• One boutique is leaving, but another is coming in to take its place on Massachusetts Street. Prairie Pond Studio & Bead Company will be closing its store at 809 Mass., but a boutique that got its start in the Country Club Plaza will open in the space this summer.
For-tu-ity has signed a lease for the storefront and plans to bring its combination of clothing, shoes, jewelry, belts and other boutique items to Mass Street by July.
“We sell cowboy boots, flip flops, jewelry, rhinestones, baseball caps,” said owner Carolyn Richmond. “It is going to be a real funky, fun store.”
Richmond is a more than 20-year veteran of the retail industry. She previously owned Silver Connection, a Kansas City jewelry store. But she got out of that business as silver prices soared. She opened For-tu-ity on the Country Club Plaza in November. Lawrence is the first new market for the company, and that’s not by coincidence. Richmond has two daughters who attend KU, and her time visiting them in Lawrence convinced her that her Plaza store — with a few tweaks — would work well here. Richmond said she does plan on having a large section devoted to Greek gear for the fraternities and sororities, and will have a pricing strategy that works for students and others looking for a value.
“My philosophy is if you just have $25 to spend, I want to make sure you walk out of my store with more items and with a bigger smile than you would elsewhere,” she said.
Fans of Prairie Pond Studio and Bead Co. may not be smiling, though. April del Campo, owner of the store that has been downtown since 2007, said she is not sure whether she will reopen in a new location. The store remains open for the time being, and she said she was evaluating her options for re-opening. If she finds a new spot, we’ll be sure to let you know.
• Doug Brown with Lawrence’s McGrew Commercial Real Estate served as a broker on the deal. He said he’s starting to see more signs that retailers are taking another look at downtown. There’s been concern that downtown is becoming too heavily skewed to restaurants, but Brown said he thinks there may be some new opportunities for retailers. The reason? Oddly, it could be the economic downturn.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that some landlords are willing to take some deals that they wouldn’t have taken a year ago,” Brown said.
I’ve heard many retailers say that lower lease rates are the key to getting more start-up, independent shops in downtown. We’ll see how many concessions building owners are willing to make, but Brown said he’s reasonably optimistic this could be a busy summer for new openings downtown.
“There seems to be a lot more activity,” he said.
• One spot downtown leaders are hoping for activity is at the former Borders store at Seventh and New Hampshire. It is the largest piece of vacant property in downtown after the chain closed the store last month. Brown says he isn’t aware of any deal cooking on that site. The property is owned by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Agree Realty. The company owns the real estate of five Borders locations that were closed. According to the company’s quarterly report released last week, it already has sold two of the five locations. The 20,000-square-foot Lawrence location is listed on the company’s Web site as available for a lease rate of $14 per square foot. The site lists its selling points as being located about four blocks from Kansas University and having “abundant parking.”
I’m no real estate expert — obviously, since I’m writing a column this morning instead of lounging on a beach somewhere — but looking at the company’s Web site did cause me to think how much of a different mindset an investor has to have to do a deal in a downtown than just out on some suburban commercial strip.
Here’s what I’m talking about: Of the five free-standing properties listed on Agree’s site, the Lawrence location had the highest lease rate per square foot and the lowest number of vehicles per day traveling by the location. But, it also was the only downtown location, it appeared. To be more specific, the asking price for Lawrence’s location is $14 per square foot for the 20,000 square feet space. Its average traffic count is 21,600 vehicles per day.
The company also owns a former Borders store in Wichita on North Rock Road. It is 25,000 square feet and has an asking price of $11 per square foot. Its average traffic count is 46,546 vehicles per day. Is the difference meant to represent the ambiance of Downtown Lawrence? I don’t know, but it is interesting to think about.
• It appears some former Borders stores are getting a new lease on life, if at least temporarily. It was passed on to me that a closed Borders location in Pittsburgh, Pa.,. will temporarily re-open as — are you ready for this — a bookstore. A group called Fleeting Pages will temporarily re-open the location as a store that only sells independently published books. The location also will serve as a place for writing classes, readings by independently published authors, and other events. The store, though only will be in existence for a month, as a way to test the concept. No, I’m not suggesting this is what will happen to Lawrence’s location. Just passing it along, although if there is an outside-the-box use for that store, somebody in Lawrence probably will think of it.
• 'Tis the season for family reunions. How is this for a big one: The Human Family Reunion. That’s the name of an event that will be taking place in Lawrence on Saturday. The Lawrence Alliance, a Lawrence-based group called Culturally Speaking and a Kansas City-area organization called Hatebusters will host the event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Southwest Junior High. The idea is that all humans are family, and they ought to get together to celebrate that fact. The event has a unique mission statement, so to speak: “To become World Class Persons, able to go anywhere and talk to anyone about anything.” Such Human Family Reunions have been held in other communities over the years, said Bassam Helwani, who is a founder of Culturally Speaking, but this is the first year for one in Lawrence. The event will feature a ceremony to honor groups and individuals who “inspire and make our community a welcoming place.” The honorees include:
- Tarik Khatib, Lawrence police chief
- Southwest Junior High School
- KU Global Partners
- Centro Hispano
- State Sen. David Haley
- Islamic Center of Lawrence
- KU Audio Reader
- Haskell Indian Nations University
- The Greater Liberty Riders