One of downtown Lawrence’s larger vacant buildings is beginning to fill up.
A new interior design and furniture store has become the first tenant for the former Arensberg Shoes building, 825 Mass., and plans are in the works for longtime downtown art shop The Phoenix Gallery to fill the rest of the ground-floor space.
The building’s owner — Lawrence orthodontist Dan Ranjbar — vowed not to rent the building out to a restaurant or bar when he began remodeling it last year, and he said the task of finding retailers wasn’t as hard as he thought.
“I’m convinced people really are getting tired of the ‘mallization’ of America,” Ranjbar said. “I think retail is going to continue to have a great future in downtown.”
But Ranjbar said it does take a certain mindset on the part of landlords. Ranjbar said he had to turn down several proposals from restaurants that wanted to locate in the three-story building.
Ranjbar also admits the way he landed The Phoenix Gallery, 919 Mass., as a tenant was a bit unusual. He bought the business in August after learning that its owners were looking to exit the business. He said he plans to move the store in early 2011.
Already open in the building is BIAO Designs, a new interior design and home store. Owner Donna Steinman said she started making arrangements to move in soon after Ranjbar had started renovations on the building, which at one time was the city’s Montgomery Ward store.
“I just fell in love with the space,” Steinman said.
Steinman and her husband moved to Lawrence in late 2009 from Idaho. The couple, though, previously had lived in Chanute. They landed in Lawrence after selling a successful circuit board company and becoming intrigued by Lawrence’s reputation.
“We really were just looking for a place to start a second career,” Steinman said.
The business — BIAO stands for Beautiful Inside and Out — not only sells furniture and home goods, but also offers interior design services. For a negotiated fee, the store will send a designer to your home for a two-hour consultation, and then will create a detailed budget on how you can outfit your home over the next year.
“We think it is really the way everybody should shop for furniture because it saves you a lot of time and you end up getting what really works for you,” said Rynette Reiling, a designer for the store.
Ranjbar, who restored the original window openings in the Art Deco building and refurbished its original maple floors, hopes to attract at least one more business to the site. He’s added a new direct entrance to the basement of the building, and is marketing the space as a good location for a bookstore or coffee shop.
He’s also building three high-end apartments on the third floor.
“We’re finishing them in a way that they will be on par with what you would expect in a $400,000 condo,” Ranjbar said.