There should be some happy shoppers in Lawrence.
The city's retail industry awakened in 2013, with store vacancy rates hitting some of their lower levels in recent memory, according to a new report by the Lawrence commercial real estate firm Colliers International.
"The demand for retail is finally there again," said Allison Vance Moore, senior vice president with Colliers' Lawrence operations. "I think we're at the beginning of a game-changing year for Lawrence. By Lawrence standards, I think we're going to see a bit of a mini-explosion in retail."
The signs of it started to show up in late 2013. According to the company's annual study of the market, Lawrence's retail sector finished the year with a vacancy rate of 4.4 percent, down from 5.4 percent a year ago. Lawrence's vacancy rate was well below the average Kansas City vacancy rate of about 9 percent and below the U.S. average of about 7 percent.
Downtown's vacancy rate was among the strongest in the city, dipping to 1.8 percent, down from 4.4 percent a year ago and 7.4 percent at the end of 2011. Downtown's vacancy rate did get a boost from a nonretail source. The Lawrence Public Library's temporary home in the former Borders bookstore has taken that retail property off the vacancy list.
South Iowa Street had the highest retail vacancy rate in the city at 6.3 percent — down from 7.4 percent a year ago — but it also has some of the stronger levels of activity, Moore said. Ross Dress 4 Less took over the vacant Old Navy space and was a major addition to the South Iowa corridor, along with newly built space for AT&T; and Panda Express near 33rd and Iowa streets. For 2014, Menards has received approval to begin construction on a home improvement center near 31st and Iowa, and Dick's Sporting Goods is already renovating the former Sears building for a new store. Both of those projects are expected to attract several smaller retailers to their sites as well.
Other figures from the report include:
• The city's industrial vacancy rate declined to 7.4 percent, down from 8.3 percent a year earlier. But Moore reported new industrial activity in the city still remains fairly slow. The national vacancy rate is about 9.5 percent and the Kansas City average is about 6 percent.
• The vacancy rate in the city's office market dropped slightly to 9.4 percent, which is its lowest level since 2001. The national average is about 12 percent and the Kansas City average is about 12.5 percent.