Two of downtown’s older retailers close, but will reopen as part of new ‘mashup’ concept store

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

The space that formerly housed Hobbs at 700 Massachusetts Street.

When I think of spectators in downtown Lawrence, I’m unfortunately reminded of the day that I thought spandex on Mass. Street was a good fashion choice. Far more of you probably think of the longtime downtown women’s clothing store, Spectator’s. Well, there have been big changes at Spectator’s and its sister store, Hobbs.

After 37 years in business, Spectator’s has closed. It vacated its space at 710 Massachusetts Street earlier this month. But don’t worry, the shop will live on in spirit. The store’s concept and style will be part of a new — as yet, unnamed — store that will open at 700 Massachusetts Street. That’s the former location of Hobbs.

Yes, Hobbs also is changing. Hobbs and Spectators are both owned by the Swanson family. Longtime downtown retailer Mark Swanson said the time is right to do something different with the two stores. While they haven’t settled on a name for the new place, Swanson said it will be a “life of style store.”

But there will be plenty of recognizable aspects of both stores in the new venture. Swanson said the new store will utilize the same buyers.

“We’re not deserting our customers,” said Kathy Swanson. “They are too valuable to us.”

If you are not familiar, Spectator’s described itself as a women’s clothing boutique that leaned toward the luxurious, unique and European. Hobbs was probably best described as a store that was hard to describe. Mark said the store definitely was eclectic. Merchandise included quite a few prints and wall hangings, but often funky, like the one that has a slightly inappropriate depiction of what Superman would do with his X-ray vision. The store also has a lot of gift items, unique gift wrap, and especially during the holiday season, quite a few toys. Swanson said plans do include expanding the greeting card line that Hobbs has been offering.

“We’re going to do a mashup of the two stores,” Mark said.

So, I’m guessing a European, wearing very nice women’s clothing and sporting a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” watch. (Or maybe an Elvis “Jailhouse Rock” writing pen. Both are available, according to Hobbs’ website.) Or maybe not.

“We’re going to carry whatever trips our trigger,” Mark said.

Regardless, it should be interesting to see what the new store is all about. The location is open for business now, but is not fully remodeled into its new form. The Swansons hope to have everything in place by the end of April.

The changes also are notable for historical reasons. Spectator’s opened in 1981, which makes it one of the older retailers in downtown Lawrence. Hobbs opened in 1997, which puts it pretty high on the list as well.

Mark said family members — the store is run by Mark, Kathy and their daughters Alex and Shauna — just decided it was time to change.

“We’ve always realized that retail is constant change,” Mark said. “If you aren’t willing to change in this environment, it is going to be a difficult environment.”

Even with a willingness to change, downtown retail can be a tough market. Mark, though, said he sees some signs of improvement as there are people who are finding some disadvantages to online shopping.

“I think the retail market is loosening up a little bit,” Mark said. “But it has been very tight. There is no denying that. It is not swinging back, yet, but it is inching back.”