Carrie Rengers

Changes coming for longtime clothier in response to retail trends

J.V. Johnston says he sees the future of retail and wants to downsize Johnston’s while the store is still doing well.
J.V. Johnston says he sees the future of retail and wants to downsize Johnston’s while the store is still doing well. Eagle file photo

He doesn’t have a crystal ball, at least that we know of, but J.V. Johnston is pretty good at looking into the future.

First, he saw a trend eastward and started the Collective development at K-96 and 21st Street and moved Johnston’s, his family’s longtime clothing store, there in 2005. That was before traffic was booming in the area.

“At first, it was just getting people to come out that far,” Johnston says. “There wasn’t anything out there.”

Now, traffic is tremendous, but Johnston sees something else happening.

“We see the trend in shopping and retail,” he says. “The distribution of goods has just changed. You see more and more online. We’ve tried doing online twice, and we just don’t have the scale or the resources. Even some of the big guys don’t have the scale or the resources.”

Johnston says the store no longer needs its more than 13,000 square feet, and he’s going to try to lease or sell the space, with leasing being his preference. The earliest the store would move would be this time next year, but Johnston says it’s OK if it takes longer because the store is profitable.

However, he says, “We don’t want to wait until it’s too late.”

Johnston is now vice president for university advancement at Newman University. His wife, Veronica, and their business partner, Kevin Edmundson, run the store. Johnston says they’re the reasons he wouldn’t consider simply closing.

“They both absolutely love the customers,” Johnston says. “That’s the part I miss.”

He says the store is starting to see the fourth generation of customers within families that have shopped there through the years.

“That’s pretty cool.”

Johnston says the store needs about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, but he’s not started looking for new space yet. He’d like it to be at the Collective or “within a stone’s throw … because that area’s just on fire.”

“The traffic out there is unbelievable.”

He says the store’s focus will narrow.

“It’s kind of exciting, because you get to reinvent yourself – again,” he says. “You get to kind of take a step back and look and say, ‘What is going well, what’s not going well?’ ”

His daughter-in-law, Betty Johnston, owns the ladies department at Johnston’s.

“So she’ll decide what she wants to do with that,” he says.

Don Arnold of John T. Arnold Associates is marketing the Johnston’s space.

“It’s a specialty building, but it’s a very nice, fully appointed, beautiful space with the visibility that it has,” Arnold says.

“You’re on K-96,” Johnston says. “That’s where all the big national guys want to be. They must know something. So it’s a great opportunity for someone that can use the amount of space.”

Arnold says the site could attract national interest. Johnston says he’d be fine with a competing national retailer taking the space, but he says it won’t happen.

“They’re all contracting,” he says.

“It would have to be a specialty clothing deal that probably would not compete in the same niche,” Arnold says.

Arnold says he could more easily see a medical or law use “or somebody that wants a signature office building.”

Johnston says there’s a trend for open offices, and that’s what this space could be.

Arnold says there’s no rush on a deal, and nothing needs to happen by a certain date.

Johnston says he does have one concern, though.

“The only thing: I don’t want people to think that we’re going out of business, ’cause we’re not.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers