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.
Downtown shop of 30 years changes name, look; campaign contributors to police vote likely won’t be known before election
There are still Lawrence residents who remember when the downtown shop Britches was the place to go to get a fancy pair of $300 jeans. (I remember. That might have been when I started using a morphine drip to help open the credit card statements.) But those types of prices long have been gone at Britches, and to drive home the point, the store’s ownership has closed the store and reopened under a new brand name.
Flirt Boutique opened about 10 days ago in the space that formerly housed Britches, 843 Massachusetts St. The closing of Britches ended a brand name that had lasted for more than 30 years in downtown Lawrence. Jeremy Furse has owned the Britches store for 30 years, and he said it operated under the name Britches Corner for eight to 10 years prior to his purchase of the business.
“We just thought after 30 years, it was time to do something different,” said Furse, who is the owner of the new Flirt Boutique.
The name change also involved a significant remodeling of the store. Furse said everything was done with the goal of reinforcing the idea that the store is a fun and casual boutique rather than a pricier, upscale retailer.
“Even though our prices have been pretty low for quite awhile, I think because of the look of the store, people would walk by and say that place is so expensive,” Furse said. “Our pricing structure now is about 25 percent below what we had at Britches.”
Furse said many of the styles and brands the store carries have remained the same, but he said the store is adding some new selections to try to appeal to a broader age group. He said the store now is trying to reach 18- to 40-year-olds, where before Britches was more focused on the 18 to 24 age range.
Furse previously operated a Flirt Boutique in Leawood. He recently closed that store to focus on the new Lawrence operations. As for the Britches name, it continues to live on elsewhere. Furse said he continues to operate a Britches in Columbia, Mo. Furse said he thinks the Flirt brand has good potential.
“If the first 10 days are any indications, it is looking very good,” Furse said. “People have been real receptive, and we’ve been able to keep a lot of our customers from the Leawood store.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are the type who likes to follow the money when it comes to political campaigns, good luck in doing so with the campaigning that is going on for a new police headquarters.
As you probably know, there are two political action committees that have formed around the police sales tax issue: one for it and one against it. People have been asking me how much those two groups have been spending and, more importantly, who is providing the funding for the spending.
The answer: We’ll have to wait quite awhile to find out. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told me the local PACs fall under a vague state law that says they do not have to file their campaign contribution and expense reports until Dec. 31. That, of course, is nearly two months after the Nov. 4 election.
“If transparency is the idea behind this law, it doesn’t provide much transparency with this election,” Shew said. “By the time they are required to file, we will have counted the votes and everybody will have moved on.”
Shew said if the political action committee were running advertisements that specifically advocated for or against a candidate, they would have to file reports prior to the election, just like the candidates are required to do. But since the PACs are advocating and opposing an issue — not a candidate — the law doesn’t require them to file prior to the election.
I suppose the PACs could choose to file reports prior to the Nov. 4 election on their own volition, but they aren’t required to do so. I haven’t asked either group whether it plans to do so.
Following the money matters to some voters and likely doesn’t to others. The biggest question I’ve heard surrounding the money issue is whether the vote yes group is being supported by individuals who stand to personally benefit from the project, such as architects, consultants and building contractors. Not that there is anything wrong with that. They have as much right to support an issue as anyone else, but it is information some voters want to have. Seeing who is opposing the issue also could be enlightening.
As for the law behind all of this, Shew said it is not new. He said the problems of the law have been pointed out before but it would require an action of the state Legislature to change the current requirements.
• To lease or buy? I know that is always the question at our home, especially when it comes to the chocolate fountain. (We lease because with any piece of equipment that is running 22 hours a day, you have to guard against maintenance costs.) City Hall officials have that same question too, and at tonight’s meeting they’re going to give leasing a try when it comes to a key part of the city’s vehicle fleet.
City commissioners are set to approve a three-year lease agreement with Shawnee Mission Ford to lease seven new Ford Explorers for the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department. The city will spend about $71,500 a year for the vehicle leases. Over the course of the three-year period, the city will spend about $215,000 for the vehicles, which is about $10,500 more than the city would have spent if it bought the vehicles at their $29,075 purchase price.
At the end of the lease period, the city can buy the vehicles for $1 each. City officials said the lease doesn’t include any mileage penalties or other such penalties. Staff members are recommending approval of the lease agreement as part of the city’s efforts to study whether leasing versus buying makes more sense for the city’s vehicle fleet.
As for the vehicles, they are replacing a mix of SUVs and sedans that range in age from 1999 to 2006 and have between 52,000 and 111,000 miles.