Three boutiques closing up shop in downtown Lawrence; one owner talks about need for change with downtown rents
One of the great things about downtown Lawrence is a trip there is cheaper than an international vacation. Think about it: There are at least a couple of places you can get the taste of India, right next door to each other there are shops that allow me to break out my British accent and my French accent, and there are so many Mexican restaurants that I’m never more than 30 seconds away from spilling salsa on my tie. But the international theme is taking a hit as a longtime import shop is closing.
Nomads, 725 Massachusetts St., is set to close either July 1 or Aug. 1, depending on how quickly inventory is depleted, store owner Courtney Ricketts told me.
The store carries clothing, accessories and home decor from all over the world, but has particular interest in items from Turkey. Ricketts’ husband is from Turkey, and has built up great connections with various artisans in the region, she said.
The store has been open for 11 years, but Ricketts said she is feeling good about the decision to close the shop.
“It was pretty easy,” Ricketts said. “It felt pretty good.”
Part of that is because Ricketts already has another venture that she is tackling. She and her husband operate Nida Lu Handmade, which is a collection of shoes made by artisans on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“They’re made by families that have been doing this for generations,” Ricketts said.
Nomads has been selling the shoes for a while now, but with the closing of the store Ricketts will be expanding the online sales efforts, and also believes she’ll reach a deal or two to sell the shoes in other retail outlets.
While excitement for the shoe venture is part of the reason for the closing of the store, Ricketts said changing business conditions in downtown also played a role.
“It definitely has gotten quieter downtown in the last few years,” said Ricketts, who said she really didn’t want to speculate on the reasons behind that. “But a lot more people are buying online.”
In other news and notes:
• Fortuity, the clothing boutique at 809 Massachusetts St., also has announced it is closing.
Owner Carolyn Richmond said the store probably will close at the end of July. The company will keep its stores in Manhattan and on The Plaza in Kansas City. The family-owned retailer also is in negotiations to open a new store in Overland Park.
Richmond said she loves Lawrence and plans to do some “pop-up” stores in the community. But she decided to close the Lawrence store as her last of four children graduate from KU this weekend. She started the Lawrence store in 2012.
“It just seemed like a good time to start focusing on Kansas City a little more,” Richmond said.
But she also acknowledged that the downtown business environment has gotten pretty challenging for retailers, especially those that don’t own their own building.
“I think the landlords need to start looking at the rent they charge the businesses,” Richmond said. “It is getting ridiculous.”
Richmond said one consideration that she doesn’t think landlords are taking into consideration enough is that downtown is more seasonal than a lot of shopping districts.
“The bulk of our business is August through May,” she said. “It really slows down after that.”
Plus, she said mom-and-pop retailers are starting to think harder about whether they want to have brick-and-mortar stores, or just focus their attention toward online sales.
“They had better adjust or they are going to lose a lot more people,” Richmond said of landlords. “You will run out a lot of local merchants because they will come to the point that their online business is fantastic, and they start thinking they don’t have to pay this rent and everything that goes with running a brick-and-mortar store.”
• At least one other boutique in downtown has closed recently. Flirt, 843 Massachusetts St., has already closed for business, according to a sign in the store’s window.
The store closed before I had a chance to talk to the owners, but I do have some information about the store from when I wrote about its opening in late-2014. While Flirt was only open about four years, its roots in downtown Lawrence ran deep. At the time Flirt was owned by longtime downtown retailer Jeremy Furse. He operated the upscale boutique Britches for about 30 years before changing the brand name to Flirt.
I haven’t heard any word about what was behind the store’s decision to close. Also, as is the case with all three closings, I’m keeping my ears open to any new businesses that might be moving into the spaces.