Vacant retail spaces aren't necessarily a sign of an unstable downtown, as pointed out in a recent study.
Downtown shoppers may be surprised at the sight of a "For Lease" sign in the window of a business, but it isn't necessarily a sign of hard times for downtown business owners.
Contrary to some perceptions, a study prepared by the Kansas University Small Business Development Center shows just how stable downtown Lawrence has been from 1985 to 1995.
"There's a perception that there is a high turnover rate, and what we wanted to do is to just look at that to see if it actually was so," said Mike O'Donnell, director of the KUSBDC.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 53 percent of businesses typically don't make it past their fourth birthday. So, in any given retail area over the period of 10 years, one to three different businesses typically would occupy any one particular address.
What the "Mass. Street Study" pointed out is that Downtown Lawrence is no different than most typical retail business areas.
The majority of Massachusetts Street locations were home to only one or two businesses during the study period. Properties showing the highest tenant turnover were 814 Mass. and 914 Mass., at five businesses apiece. The study shows that 26 percent of business locations in the downtown area had only one tenant over the study period.
In addition to providing a 10-year account of all of the businesses from the 600 block to the 1100 block of Massachusetts., the study provides an average number to measure turnover per block over the 10 years surveyed.
The average turnover number was determined by taking the sum of locations that have had at least two businesses during the 10-year period, divided by the total number of locations. The numbers range from 0 to 1 -- zero meaning no turnover, 1 meaning all businesses in a block turned over at least once during the 10-year period.
The turnover numbers for Massachusetts Street block by block are:
- .63 for the 600 block
- .54 for the 700 block
- .6 for the 800 block
- .53 for the 900 block
- .52 for the 1000 block
- .36 for the 1100 block.
In all, 66 percent of locations along downtown Massachusetts Street had only one or two businesses.
While there are some vacant spaces for lease or for sale downtown, real estate agent Kelvin Heck said the best locations can go quickly.
"There's not a lot of vacant spots, first of all," said Heck, a commercial sales and leasing agent for Stephens Real Estate, 2701 W. Sixth.
"Still, the 700 and 800 block probably are most in demand. It definitely seems to taper off at that (south) end, but with Play It Again Sports and the new Bagel and Bagel going in downtown, they are definite influences at that end of town."
Lawrence business owner Galen Tarman recently purchased the former Raney Drug store, 921 Mass., and said turnover downtown can also be attributed to stores positioning for bigger and better locations.
"We're metamorphosing this (921 Mass. location) into a contemporary furniture store," said Tarman, owner of Blue Heron Bedding, 937 Mass. "We're basically tripling our space from the old store from 2,000-square-feet to 6,000-square-feet."
Tarman said that after being in business for 15 years in Lawrence -- 10 years of which has been downtown -- turnover just seems normal.
With the development of new stores in the 1000 block and 1100 block of Massachusetts, O'Donnell said, businesses throughout the entire downtown have been stabilizing in recent years.
"With the Riverfront Plaza, that sort of gravitated everything to the north end of the downtown, and we didn't see the same kind of stability further south," O'Donnell said.
"Essentially, the downtown is now becoming more equally viable."