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Three boutiques closing up shop in downtown Lawrence; one owner talks about need for change with downtown rents

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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.

Nomads at 725 Massachusetts Street is set to close.

Nomads at 725 Massachusetts Street is set to close. by Chad Lawhorn

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.

Comments

Frank A Janzen 1 week, 4 days ago

“The bulk of our business is August through May,” she said. “It really slows down after that.” What? This must be a mistake. If only June and July are a problem, it's no problem. Also, Mike Amyx some years ago told me that the rental price per square foot downtown is less than on south Iowa.

Paul Youk 1 week, 4 days ago

Almost certainly meant to say May through August, imo.

Kendall Simmons 1 week, 3 days ago

That's the summer...when most of the students are gone. And what activities are there then that bring in lots of out-of-towners?

Richard Heckler 1 week, 4 days ago

"some years ago I was told that the rental price per square foot downtown is less than on south Iowa." Then all of the rent is over charged and number of sales are over rated by the real estate industry.

Some years ago we bought some real fine furniture from downtown Lawrence whereas today it is nowhere to be found.

We have some developers and some former city commissioners who really want Lawrence downtown to be like Manhattan, Ks. For the life of me where is that logic coming from?

If the retail market is so hot why did K-Mart and JC Penney's leave town? And the fine mom and pop furniture stores and the book stores and Lawrence finds itself dividing one large building into multiple enterprises just to get them rented.

The choices in Lawrence are becoming far less versatile and fewer.

America Is Over Stored https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/04/05/america-is-over-stored-and-payless-shoesource-is-the-latest-victim/?utm_term=.c1c9f6113955

http://www.newsweek.com/gross-america-over-stored-94151

Bill Turner 1 week, 4 days ago

In a free market economy, price is fixed by the relationship between supply and demand. If there is too much supply for the given demand, then prices will drop. If there is too much demand for the given supply, then prices will rise. For prices to be 'high' there must be demand for the space, so shove off and go take your business elsewhere if you can't afford the rent.

Tony Peterson 1 week, 4 days ago

Guess that supply and demand argument would explain why so many buildings on Mass. are sitting empty. The reason they're sitting empty is because the rents are outrageous so businesses open in other locations.

Downtown wants to be the Plaza but it never will be because it's shot itself in the foot by turning into an entertainment district. I live two blocks away and rarely ever venture there because it's primarily bars and restaurants. It stopped being a "downtown" about 20 years ago.

Beth Ann Bittlingmayer 1 week, 4 days ago

If they sit empty then the owner of the property must not have a better investment option. Apparently the owner would prefer to have it empty than rent it out at a lower price.

Mike Gant 1 week, 4 days ago

Supply and demand is important, but it is also an incredibly short-sighted and simplistic view to take when dealing with an area like a downtown market place. In order for a market to succeed you need diversification. If a variety of businesses are unable to thrive, then eventually the demand for the storefronts will drop to a point that no one will make any money - not the shop owners nor the landlords. What you will end up with is a line of corporate stores and empty buildings, leaving you with a downtown that possess no uniqueness to attract customers any more than your average strip mall. At that point the death spiral will be in full effect and there will be little hope of pulling out of it.

Bill Turner 1 week, 3 days ago

I'm not convinced that downtown Lawrence has more of a Nash equilibrium problem than it does a delayed realization of weak demand. But what do I know?

Kendall Simmons 1 week, 3 days ago

Well, you certainly don't know as much about the Nash equilibrium as you apparently think you do.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 week, 3 days ago

Seriously? We have vacant apartments all over town, yet rent doesn't go down, not even in older converted houses, many which are dumps. Explain that.

Kim Lusk Wampler 5 days, 6 hours ago

I can explain that in a few words...Insurance and Property Taxes

Richard Heckler 1 week, 4 days ago

Remember a sale tax increase is on the table in addition to all of these more quiet tax increases:

Is un managed growth worth it?

One consequence which usually goes goes unmentioned – how many ways are our pocketbooks getting drained? http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/intro.asp

The trend is downtown http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30810275/#.UlUyt2Tk8Wc

Bill Moyers - Local Corporate Welfare http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01182008/transcript.html

David Cay Johnson – The Free Lunch for the 1% While The 99% Pick Up The Tab http://www.democracynow.org/2008/1/18/free_lunch_how_the_wealthiest_americans

Bob Smith 1 week, 3 days ago

Hey, a 10 year old link! We've only seen that a couple of thousands of times in the last decade!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 week, 3 days ago

I think the big problem is developers bought up property downtown at an inflated price, which raised taxes on other owners, which either made them sell or made them raise the rent. The only locally owned businesses surviving are those who still own their own property. As soon as a building sells, those businesses will be leaving, because the rent is going to go up drastically.

I remember when downtown was very unique and when lots of people loved to go there. to spend the day shopping. Sure, it was hard to find anyplace to eat, but there were lots of wonderful locally owned shops with unique items. There are still a few places like that, but I'm not that crazy about walking up and down all day checking out shops. Sure, there are some great restaurants down there, but that only keeps you downtown for so long..

It would be interesting to find out if developers downtown really need to have that much rent. In the past landlords would be happy with a modest income. But now, we have investment groups that want to earn lots and lots of money. It's almost like more is not enough. Even those people who are billionaires seem to want to make even more money. But it's at the expense of real people, some who are waking up and are tired of it, others who worship the super. rich like royalty. We even have a Christian sect that claims people with money are more loved by God, that's why they are rich. How is that different than the divine right of kings of the past?

If you study history you will see that extreme geed has brought down many societies. It will be sad when it happens to the US.

Carol Bowen 1 week, 3 days ago

Speculators rather than developers. Twenty years ago, lots of money was borrowed with very little down to buy downtown buildings. The constant flipping increased the market values beyond the property values. Some building do not have bathrooms. At least one building has floor joists on dirt. Flooding problems.

Gary Stussie 1 week, 1 day ago

Unintended consequences of ever increasing Sale Tax?

The total sales and use tax rate in New York City is 8.875%.

This includes:

New York City local sales and use tax rate of 4.5% New York State sales and use tax rate of 4% Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District surcharge of 0.375% There is no sales tax on an item of clothing or footwear that costs less than $110. An item of clothing or footwear that costs $110 or more is subject to the full 8.875% tax rate. Sales tax is calculated per item, so even if you buy two or more items that add up to $110 or more, you only pay tax on the items that individually cost $110 or more.

The following purchases are exempt from sales tax:

Unprepared and packaged food products, dietary foods, certain beverages, and health supplements sold by food markets Diapers Drugs and medicines for people Medical equipment and supplies for home use Newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals Prosthetic aids and devices, hearing aids, and eyeglasses Laundry and dry cleaning services Shoe repair services Some items used to make or repair clothing and footwear Veterinary medical services

The Lawrence, Kansas sales tax is 9.05% , consisting of 6.50% Kansas state sales tax and 2.55% Lawrence local sales taxes.The local sales tax consists of a 1.00% county sales tax and a 1.55% city sales tax.

The Lawrence Sales Tax is collected by the merchant on ALL qualifying sales made within Lawrence Lawrence collects a 2.55% local sales tax, the maximum local sales tax allowed under Kansas law Lawrence has a higher sales tax than 83.5% of Kansas' other cities and counties

Rae Hudspeth 1 week, 1 day ago

The "downtowns" of the past are relics. Check any town of our size and you'll see that we're doing far better than most. There are many wonderful places to buy unique art and gift items and enjoy great food and entertainment as well. Coexisting works well for all the different offerings.

I love it when townies complain about downtown changing and closing down stores in one breath, and then in the next, admit that they don't shop there anymore. Hmm.

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