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4th Ave. merchants: What recession?

Citizen Staff Writer



Fourth Avenue merchants have not let the economy and closed nearby underpass on the avenue stop them from undertaking a flurry of moves and expansions.

Value Village is creating new retail spaces along Fourth Avenue, one a new home for Kanella’s clothing store. Clothing store Razorz Edge has moved across the street and quadrupled in size, the Surly Wench Pub has added a “quiet room” at the nightclub and six businesses have come to the Avenue in the past six months.

“It’s a testament to dreams are still alive,” said Kurt Tallis, marketing and events coordinator of the 4th Avenue Merchants Association. “Fourth Avenue is a place where dreams are made or at least tried. People put everything on the line. They have hope. One of the large problems in the national economy is a lack of hope.”

Value Village

The most notable change is coming to the Value Village building at 300 N. Fourth Ave.

Since work started Dec. 19, the 1950s brick wall behind the dozen arches and 13 columns was demolished to make way for three new storefronts, including the corner entry for Kanella Conklin’s fifth business home on Fourth Avenue in the 27 years she has sold clothes there.

The price tag for the Value Village project is $700,000.

“I’ve shopped at Value Village ever since I’ve had my store,” Conklin said. “I’ve had a special feeling for this building. I think it’s the prettiest building on the avenue.”

The other two storefronts behind the columns are available, said Stan Hilkemeyer, director of the retail operations at the Beacon Group, which owns the building and Value Village.

The colonnaded building with an Italian influence may date back to 1917, said project architect Philip Carhuff, though tenant records exist only to 1928.

A series of drugstores for the most part filled the space along with extended vacant periods between 1938 and 1948 and between 1955 and Value Village’s opening in 1965, Tallis said.

“There are very few records that exist for this building,” Carhuff said. “We’re tying to bring it back to how it was when it was a drugstore.”

The Beacon Group has used all 18,000 square feet of the building since 1965 to operate a thrift store in the southern two-thirds and have offices and donated furniture processing out of public view in the rest of the building. The offices and furniture processing were moved out nine months ago after Beacon acquired the Skate Country building, 2700 N. Stone Ave., Hilkemeyer said.

The plan to bring in outside retail operations came from the 2003 merger of Beacon Group and Tetra Corp., two organizations that provide services for people with mental and physical disabilities. Value Village generates cash to provide services, and Hilkemeyer reasoned that more retailers would bring more money to Beacon.

“The world is growing up,” Hilkemeyer said. “Maybe you could get away with (the walled-off building) 40 years ago. We want to get a better return on our assets for the organization.”

Value Village has already changed its location in the building. It used to be an east-west oriented store with the corner entrance that Kanella’s will use when it opens in early March. The thrift shop now is in the back of building with a north-south orientation and reduced slightly in size from 12,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet, Hilkemeyer said.

More on Fourth

On a much smaller scale, Razorz Edge quadrupled in size in August by moving one block north and across the street to 427 N. Fourth Ave. Lauren Baker and Rachel Balls opened their original alternative rocker-style and rock-punk clothing shop in 400 square feet in March 2007.

They now have 800 square feet of retail space and 800 square feet for storage, Baker said.

“We’re expanding to a Web store,” Baker said. “We wanted to move or expand to another city. When we planned to move, we didn’t know how the economy would be. We didn’t really feel any lull in 2008. We’re basically hoping to make what we made last year.”

Razorz Edge and Kanella’s took steps to lessen the blows of the recession.

“We kept up a small amount of marketing every month,” Baker said. “We made sure we had marketing in the budget.”

Kanella and Steve Conklin closed their shop Dec. 30, did some traveling and have enjoyed the respite from running a business.

“I didn’t mind at a all,” Kanella Conklin said. “My husband I and planned for this. We saved money and we’re OK with it.”

The new Kanella’s will have an entirely new inventory – the old merchandise went in a liquidation sale, but Conklin will still stick to her retro-style, Audrey Hepburn-style and leather fashions targeting college and motorcycle crowds.

Kanella’s moved a mere five storefronts, or about 150 feet, to the south, but Conklin sees a whole new horizon.

“I’m excited about being across the street from The Hut, where the tiki’s going to be,” she said about the giant statue from the closed-down Magic Carpet Golf. “We’ll be more visible. I like being on the corner. I like being near O’Malleys.” (O’Malleys on Fourth)

The Surly Wench, 424 N. Fourth Ave., added a 900-square-foot room New Year’s Eve, expanding into the adjoining former Puff N’ Stuff space.

“We have bar hopping; we have live shows,” co-owner Kate Miners said. “This is a quieter room. It’s a lounge, it has a pool table, it has a separate bar and people can have a quiet conversation.”

Expansion costs were reduced by Miners and co-owner Stephanie Johnston and their crew doing all of the labor and building the bar.

“I dive into everything I do,” Miners said. “It was scary, but it was now or never. It was a huge risk, but what business venture isn’t?”

The Surly Wench is a nightclub with live music, burlesque shows and a full kitchen. Miners remembered a larger building that is subdivided into three spaces, with the Surly Wench filling two.

“We always wanted to have the building the way it used to be in the Choo Choo Night Train days (in the 1970s) when it was one huge space,” Miners said.

Fourth Avenue has weathered the recession fairly well, thanks to its absence of corporate retailers, a broad customer base and the close-knit relations among merchants, said John Sedwick, executive director of the 4th Avenue Merchants Association.

Sedwick said Fourth Avenue has the advantage of “reasonable” rents in the $12 to $14 per square foot range compared with Main Gate Square on University Boulevard at about $20 to $30 and downtown averaging at $10 to 18, according to the Marshall Foundation and Buzz Izaacson at CB Richard Ellis.

“They are called independent entrepreneurs because they are so dependent on keeping their stores going, even expanding,” Sedwick said. “We’re doing better than the economy says we should be doing.”


Who has occupied the building with arches and columns at 300 N. Fourth Ave.:

• 1928-29: Boyd Drug Co.

• 1930-34: Petty Drug Co.

• 1935: vacant

• 1936-37: Couture Beauty Shop

• 1938-48: vacant

• 1948-55: Brunswig Drug Co.

• 1955-65: vacant

• 1965-present: Value Village


New businesses that opened on Fourth Avenue in the last six months:

• Revolutionary Grounds, 606 N. Fourth Ave., coffee shop/book store

• Swindlers, 513 N. Fourth Ave., clothing

• Olytata Art Studio & Gifts, 416 N. Fourth Ave., imported gifts

• Silver Sea Jewelry, 330 N. Fourth Ave., jewelry

• Cafe Zope, 334 N. Fourth Ave., coffee shop/creperie

• Moon Smoke Shop, 338 N. Fourth Ave., smoke shop

Source: 4th Avenue Merchants Association

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