If you have driven eastbound on Independence Boulevard, then you have passed by Coliseum Center, an almost completely empty 18-acre shopping center. Only one store remains open: Earth Angel. If you are like me, you have wondered about what they sold and how they have survived for so long in a run-down strip mall.
My curiosity led me to Paul Williams, owner of Earth Angel. I had preconceived notions about what Earth Angel sold and what the owner might be like. I was dead wrong on all of it. Williams is unassuming and open. He is from Illinois and an accountant by training. He moved to Charlotte when he transferred with a manufacturing company. If not for the whips and cuffs hanging behind him while we talked, it would have been an ordinary interview.
Williams has owned Earth Angel for 16 years since buying it from its previous owner. The store, although not always in this location, has been around for more than 20 years selling dance wear to adult club workers.
According to Williams, Earth Angel remained open during the construction on Independence because they serve a specific market.
“We are really a niche business,” he said. Williams fumbled a bit when he tried to describe the groups of people who buy his merchandise: “I am trying to be diplomatic in how I say it.”
Earth Angel caters to a variety of people who have a need for clothing that may be worn in the home or in an adult club. Fifty percent of his customers work in the adult club industry as exotic dancers. (There are 15 adult clubs in Charlotte.) The other 50 percent are couples, pole dance enthusiasts, cross-dressers and body-builders.
Earth Angel carries dance wear, bikinis, shoes, corsets, lingerie and a small supply of “50 Shades of Grey” type of equipment. Pole dance studios send their fitness class clients to purchase items from the shop. Earth Angel also carries heels and boots up to size 14, able to accommodate a man’s foot.
When Williams took over Earth Angel, the shopping center was vibrant with an Office Max, Eckerd Drug, Big Lots and other smaller shops.
“Independence is radically different than 10 years ago,” Williams said. “Over 250 businesses have left. They have basically built an expressway through the city.”
Over the past four years, Coliseum Center has been sold a few times to out-of-state corporations. Williams’ rent has remained about the same since he took over in 2000. Williams said that the new property owners want an anchor store like a Home Depot or Lowe’s to take over the larger space.
Earth Angel does not advertise and is not active on social media. Their website is limited and merchandise is not sold online. Williams depends on word-of-mouth for business. Customers come from as far as West Virginia, South Carolina and all parts of North Carolina.
Williams said, “If I had a crystal ball, I would not have stayed here this long, but sometimes you can’t see how things are going to turn out.”
Now that construction is completed in front of the shopping center, he does appreciate that it can be easily accessed from the highways. And there is plenty of parking, too.
Earth Angel: 3728 East Independence Blvd.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday closed
Photos: Vanessa Infanzon, Paul Williams