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College Hill shopping centers focus on staying local

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 1, 2014, at 11:32 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 8:03 a.m.

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One of Wichita’s oldest neighborhoods, College Hill, is also host to the city’s oldest shopping center, Lincoln Heights Village.

Lincoln Heights and Clifton Square are two primary shopping centers in the neighborhood that was developed for houses beginning in the late1800s by landowners George O. Merriman and M.R. Moser. The College Hill neighborhood is bounded by Hillside to the west, Oliver to the east, Central to the north and Kellogg to the south.

Tenants at Lincoln Heights and Clifton Square, 3700 E. Douglas, about a half-mile west of Lincoln Heights, are locally owned retail shops and restaurants. And that has always been true for both shopping centers.

“As far as national or regional chains, no,” said Joe Verbeckmoes, owner of Benchmark Real Estate, who has managed Lincoln Heights for 17 years. “It’s always been local ownership.”

Lincoln Heights’ three major tenants are Watermark Books, Heads Village Shoe Store and Susan’s Flowers.

Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books, said the business opened at its Lincoln Heights location in April 1997, consolidating its Picadilly Square stores and its First and Broadway store, which is where the bookstore first opened in 1977.

Bagby said there were several factors that drove Watermark’s move to Lincoln Heights. It needed a single location large enough to accommodate a cafe, and it wanted to be in a center that was predominantly occupied by locally owned retailers. Bagby said Watermark also wanted to keep the landlord of its other locations, Walter Morris & Sons, which developed Lincoln Heights and remains the shopping center’s owner.

“(And) we wanted to be in a neighborhood with roots in the Wichita community and one that was easy to get to,” she said. “Lincoln Heights … fit our needs.”

Bagby and Verbeckmoes said the center gets a lot of customer support from College Hill residents – and beyond.

“We are absolutely a destination location,” Bagby said. “We have customers from all over the city and suburbs.”

The same is true at Clifton Square, said owner Jo Zakas, who developed the half-acre center in 1972 that features a mix of retail shops, restaurants, service businesses and offices. Tenants include Ziggy’s Pizza, College Hill Creamery, as well as hair and salons, a clothing boutique, floral shops and offices for accountants and therapists.

“They come from all over the city,” Zakas said of Clifton Square clients and customers. “We’re getting a really nice cross-section and, surprisingly, we get a lot of customers from the west side.”

Zakas said when she opened Clifton Square, its tenants were mostly independently owned retail stores. But a recession in the early 1990s prompted Zakas to convert some of the buildings into office space. “We’ve been a nice happy mix,” she said.

Zakas said Clifton Square is about 90 percent occupied. Verbeckmoes said he currently has one vacant space, 1,300 square feet at Lincoln Heights.

Verbeckmoes said Lincoln Heights has had little turnover in tenants over the years, which he attributes to tenants who know how to run a business and a landlord that keeps reasonable lease rates, is responsive to tenants and makes improvements when needed.

“You’ve got just a really successful shopping center that’s stood the test of time,” he said.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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