Old Town’s varied businesses ‘a treasure for Wichita’

03/02/2014 8:03 AM

03/02/2014 8:03 AM

Valerie Reimers, co-owner of Lucinda’s in Old Town, was drawn to the historic area because it’s unique.

The Old Town shopping district has a mix of businesses not found anyplace else in Wichita, Reimers said.

“There’s so much to do in such a concentrated area,” she said. “There are almost no chains down here. We’re all one-of-a-kind locally owned businesses.”

Old Town boasts more than 100 businesses, including restaurants, shops, clubs, theaters, galleries, museums, hotels and offices.

Reimers, who opened the clothing and gift store 13 years ago, adapted the store’s hours to better match traffic flow.

Lucinda’s gets a lot of traffic from people going to see a movie at the Warren Old Town Theatre and Grill or heading to one of the restaurants.

Old Town’s two hotels, Hotel at Old Town and Courtyard by Marriott-Wichita at Old Town, also bring a lot of out-of-towners to the area.

“We’re really busy in the evenings,” Reimers said.

Old Town is a special area, with its brick buildings and brick-lined streets, historic lampposts and collection of converted brick warehouses dating back to the mid-1800s, said Old Town developer David Burk with Marketplace Properties.

“It creates an ambiance that can’t be created anywhere else in town,” Burk said.

Old Town is also a community and a neighborhood.

Housing is doing well there, with a 97 percent average occupancy rate, Burk said.

“I’m real bullish on housing downtown,” Burk said. “Housing drives a lot of other things – it drives the smaller bars and restaurants and specialty stores. You’ve got more people down there walking around, looking for things.”

Burk is renovating the former Doc Howard’s Lounge space, a large former club at Second and Washington, and breaking it up into smaller spaces.

“I don’t want a large club anymore down in Old Town,” Burk said. “I don’t mind smaller clubs. Larger clubs were creating too much of a problem.”

The renovated space will have two tenants: Taste and See, which opened in November, and Lotus Leaf Cafe, which is expected to open in the spring.

Burk is working on renting three additional spaces in the building.

The biggest draw by number of people on an average daily basis is the Warren theater, Burk said.

And the two hotels are critical components.

“They’re outside guests coming into our community,” he said. “They walk around Old Town. They bring people from Wichita to meet them.”

Many work in Old Town at the Airbus Americas Engineering center, Morris Laing Evans Brock & Kennedy law firm, Sullivan Higdon and Sink agency, Associated Integrated Marketing and others.

“It’s a really good mix,” Burk said.

Old Town has what Jason Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association, calls the “walkability factor.”

“It’s a one-stop location you can go to if you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for,” Van Sickle said. “Sometimes it’s nice to go and walk around.”

“Employees support the retail side, but the retail side attracts people to come down here and have an office,” he said. “It’s a nice symbiotic relationship – to have people living, working and providing services in one area.”

The Old Town Association is redefining the borders of Old Town and restructuring it to be a more inclusive neighborhood, he said.

Old Town’s core has traditionally been between Washington and the railroad tracks to the west and from Douglas north to Central.

Now “we see the west border as far as Topeka, the south border to Waterman, east to Hydraulic and north to Central,” Van Sickle said. The association isn’t trying to create legal or officials borders to Old Town, though, he said.

One missing link from Old Town, some say, is a grocery store. And Burk would like to have more retail stores.

Melad Stephan operates three popular restaurants in Old Town: Oeno Wine Bar, Cafe Moderne and Sabor Latin Bar & Grille. He also operates a catering business out of Eaton Place on Douglas.

Before Old Town, Stephan operated a restaurant on Rock Road but wanted to add another location. Old Town was building up and looked attractive.

“Old Town is a great venue, and I wanted to be there,” Stephan said. So he opened Uptown Bistro and ran it for six years. After that ran its course, he turned it into Luca Italian Kitchen, which also has closed.

He also opened Oeno, a wine bar, and Sabor followed in 2008.

Along the way, Stephan opened a restaurant at the Waterfront in east Wichita but found it too expensive to operate there, he said.

The Old Town restaurants are successful, he said. And customers like the outdoor seating.

Sabor has been the most successful.

“It worked out really well,” he said.

Designer Rebecca Simpson opened Rebecca’s at Second and Mead in Old Town Square nearly four years ago.

She’s fallen in love with Old Town.

“It has an eclectic atmosphere to it,” Simpson said. “I love the old buildings.”

Not every city has a core base of old buildings or an area that can be transformed like Wichita’s Old Town, she said.

“We just need to embrace it,” Simpson said. “It’s really a treasure for Wichita to have.”

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