Despite the success he’s built at his Tulsa-based boutique-style Black Optical, Gary Black never intended to open multiple locations or even expand in the existing market.
But that changed two years ago when management for Oklahoma City’s then-new retail center, Classen Curve, began talking to Black about the fledgling shopping destination and the possibility of a second Black Optical.
“When I saw the architecture and plans for Classen Curve, I knew it was the only place we would ever expand into,” Black says. “It’s the only place that could possibly work for us. We deal in clean, progressive products, and Classen Curve sums that all up. Just like Brookside is the place to go in Tulsa in order to see things you won’t see anywhere else, Classen Curve is like that too.”
Today, Black Optical at Classen Curve is open for business and features an elegant and comfortable design that reflects the attention to the aesthetic that defines “The Curve.”
Bob Benham can relate to Black’s experience. The CEO and owner (with his wife) of famed boutique Balliet’s was inspired to move the 75-year-old business to the Curve by none other than Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon.
“Aubrey showed up at my office one day about four years ago and was asking questions about my background and plans for the business,” Benham says. “Aubrey is a visionary and I knew he had something in mind.”
Benham says that just months later, he was approached and asked if Balliet’s would anchor Classen Curve, which Chesapeake was then developing just adjacent to the company’s corporate campus.
“Because of who was planning it, I knew that this would be a (development) that contributed to the economy, which would be environmentally conscious and which would have innovative architecture. The idea was that Classen Curve was to be a walking experience like shopping in a downtown.”
Benham says a deal was struck and Balliet’s made the move to Classen Curve, where today the tony shop enjoys more than 17,000 square feet of space – a 5,000 square-foot increase over its previous location.
“This was a unique opportunity for us economically – to move from a deteriorating area to what I think is the best corner in the city,” Benham says. “We saw Balliet’s as a big part of the renaissance of Oklahoma City.”
Like Black, Benham also cites the architecture and design of Classen Curve as key appeals. Relative to the rest of Oklahoma City and even to the entire state, Classen Curve is indeed innovative and unique.
That was the plan from the get-go.
“Classen Curve represents an architectural and conceptual breakthrough for retail in Oklahoma,” McClendon says. “Oklahomans can see the high standards we set for Classen Curve simply by walking or driving through it.”
“There is nothing like this center anywhere in Oklahoma,” says Rand Elliott, the well-known Oklahoma City-based architect behind both Classen Curve and Balliet’s.
“It is indeed a new idea for Oklahoma City, and we believe one of the most extraordinary retail and restaurant centers in the United States. In essence, Classen Curve symbolizes the maturation of Oklahoma City, and it creates a truly unique place for the best locally-owned retailers and restaurateurs in our community to provide their customers with an incredible experience among businesses which have an affinity for real quality.”
Classen Curve’s trademark design element is the orientation of the outdoor shopping center. Shops face an inner courtyard-style parking lot, fostering a quieter, more private feel.
“The inward parking design is new to us, but it has been done successfully elsewhere,” says Alison Oshel, director of community redevelopment with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.
“It seemed risky at first. People are used to giant signs on the front of buildings. But consumers seem to like the environment, the feel similar to being in an enclosed area.”
Citing Penn Square Mall as the catalyst for the region, Oshel cites plans for the adjacent Triangle at Classen Curve and the anticipated opening of Whole Foods Market later this year as signs of continued economic development.
Oshel adds that Classen Curve is commanding higher rents than elsewhere in Oklahoma City outside of the mall.
“There is great buzz out there,” Oshel says.
While innovative design is an important component to Classen Curve’s appeal, its resident businesses warrant credit as well. Balliet’s and Black Optical are joined by retailers such as On A Whim, BD Home, Red Coyote and Uptown Kids; and by restaurants such as Café 501, Upper Crust Pizza, Republic Gastropub and Matthew Kenney OKC. A Barre3 also serves the community.
“People love how everything is home-grown retail,” Oshel says.
Shoppers seem to love Classen Curve if numbers are a measure.
“Business has been tremendous,” says Benham. “We’re up 46 percent since the move, even though we’re just now emerging from a recession.”
Black says his decision to expand into Classen Curve was a “no-brainer.”
“There is no other place in Oklahoma City that we would really fit,” Black says.
Like Oshel, McClendon says he believes that Classen Curve and the development of the Triangle at Classen Curve will spur additional growth.
“The opening later this year of Whole Foods will mark a new chapter in the development of the area,” McClendon says. “The Triangle at Classen Curve will be home to one of the nation’s most recognizable and respected retailers, which will prompt other exceptional national retailers to strongly consider locating here.”
In the meantime, more residents discover Classen Curve every week.
“It’s become a destination and we hope it leads to more creative development in the city,” says Oshel.