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Archive for Sunday, July 24, 2011

Retail options

July 24, 2011

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New government restrictions aren’t the best choice for promoting downtown retail, but, if a turnaround isn’t near, they could be on the table.

Members of the public aren’t alone in being concerned about downtown Lawrence becoming too much of an entertainment district at the expense of its retail roots.

Four prominent downtown property owners came to the Journal-World last week to discuss a host of downtown issues. All four — landlords Doug Compton and George Paley, property and restaurant owner Bob Schumm and Weaver’s executive Earl Reineman — expressed concern about the mix of businesses in the downtown.

It is encouraging that individuals who have invested heavily in downtown over a long period of time see the need to keep a strong retail presence in the area. Retailers help make the downtown a more diverse and interesting place to be.

Several members of the group said they believe downtown is either close to or has reached a saturation point for restaurants. They expect the development of restaurants and entertainment venues to slow in the near future. The public hasn’t yet seen that trend. Two new Mexican restaurants currently are under development in downtown, and, in the not too distant past, the downtown lost a drug store and a greeting card shop to restaurant uses. A longer list of restaurants replacing retailers easily could be developed.

Surprisingly, everyone in the group also acknowledged that there may be a day that Lawrence City Hall has to take some action to try to protect downtown’s retail foundation. What effective action the city could take would require a significant amount of discussion, but last week’s gathering brought up the possibility of greater regulation of drinking establishment licenses in downtown. The city already requires downtown businesses to have a significant amount of food sales before they can receive a drinking establishment license. That has stopped the district from adding more bar-only establishments.

That concept could be expanded, members of the group noted. Most restaurants entering the downtown want the ability to serve alcohol. Compton said he is familiar with several communities that essentially require any new business wanting a drinking establishment license to purchase a license from an existing license holder. That effectively limits how many drinking establishments an area can have.

None of the group members last week strongly endorsed such a move for Lawrence. That’s good. It would be far preferable for the market to make the necessary adjustments. When city government starts trying to manage a market, the potential for unintended consequences is great.

But group members also didn’t rule out the idea. In a way, that’s good, too. It shows that downtown leaders recognize the seriousness of keeping our retail base strong.

If downtown loses its critical mass of retailers, it will be extremely difficult to regain that mass in the future. What will follow will be a downtown transformation that many residents won’t enjoy watching. That transformation may produce more places to eat and drink — for a while, anyway — but downtown will not be a more fun place. As the downtown becomes more one-dimensional, property values will fall, behavior problems will rise, and downtown’s quaintness will be an attribute we talk about in the past tense.

There are still more questions than answers when it comes to providing Downtown Lawrence a retail boost. It appears the stage is set to have a good conversation.

Comments

pizzapete 2 years, 9 months ago

The fact that a new business has to have half of their sales in food in order to have a liquor license has done enough to discourage more bars from opening downtown and has been a windfall for any property owner that already owns a license or has a property grandfathered to sell liquor. The only reason these guys would like to further restrict others from having access to a liquor license is to limit their competition and make the licenses they already own two or three times more valuable than they already are.

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George_Braziller 2 years, 9 months ago

Mad Greek does suck. But, since all the other ones don't make your cut either I guess the options are prepare your own meals or drive to another place for "fine dining" (whatever your definition of that is.)

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lunacydetector 2 years, 9 months ago

i don't think anyone knows what they're talking about on here, except me of course.

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jimmyjms 2 years, 9 months ago

George, as far as "fine dining," there are all of three choices. Thai food? Yes, we have one Thai restaurant. Greek? One, and it's terrible. I don't eat fast food.

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like Schumm and the bar owners want to sell the liquor licenses now as a way to bailout.

The buidlings downtown are not big enough ever for the kind of retail the whackos envision downtown. And there is only one large building now left to remodel and that is the old JCPenny store. It wouldn't have ever happenened if one smart Greek some years ago had not built it.

Lawrence has no local commercial developers now and not for some time to come.;

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nativeson 2 years, 9 months ago

The great irony is that the landlords are their own worst enemy. Downtown retail is disappearing partially due to high rents creates by overpriced building purchases. Food and beverage establishments have the level of turnover that can be sustain such high rents. Penny Annies just could not afford the monthly expenses to sustain an established business.

If the City regulates the free market without addressing the core cost of business issues, the result will be more vacancy, not less. I do not want to see the balance change any further than the next person who loves downtown. The very thing that property owners fear is what is necessary. That is, a fall in building values that will allow more diverse retail uses to exist.

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lunacydetector 2 years, 9 months ago

i thought liquor licenses for sale was the only easy way for a new bar or restaurant to open downtown. .

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George_Braziller 2 years, 9 months ago

A wider variety of restaurants? Right now you have a choice of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Greek, Japanese, vegetarian, soul food, BBQ, Latin American, Asian fusion, traditional American, Italian, seafood, sushi, Indian, not to mention all of the fast-food and sandwich/burger shops. How much more variety do you want?

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jimmyjms 2 years, 9 months ago

Anyone who thinks any of the four landlords named are doing anything out of concern for downtown instead of their own pocketbooks is deluded. We definitely need a wider variety of restaurants in this town.

Anybody remember when Lawrence had a thriving music scene? The amount of quality, mid- to bigger named acts has dropped off a cliff since...well, just about the time the Hobbs Taylor lofts went up. The more ground we give to developers, the less special Lawrence becomes.

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