Special Reports

February 28, 2013

Wichita’s retail scene: controlled, manageable growth

Wichita still may not have its much-requested Cheesecake Factory, but no one can argue the city hasn’t made some significant progress on the retail front in the last year or so.

Wichita still may not have its much-requested Cheesecake Factory, but no one can argue the city hasn’t made some significant progress on the retail front in the last year or so.

“You’ll see some good things happen off the heels of Fresh Market, Whole Foods (and) Cabela’s,” said the Waterfront’s Stephen Clark II.

The development at 13th and Webb Road landed a Whole Foods for its newest addition on the northwest corner of the intersection.

“Something like Whole Foods is certainly a validation, but there’s plenty of room to grow,” Clark said of Wichita’s retail scene.

“We still have a ways to go,” he said. “Unfortunately Wichita, for right or wrong, hasn’t been on the map for many of these larger companies. It gets overlooked.

“I like to say it’s a secondary market. In reality, it’s probably a tertiary market.”

Wichita’s size seems to be the main factor, but that’s not necessarily a hindrance, some say.

“It’s not such a bad thing that we are a smaller market,” said Leisa Lowry, a broker with J.P. Weigand & Sons.

Retailers sometimes grow too fast in bigger markets, she said, but they often figure out their issues before coming to smaller markets such as Wichita.

“South Johnson County has seen an abundance of … vacant restaurants, and we do not very often see that, and we don’t see it to the extent other markets do,” Lowry said of the Kansas City area. “We have controlled and manageable growth here.”

Lowry said the northeast and northwest parts of Wichita are where to watch for new retail and restaurants.

“That’s where the city is really growing,” she said. “We will see a lot more midsize junior anchors, and I think we will definitely see more quick-service restaurants and fast-casual restaurants.”

She said downtown “is really gaining momentum” as well.

Lowry said that even though there’s been some activity on the retail front in Wichita, it’s slower than it was five years ago.

“It’s definitely slower growth, but I think it’s smarter growth,” she said. “You don’t see all the speculative retail centers like you did a few years ago.”

Clark said that “things happen slower here, but good things are happening.”

“Some of these stores are getting big enough to where they can consider smaller markets, and the more of that that happens, the more it snowballs.”

Bob Ross, who teaches marketing at Wichita State University and is an owner of the Research Partnership, said Wichita is “on the cusp of another growth spurt.”

“It’s on the cusp of another potential expansion, much like we had in the ’90s,” he said of when Bradley Fair opened and landed national tenants.

Lowry said any growth in a tough economic climate is “huge,” especially when Wichita can land significant retailers as it has.

“It’s always a step in the right direction,” she said. “It really speaks well of our market when we’re getting national retailers like this in light of the times we’re in.”

Much depends on the economy, Ross said, but he said it’s not unrealistic to expect Wichita could land retailers such as a Trader Joe’s or a Pottery Barn.

“It’ll be an exciting time for us.”

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