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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Downtown’s ever-evolving landscape a sign of vitality

High costs of doing business worry some, but that’s not stopping Ben & Jerry’s

August 10, 2005

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On a hot August day when temperatures had reached into the high 90s, Rob Paverud couldn't help but welcome news Tuesday that Ben & Jerry's is putting an ice cream shop into downtown Lawrence.

"You lick it around the edges and just keep going," Paverud, 37, said of his ice cream-eating technique. "I learned that from my mom. If I didn't clean it up, she would take it away and clean it up for me."

Downtown officials also welcomed the announcement.

Ben & Jerry's is going into the storefront at 818 Mass. that was abandoned a few months back by Roly Poly sandwich shop. Observers said the new tenant was proof that downtown retains its vitality, even in a year that - anecdotally, at least - has seen an unusual number of businesses leave and be replaced.

"The good news is, to me, there are a lot of people coming in," said George Paley, who owns eight downtown buildings. "The (empty) stores, I'm happy to say, are leasing quickly."

An informal survey Tuesday of Massachusetts Street, between Sixth and 11th streets, turned up a dozen storefronts that were in transition between tenants or had received new tenants in recent months. Only a couple of storefronts were completely empty.


Downtown shoppers pass by the empty storefront of My Father's Daughter, 844 Mass., on Tuesday. High business costs led Angela Conrad, the proprietor, to close the store. A number of downtown properties are in transition, but few stores remain empty for long. A Ben & Jerry's ice cream store is moving into a shop at 818 Mass., last occupied by Roly Poly.

Downtown shoppers pass by the empty storefront of My Father's Daughter, 844 Mass., on Tuesday. High business costs led Angela Conrad, the proprietor, to close the store. A number of downtown properties are in transition, but few stores remain empty for long. A Ben & Jerry's ice cream store is moving into a shop at 818 Mass., last occupied by Roly Poly.

Among the changes: The Toy Store, which is moving out of its longtime location at 841 Mass. to a bigger space at 936 Mass., the former longtime location of Everything But Ice. Lana Best, The Toy Store's manager, said her shop would be replaced at the old site by The Blue Dandelion, a children's furniture store.

"Lawrence is just plain growing," Best said. "Downtown has been very strong for us."

Not everybody sees the change as a blessing. Angie Conrad recently closed her business, My Father's Daughter, after six years in the building at 844 Mass.

"Between taxes, insurance and rent, it's prohibitive to have a business like mine downtown," she said.

Such concerns have the attention of City Commissioner David Schauner, who said downtown property values might be rising so fast that they're pushing established businesses out.

"I think you're going to get a certain amount of turnover, even in a super-healthy economic environment," Schauner said.

"What we're seeing is a ramp-up of values down there that's going to make it so that businesses that have a difficult time anyway ... are just going to go away."

August Dettbarn Jr., in the Douglas County Appraiser's Office, said it's true that downtown buildings generally saw a valuation increase of between 10 percent and 15 percent in 2003. But that year was an anomaly, he said. Other years have seen downtown values rise about 5 percent a year - with tax bills rising accordingly.


Lauryn Morstorf, 11, Topeka, left, helps Lana Best, right, manager of The Toy Store, clean racks for the store's new location at 936 Mass. The Toy Store, currently at 841 Mass., will make the move into their new 6,000-square-foot building later this month. Morstorf and Best were working in the store Tuesday.

Lauryn Morstorf, 11, Topeka, left, helps Lana Best, right, manager of The Toy Store, clean racks for the store's new location at 936 Mass. The Toy Store, currently at 841 Mass., will make the move into their new 6,000-square-foot building later this month. Morstorf and Best were working in the store Tuesday.

In fact, he said, appraisal values for downtown buildings have generally been lower than actual sales prices. The reason for downtown turnover, he said, is probably natural changes in the market.

Paley has owned downtown properties for more than 25 years. He said the recent turnover of Massachusetts Street businesses was higher than normal, but not enough to cause worry.

"There's been more turnover in the last two, three years than before, but I don't think it's abnormal," he said.

"There's definitely such a thing as too much turnover, but I don't think we're there."

Maria Martin, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., agreed, saying downtown experiences cycles of turnover "from time to time."

Paley said the future of downtown is strong. But city leaders, he said, are wise to pay close attention to the business district's health.

"Downtown is like an ecosystem - it's fragile," Paley said. "We shouldn't take it for granted."

Mike Belt contributed to this story.

Comments

Kookamooka 8 years, 8 months ago

I would think, if a downtown merchant thought broadly enough about how they do business, they could survive. An e-business site that provides a customer 24 hour shopping from anywhere in the world would be one way to expand their market. Offering in-store specials daily, classes and other community events might generate more traffic. Services like gift registry, delivery, personal shoppers and complimentary beverages would go a long way toward getting my business! Gone are they days a merchant could hang their sign outside and wait for customers. These days, downtown, you've got to get to know your customers personally and meet their needs.

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Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

Locally owned business keeps their money in local financial institutions. Sylas and Maddy's is locally owned.

Are the ingredients the same in the new Ben&Jerry's? Corporations are most interested in the popular name not necessarily keeping the product as it was at point of purchase.

On the corporate seen I prefer COSTCO to Wal-Mart because of their pay package,living wage and up, which includes medical benefits. I can live without either one as their products are available is so many other places. Also I realize every product in a so called discount store is not a bargain.

The malts at Sylas and Maddy's are YUMO.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Manson:

An important part of ANY business plan is the cash flow projection. What you just said (I'll rephrase it) is that corporate-owned businesses have an advantage in that due to their corporate relationship, they can manage the hard times (deep pockets). BUT, anyone who opens a business is supposed to do the same: plan for losses, and integrate those projections into the business plan. Every new business has to know the answer to this question: "Do I have enough cash to make it to the break-even point?" People get in trouble because they let their emotions (dreams of finally owning one's own business) get in the way of sound decision making. They need $40K to open the business... but they only have $30K. "Oh, what the hell. Let's go for it anyway", and they lose it all in 8 months.

I hate to just come out and say this, but most of the time, when a business goes under, it's purely the fault of the owner. The rent is high? That should have been considered before any investment was made! If someone opens a business and is paying so much for rent that they cannot survive... maybe that guy should have reconsidered prior to opening his doors.

If someone opens a business and doesn't make it a full year, they didn't do their homework. It doesn't have much to do with whether or not the land/building is owned, it's about if the business plan was complete.

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jogger 8 years, 8 months ago

It seems short sighted to imagine that " that businesses that have a difficult time anyway ... are just going to go away" - local businesses are the product of local people, families and citizens who will not simply "go away".

If the economic climate in Lawrence is continually adjusted towards attracting big business, we will all subsidize the needs of the minimum wage workers they employ.

The under- employed and unemployed will not go away, even after they are arrested for stopping on the street to discuss their poor job prospects.

How much does it cost to close a local business?

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Lynn731 8 years, 8 months ago

I don't care, i just love ice cream. I go to them all !!!!

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Manson 8 years, 8 months ago

My comment that B&J will carry a loss was incomplete. They will carry a loss for a period of time. What keeps them afloat is their corporate relationship. Local businesses do not have that advantage.

I would love to believe that rent downtown is established by what the market will bear. However there is a duallity to rent for Downtown Lawrence.

1.) Owners that have had businesses Downtown for a long time. Syla & Maddies, Mad Greek, Free State, and Sunflower Bike Shop. These places that have been established most likely own their buildings. And can SURVIVE due to lack of overpriced rent and inflated property values.

2.) New and existing businesses that want to come in and compete for business. These businesses are at a disadvantage now that the rent is unattainable to sustain a positave profit. Unless you are a large corporate business that can get by for a while without turning a profit.

Which leads me to my question. How can a local business owner be successful downtown without the advantages of corporate support or having your own building? I guarntee you any of the Older established businesses that own their own buildings now could not be successful in Downtown today if they had to rent. That is the major discernable factor. How can a local business owner compete with that?

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Yes, Kook. Preach it. Downtown should be a place for all people. If kids can't have fun... NO ONE should have any fun.

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Kookamooka 8 years, 8 months ago

I can't wait for the Blue Dandelion!! It's time for really nice children's things to be offered in this town. I get so tired of Kohls, JC Penney's, Sears, TJ Maxx and Supertarget. Clothing-wise, it's all the same stuff! It does seem like you have to sell diamonds or beer to make any money downtown. I don't know how the Lawrence secondhand market will survive with only one tiny used kids clothes store in the entire city. Long live Larryville! I heard Blue Dandelion is going to offer a kids in-store music event when they open! There needs to be more kid friendly stuff downtown!

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

Manson:

Keep in mind: corporate businesses do not throw money at losing propositions. If Starbucks or B& J's opens a store, that store will only remain if that unit pulls a profit. Just because corporations are wealthy doesn't mean that they can afford to support units that lose money. Are you under the impression that they just PRINT money for themselves when the cash runs low? Those corporate stores succeed because 1) they have sound business plans, 2) they are well managed, 3) they have good products/services and 4) they have appropriate cash resources. Any small business owner who has those things going for them will have the same experience running a business downtown that Starbucks has had. While large corporations do sometimes enjoy economies of scale, they otherwise operate under the same principles as other businesses.

Your statement that B& J will carry a loss and still remain in business makes no sense. NO, they will either profit or they will go away (example: Eddie Bauer). The rent in downtown Lawrence is based on what the market will bear. If "$5000" a month makes it impossible for a business to pull a profit, then there will eventually be excess space downtown and the rent will go down. That's found in chapter one of any high school econ textbook.

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Manson 8 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if Bucky's could move down town. I bet the rent would be too high. And if they tried to move there they would not last long. The inflated property values and rents kill the local businesses. How can they compete with large chains with deep pockets? I know of one resturant that would love to move to Downtown and set up shop but can't afford the rent. Despite operating in Lawrence for over 50 YEARS.

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dlstrohm 8 years, 8 months ago

OldEnuf:

I think you are right about Z's and Bucky's, but there are two important points to make there. First Bucky's has been around for quite awhile. They may not be huge, but they have stuck it out; they are the proof that a local place can compete by offering a better product people want while shops selling extremely niche products downtown die out and blame it on corporations rather than poor judgment.

Second, coffee shops themselves are an odd bunch. Each have their own atmosphere, their own groups that make certain people feel out of place. I'm not a jazz afficionado and I don't know all of my frappuccinos, so I don't go into some: and don't tell me those stores haven't designed themselves as such intentionally. I think we all know that the "product" stores sell is more than the physical object you walk away with. It is the atmosphere, the people, convenience, price, etc. And, there are far too many coffee shops as is. Coffee shops were living and dying in this town long before Starbucks came on the scene.

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Manson 8 years, 8 months ago

The businesses that are thriving are the corporate businesses. The older ones that have been established own their lots and buildings there are not subject to the inflated rents and property values. The point here is that local business owners cannot keep prices competitive because they don't have a corporation to help off set the inflated rent. Thereby raising prices on goods. The new businesses that are not corporations are the ones moving in and moving out. That is not vitality that is turnover. Tell me how a loal business can move into downtown with a 5000.00 month rent and keep the price of goods down. I know B&J won't have a problem. They can have a net loss and remain in business.

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Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

The two cool dudes no longer own Ben and Jerry's.

New corporate owner:

http://www.unilever.com/

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doomcity 8 years, 8 months ago

i give that new skate shop "white chocolate" of whatever its called 6 months.

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opinion 8 years, 8 months ago

I had a business downtown at one time. Rent was very high compared to elsewhere in the city. But, I would sit and count the number of cars cars and people that went by and knew that I was paying not only for space, but exposure as well. The rent was reasonable when I considered that. It always kills me when businesses want on Mass St. because it is so busy but then complain that the rent so much higher than elsewhere.

Anyway, my business didn't last. Product was not what the "visiting" buyers were interested in. Mass St. is great for products that people from out of town would want to pick up on a day trip (art,unique foods...)but for day to day items, they go elsewhere. Hard to do because you end up assuming a lot, but try to estimate the number of out of towners vs residents that walk Mass St on a weekend. I would guess that it is mostly out of towners with a smattering of residents (downtown to eat).

Point is, unless it is a very unique item or an attractive restaurant, sales on Mass St are going to be hard to steal away from another store with similar items but with a lower price due to lower rent. I know there are a few exceptions but as a general rule, I think this observation hold water.

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Jacob Kaplan-Moss 8 years, 8 months ago

Well, B&J may in fact be a "little more socially aware than most" businesses, but I kinda doubt it. Most people don't realize it, but B&J's is no longer a small private company; it's now owned by Unilever (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unilever), the very definition of a soulless conglomerate.

It's tough for a city like Lawrence: the local government has to make a choice between the higher tax revenues associated with being chain-friendly and the intangibles of a vibrant local community. This is a constant give and take, and let's hope the city can find a way to balance the two.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

dlstrohm:

I agree. We don't need to create a virtual "welfare state" for business, a situation where we spend money in bad shops just to keep their sorry butts in business. Competition is good for consumers and if a local business wants to survive, they need to put good products and services into the marketplace. But, really, can you say that Starbucks is putting a BETTER coffee in your cup than Z's? You'd rather go to Cold Stone than go to S&M because you can distinctly identify that the CS ice cream is of a higher quality than the freshly made product being sold at S&M? What I'm saying is THINK before you mindlessly wander into a business and buy from them only because they have a massive advertising budget. It blows my mind that ANYONE would go to McDonald's on 6th Street (with meat quality not fit for death row inmates), when one can drive a very short distance to 9th & Iowa to Bucky's and get what may very well be the best hamburger in NE Kansas.

If a business cannot compete, then R.I.P. But, we should not be so cavalier about these things to the point that we don't even think before we spend. If given apples-to-apples choices, I think we should shop locally and re-invest locally. I'm not blaming corporate America for the decline of small business, I'm blaming YOU and ME and all the rest of us consumers.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

So, Manson, you think that business after business flocking to downtown Lawrence means... what? These corporations and entrepreneurs are accidentally investing in downtown businesses for no reason? Are they saying "We could put in a Ben & Jerry's in Pittsburg, KS, but we flipped a coin and decided on Lawrence instead"? Jump in your car and take a tour of small town Kansas. Look at Leavenworth, Great Bend, Hutchinson, etc. They got SQUAT going on in their downtown districts.

Yes, a few businesses have gone under. That's called vitality in that it's a result of competition. We have a vibrant, competitive business climate. That means it's constantly changing, which means there will always be newcomers to the game, and losers. Look at how many businesses have thrived in downtown Lawrence, who have been around for decades and have survived very well.

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dlstrohm 8 years, 8 months ago

If Lawrence really loved its local businesses, then its residents would spend their money accordingly. The argument that corporate chains are moving in and surviving simply because they are big is ridiculous. Eddie Bauer is huge, but they couldn't make it. Why? Because the store didn't turn a profit, just the same as a local business. I love local stores, but I'm not going to shop somewhere that offers no products I need at a higher cost simply to keep them in business. If a local shop fills a need of a consumer, they'll make it. If not, they go under. Chains are big because they got it right somewhere along the way.

I hope downtown can maintain its local feel, but please quit shoving the idiotic argument down my throat that it is corporate America's fault that yet another home-made clothing or gaudy jewelry store selling things no one wants couldn't hack it. Argue about products offered, or argue about store management, but quit arguing over the facts of economics.

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Manson 8 years, 8 months ago

"Downtown's ever-evolving landscape a sign of vitality"

Who thought this story title up? What it really translates to is High tunrover for Downtown businesses. What a crock ! Sign of vitality for who ?

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

I've never been to the Lawrence Cold Stone Creamery, and I'll not going to Ben & Jerry's! Long live Silas and Maddy's!

I'm not one of those silly "down with corporate America" idiots (heck, I even work for corporate America), but it's clear that what draws these corporate entities to our downtown is the vitality and charm that was created and established by locally-owned, independent business. They are riding the coat tails of the same businesses that they are on the verge of driving out. As much as I believe in free enterprise, I'd hate to see downtown Lawrence turn into something like KC's Zona Rosa. Downtown Lawrence is not a strip mall, and I'd hate for it to start feeling like one.

You can tell a lot about a person's values by looking at how they spend money. This situation is really an example of how our dollars speak out loud. If you believe in locally owned businesses, then spend your money there. If you don't care, then go to the ice cream shop where they sing the silly, obnoxious, military-cadence songs and the chain coffee shop that doesn't deposit it's profits in our banks and re-invest it's earnings in our economy. If we claim to care about these things, but it doesn't reflect in our spending, then we are lying to ourselves about our true values as a community.

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Manson 8 years, 8 months ago

It's obvious why B&J don't mind the inflated cost of business on Mass...BECAUSE they can afford it. When was the last time a local business owner moved into downtown to set up shop? The trend of corporate businesses moving downtown will continue as long as the over inflated rent continues. That pretty much sums up Lawrence as a whole over valued, over inflated, and bloated. Good luck to those local businesses Downtown I hope they can make it.

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audvisartist 8 years, 8 months ago

Ben & Jerry's... more corporatization of downtown. A little more socially aware than most, so people say, but corporatization none the less.

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