Wichita’s retail picture is ever-changing, ever-expanding

03/04/2014 10:08 AM

08/06/2014 10:06 AM

Just as merchants in the Old West made their bets and built stores where they hoped railroads would be, today’s developers look at transportation to build new retail developments.

“The reason why Greenwich Road is going to be the next retail corridor – or the next Rock Road – is it’s regional,” said developer George Laham.

Laham said that thanks to K-96, customers can get to shopping areas “in no time at all.”

So far, he said, there have been about five years of incremental growth in that area. That’s about to change, Laham said, with “exponential” growth.

“It’s really going to be pretty incredible,” Laham said. “You will not recognize it.”

Through the years, Wichita’s retail areas have shifted.

Longtime residents – and even some who haven’t been around all that long – have a hard time recognizing some of their favorite former shopping spots.

For instance, downtown once was the thriving retail heart of the city, then it lost all its major retailers and many of the smaller ones, too.

Now, Slawson Cos. commercial broker Jerry Jones said there’s a growing momentum for retail downtown.

He said new residential development in the area “is really going to be the leading factor.”

“That will spur … a bigger jump in the amount of retail.”

Correctly anticipating where shoppers will congregate next is the first step to successful retail development – locally and nationally.

Wichita has had some constants through the years, such as Lincoln Heights Village at Douglas and Oliver.

“I like to go to local places,” said Shawn Bauman, a native Wichitan who works for an accounting firm.

Bauman remembers shopping at centers here that either no longer exist or aren’t the same as they used to be, such as Pawnee Plaza.

“You kind of miss the nostalgia of it.”

Because he likes to shop local, Bauman said, he doesn’t frequent the malls – Towne East and Towne West Squares – like he once did.

“I might visit Towne East once or twice a year.”

The malls are now reinventing themselves with nonretail tenants, such as Wright Career College at Towne East, though there is still plenty of shopping to do, too.

Some previously prominent retail centers, such as Pawnee Plaza, have now transitioned into more neighborhood centers to serve people in the immediate area.

Others have seen their retail bases grow and wane as tastes and residential areas have changed, and they still haven’t found their new footing. Twin Lakes at 21st and Amidon, once the city’s hottest shopping spot, is still struggling to reinvent itself.

Across the city, Jones said that “2013 was still a kind of … rough year.”

“The economy just hasn’t come back as quickly as people had hoped,” he said.

Still, he said there’s hope for the new year.

“I see a lot of optimism for 2014.”

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