Broughton Street Then, Now and Tomorrow

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Retail stalwarts reflect on the enduring draw of Savannah’s high street and their hopes for its future

Written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY
Photography by PETER COLIN MURRAY

KASEY WIDMYER AND HER TWIN SISTER, KIT, grew up in a shop. After school, they steamed clothes with their mom, Marie, who owned a fashion boutique in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. So, following in her stylish footsteps came naturally. 

In 2020, the mom-daughters trio took a gamble when they expanded Marmalade Fresh Clothing to Brooklyn, New York’s Greenpoint neighborhood, all the while keeping an eye on other cities for additional potential locations — including Savannah. The Widmyers first felt the magic of Broughton Street during a weekend visit in 2017.

Woman standing outside a clothing boutique
Marie Widmyer owns Marmalade Fresh Clothing along with her daughters, Kasey and Kit.

“We’ve always loved walkable downtown areas and shopping streets,” Kasey says. And it’s no secret that Broughton Street is among the nation’s best. The same year of their trip, USA Today named it one of the 10 great American shopping streets

During that auspicious weekend trip, the Widmyer trio paused to take a photo in front of 212 W. Broughton. Something about that circa-1900 storefront caught their attention. Fast-forward to summer 2023: the Widmyers debuted Marmalade at the same address. “It came full circle,” says Kasey, who now splits time between cities.

Clothes hanging on racks in a boutique
Marmalade Fresh Clothing

In the years in between, however, the streetscape received a significant makeover. In 2020, the City of Savannah began a multimillion-dollar streetscape transformation, including new brick paver sidewalks, parking, crosswalks, the creation of a “festival zone” between Whitaker and Drayton streets, lighting, landscaping, bike racks, benches, accessible sidewalk ramps and major underground utility work. 

After myriad unforeseen delays and challenges, in March 2023, the city celebrated the completion of the project’s first phase, spanning from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Drayton Street. A year later, luxury retailers like Marmalade are seeing increased foot traffic — and are readying for more as the Hostess City grows.

Certified Fresh

Today, Marmalade brims with bright and playful pieces from designer brands such as Anine Bing, Ganni, Simon Miller, Staud and Stine Goya, plus a curated collection of designer vintage handbags. Kasey says they are still learning the preferences of their Southern clientele, as the climate and seasonality are different from New York and northern Idaho. Still, the Marmalade ethos — the real reason people shop in the store — remains the same. 

“We really want our customers to come in and be inspired by our decor, our music and the overall feeling they have,” Kasey says. She wants the in-store experience to create a fun memory for anyone who stops by — even if they just want to browse the beautiful clothes and talk with a stylist. In the modern digital age, Kasey knows that having human interaction is key to Marmalade’s enduring success. Instagram is a helpful tool, and many people browse the website before they come into the store, she adds; however, most of their sales still happen in the physical locations. 

“Having that personal connection is really meaningful,” Kasey says. “That will always be core to who we are.”

Jewelry store building exterior
Levy Jewelers at the corner of Bull and Broughton streets

Diamonds Are Forever

Like the daughters behind Marmalade, Lowell Kronowitz also grew up in his family trade. As the fourth-generation owner of Levy Jewelers, the Savannah native continues a tradition that started in 1900.

“My great-grandparents were very entrepreneurial, which is code these days for they came here with nothing. They built a family business with blood, sweat, time, energy and effort,” he says. “I just get to stand on their shoulders nearly 125 years later. I’ve got to be very proud of where I come from and support it. I created none of this — I just get to sustain this if I’m lucky.” 

Kronowitz’s earliest memories of Broughton Street date back to his childhood in the 1960s. “It was the center of town,” he says. There was a Woolworths and a McRae’s, he recalls, but for the most part, the majority of businesses were family-owned. “Those were the kind of places where people would dress up to shop. It was a different world and a different time.”

Then, Savannah’s busiest street experienced a decline, especially as the historic downtown fell out of fashion in favor of the suburban parking lots and the malls. “Broughton Street had become so tired, you could have fired a hose up the street and not hit a soul,” Kronowitz says, describing the city then as insular, stagnant and unsafe. 

Leopold's Ice Cream neon sign
Leopold’s Ice Cream and Trustees Theater

Back then, the jewelry store was in its original location at 101 E. Broughton St., which is now home to Rivers & Glen Trading Company. Kronowitz is like a walking encyclopedia of other businesses and buildings that are no more. He can also point out the few family names that are still standing — among them Leopold’s Ice Cream, albeit not in the original location, and Bradley Lock and Key Shop, tucked around the corner on East State Street. Globe Shoe Company has remained a beloved staple since the 1930s when siblings and owners Amy and John Sussman’s grandfather led the shoe store.

Some changes are for the better, Kronowitz notes, reflecting on when Savannah was racially segregated. “That wasn’t one of our greater moments,” Kronowitz says. “I am very proud of my great-uncle Jack, who was one of the first to offer credit to the African American communities here.” He also recalls the 1994 publication of John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and how the book ignited a Savannah renaissance — a flame that is still burning 30 years later.

Mixing It Up

After “Midnight” became a smash hit, remaining on The New York Times bestseller list for a record 216 weeks, Savannah began to shed its identity as a sleepy Southern town. Meanwhile, Savannah College of Art and Design  also played a critical role in the city’s preservation, including converting the circa-1925 Levy’s Department Store building into Jen Library and restoring the circa-1946 Trustees Theater.

Real estate maven Lori Judge of Judge Realty has had a front-row seat to the evolution. She arrived in 1999 and recalls downtown as a “ghost town” with a lot of vacant, boarded-up buildings. In 2005, she founded her full-service, boutique firm, specializing in residential and commercial sales leasing and property management for some of the high street’s biggest landowners.

When Levy Jewelers moved into its current home — a modern, white circa-1940s building on the corner of Bull and Broughton — following a significant renovation in 2012, Judge helped Kronowitz rent the former building to Rivers & Glen Trading Company.

People walking on a brick sidewalk in front of historical buildings on Broughton Street in Savannah, Georgia
Faherty

More recently, in 2022, Judge Realty leased 109 W. Broughton — a 4,693-square-foot retail store formerly occupied by Victoria’s Secret — to Faherty, a hip clothing brand based in New York and focused on its environmental impact. After a long buildout, the new store opened in December 2023, marking the brand’s second location in Georgia, following Lenox Square in Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood. In 2023, Judge Realty completed three leases on Broughton, including Marmalade, OMG Candy and Byrd’s Famous Cookies. These represent half of the six total new leases with an average rental rate of $49 per square foot — $10 higher than in 2020, according to data from CoStar, a world leader in commercial real estate information.

Warby Parker — the eyewear company known for starting as an online-only retailer before debuting its high-design boutique in high-income markets — plans to debut at 226 W. Broughton St. this year — leaving only a handful of available spaces on the street.

“Having a mix of local, regional and national is great for everybody. It ticks all the boxes, and it makes it a more curated experience,” Judge says, adding that the rental rates are a direct result of the demand and strong co-tenancy. “You don’t want the high street to be the mall.” 

She advises her clients to consider co-tenancy in a way that benefits everyone, with a long-term strategy in mind. “We wouldn’t want to put a vape shop next to a macaron store,” Judge says, noting that a balance of retail with food and beverage is crucial to increase time spent lingering, without cannibalizing anybody — rather, everyone rises with the curation.

Pairs of shoes in window displays of Globe Shoe Co.
Globe Shoe Co.

“Broughton is Savannah’s primary retail road,” says David Gaule, commercial real estate agent and chief operating officer of Judge Realty. “If you want to be in Savannah, if you want to be in one of the fast-growing cities in the Southeast, it’s a no-brainer. This is where you need to be.”

In some ways, the corridor could serve as a mirror to larger trends playing out in retail environments across the country. “One thing we noticed when Victoria’s Secret or Michael Kors was on the street is that when you have tourists or other people coming to visit our city, they already have those in their mall,” says Judge. “There’s a trend of wanting what you don’t see in everybody’s backyard.”

Another trend is office space being repurposed as hotels, for example. “What does that look like in the next couple of years, given that we’ve got maybe half a million square feet of office disappearing?” asks Gaule. “It’s going to change the face a little bit. You don’t want it to just be a tourist town, so how do you balance that?” 

Exterior of J. Parker Ltd. men's clothing store
J. Parker Ltd.

At J. Parker Ltd., co-owner Dale Parker agrees that the steady stream of both out-of-towners and Savannahians is the best perk of having a Broughton storefront. While her husband, Jimmy Parker, first opened the business in 1972 at the Medical Arts Shopping Center, he relocated downtown in 2005 — a full-circle move decades after he had a shoe shine stall in his father’s shop, James Q. Parker Jewelry and Watch Repair, and once worked at the former Levy’s Department Store.

“We have millions of people who walk past the door every year, so that’s great for us,” says Dale. The store recently underwent a renovation to accommodate more foot traffic — and inventory — compared to their other locations at the 12 Oaks Shopping Center, Plant Riverside District and in Bluffton, South Carolina. “We were challenged with the construction for a long time, but now that that’s completed, the street sure looks better than it ever has.”

In Good Taste

Still, sheer novelty alone isn’t enough to remain successful in retail — even with the rising foot traffic on the city’s main thoroughfare. “People want a tangible experience,” says Gaule. “On good high streets, people spend time there. You go and buy your clothes, you have a coffee, you walk around. You don’t just go into one store.”

Celebrated local brands like The Paris Market and Savannah Bee Company tapped into the experiential trend early on, with the former adding a cafe, and the latter offering free tastings and education. 

People dining at an outdoor cafe
The Paris Market

“The future of brick-and-mortar retail is experiential,” according to Amanda Dunn, national retail director for Savannah Bee Company Inside 104 W. Broughton St., shoppers can sample honey, honeycomb, body-care products and mead, with a side of education. Altogether, Dunn says the combination makes Savannah Bee Company more than a store — it’s a destination.

Dunn herself got stuck on the honey company after sampling a bottle of Tupelo, which eventually led her to a job with the company and keeping her own bee hive at home. “Back in 2008, I don’t think Savannah Bee Company knew we were ahead of the retail curve when we started educating our visitors about the magic of honeybees and honey varietals. … Years later, we know the success that has allowed us to expand our brick-and-mortar stores around the country is because we created a one-of-a-kind experience that goes beyond shopping.”

Lauren Plourde, the retail inventory manager of Savannah Bee Company’s Broughton location — a.k.a. “Bee Street” — echoes the sentiment. She first entered the hive as a customer during a road trip from Boston. “I was so enchanted by the city that I moved to Savannah a year later and applied for a job as an educator in our flagship store,” Plourde says. A decade later, she says her favorite part of working on Broughton is simultaneously connecting with guests from all over the world and locals who have lived in Savannah for generations. 

An emblem depicting Savannah's downtown squares and riverfront situated in a brick sidewalk

The Road Ahead

Local retail experts share their vision for Broughton Street’s future

“I’d like to see some really cool small businesses open up in the vacant spots. Small businesses are very important to communities and add to the character of a town.” — Kasey Widmyer, Marmalade Fresh Clothing

“We need to maintain our local flavor or otherwise we become Anywhere, U.S.A., and, quite frankly, that’s boring. We don’t need to be Every City, U.S.A. We don’t need to have a shopping district where you can buy the same things in any town you go into. A great blend of local and national stores is what keeps us unique and vibrant.”  — Lowell Kronowitz, Levy Jewelers

“I hope there is a drive to keep Broughton Street uniquely Savannah, continuing to feature locally owned shops and restaurants.” — Lauren Plourde, Savannah Bee Company

“I hope we never lose the architectural charm. It’s a beautiful street with beautiful
buildings. You don’t want to change the character of a place too much. … Things need to evolve, but you need to acknowledge your history. That’s one of the reasons I love Savannah.” — David Gaule, Judge Realty 

“So much investment has been put into Broughton Street, and we have these incredible, renovated, restored properties that can evolve and withstand time. They will be here another 100 years.” — Lori Judge, Judge Realty

“Maybe one Saturday a month, close the street to vehicle traffic and make it completely walkable. … It would be fun to have live music and art, and let everybody enjoy the day.” — Dale Parker, J. Parker Ltd

Growing Pains

Commuting to work isn’t always as sweet as the local honey, however. “Parking for employees is definitely a challenge logistically and financially,” Dunn says. On rainy days, the lane behind Savannah Bee Company retains ankle-deep water, making deliveries difficult. 

When the street underwent its transformation, Dunn notes they saw a slowdown of in-store visitors, but once the work was finished on the block, shoppers returned at a rate that exceeded pre-pandemic foot traffic and sales.

The construction, which came amid the pandemic and supply chain delays, added to the headaches for some — and worse for others who closed doors permanently. City leaders have yet to announce a timeline for a second phase to extend the same streetscape from Drayton Street to East Broad Street. 

Man getting a haircut and woman having her hair died in a salon
B. Street Salon

Along the east stretch is B. Street Salon. Co-owner and Savannah native Monica McMasters is frustrated with the incompleteness of the streetscape project. “I would like to see the city adopt the plan they said they would,” she says.

After stints living in New York City and San Diego, California, and working for Paul Mitchell, McMasters returned home and opened the salon in 1997, with help from a $10,000 urban renewal grant. As one of the trailblazers of Broughton’s renaissance, she recalls people asking her if she was “insane,” but she believed in the potential. “We knew it would happen; it was happening all over the country,” she says of the urban renewal.

Her fortitude as a property owner has outlasted larger developers and bigger names who have come and gone during B. Street Salon’s past 25 years. “It’s been so fun to be part of the change,” McMasters says. Her favorite part about being a mainstay? The friendliness and the camaraderie among her neighbors — like Frederika Feketé, who owns and lives above Java Burrito, one door over. “There is still such a local feel,” McMasters says. 

Two women dressed in black and standing outside a salon
B. Street Salon co-owners Monica McMasters and Laura Carter

She hopes that feeling remains the same, although she fears rising real estate costs could deter future entrepreneurs “unless building owners give them a good deal on rent,” she says, or more grants become available to small business owners. “It’s hard for a salon to even come downtown now because of the cost of living. The rents are really too high for our formula to work.”

Back at the corner of Broughton and Bull, Kronowitz is optimistic about the city’s future. With phase one of the street transformation complete, he hopes city leaders have gotten smarter about managing similar projects moving forward and will better understand the impact of construction on local businesses. He wants to see innovative solutions to make parking easier to find, keep shoppers feeling safe and ensure the high street remains a place for regulars to frequent along with tourists.

“We need our local support,” he says. “We can’t sustain ourselves without Savannahians.”

Shop Around

Add these locally owned retailers to your shopping list

Midge (402 W. Broughton St.): With an eye for elevated, timeless closet staples, this chic boutique focuses on American-made goods and women’s clothing.

Dottie’s Market (207 W. Broughton St.): From fresh coffee and breakfast sandwiches, to grab-and-go lunch options to dinner at the chef’s counter, plus a market stocked with wine, Southern provisions, gifts and more, there’s something for everyone inside this all-day destination.  

Morgan Rae Boutique (301B W. Broughton St.): Hurry into the haute space (located above Vineyard Vines) to find the perfect fit, whether you’re in need of green for St. Patrick’s Day, a date-night look or a spring wardrobe refresh.

The Posh Loft (317 W. Broughton St.): Find trending styles and must-have pieces from brands like Sanctuary, Spanx, Veronica M, Show Me Your Mumu and more inside this family-owned boutique.

River Street Sweets (32 E. Broughton St.): The iconic institution added this new location in 2023, with its tried-and-true pralines and other treats. More than a candy store, shoppers can taste samples, watch emonstrations and create custom gift boxes.

Capital Bee Company (421 E. Broughton St.): More than a honey boutique, consider this a one-stop shop for entertaining essentials and all things Savannah.


Find this feature and much more in the March/April issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!