one of Rock Hill's signature retail and entertainment centers.
City officials hope the Cotton Factory and New South Interiors can succeed and attract future investment to the Textile Corridor.
"New South Interiors personifies the momentum we're seeing in downtown," Rock Hill City Manager Carey Smith said Thursday. "We're confident they'll be a catalyst for more retail growth in this critical area."