The vacancy rate for downtown properties may be up a bit from recent years, but the number doesn't tell the whole story of interest and activity in the central business district's real estate, a commercial Realtor said.
The vacancy rate is running about 8.1 percent for retail space in the district, said Allison Vance Moore, of Grubb & Ellis | The Winbury Group. But that doesn't account for properties that recently became vacant and just as quickly secured new tenants.
Nor does the vacancy rate include a gauge of recent interest taken by a collection of local, regional or perhaps even national retailers thinking about moving in to spaces others have left behind.
"It's darn healthy," said Vance Moore, who tracks the market for retail space in town. "It used to be interest from T-shirt shops and restaurants. The interest now is a lot more diverse, with more traditional retailers looking - and that feels good. That's what people are looking for."
Case in point: Bob Schumm recently leased his new retail space at 717 Mass., just north of his Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse. Of course "new" is relative, considering that he built the place in 2002 and has been using the street-level retail space since then only for storage of equipment and building materials.
Schumm, owner of Schumm Foods, won't say what's going in, but he's looking forward to good things from the shop that will provide "general merchandise," not operating as a restaurant or bar.
"Downtown is filling back in again, which is nice," said Schumm, who has been doing business downtown for 20 years. "I'm glad it's happening."
Also in the mix:
¢ Jo Shmo's, a new bar and grill, is slated to move into 724 Mass., the former home of Thai House. The place promises to feature burgers, beers and - in a first for downtown Lawrence - two indoor courts for bocce, a ball game that combines features of bowling and shuffleboard.
It is the project of Josh Mochel, a New York opera signer who is moving back to Lawrence, where he studied at Kansas University and always had dreamed of owning and operating a place downtown.
"I'm from Chicago, and I live in Brooklyn, New York, but there's just something amazing about downtown Lawrence," he said. "The old-school businesses, they're absolutely amazing. We want to keep that spirit going, and it's my hope we can continue and develop a new tradition."
¢ The folks behind Yokohama, a sushi restaurant at 1730 W. 23rd St., plan to open a new location at 811 N.H., the former home of New Hampshire Street Bistro.
And Blue Heron, 921 Mass., plans to close at the end of January, ending a 25-year run in town and opening up yet another piece of prime real estate in the city's central business district.
Galen Tarman, owner of Blue Heron, hopes to find a buyer for the business that sells eclectic furnishings, designer items and home accessories. Otherwise, he intends to move his remaining inventory to a warehouse and sell through the Internet, giving him more time to focus on buying and selling stocks.
"The business has a lot of potential," he said. "We've gone through a couple years of soft sales, but it has a lot of potential for the future."