Carrie Rengers

Despite heart scare, Zakas happy to sell Clifton Square

Jo Zakas saw a lot of businesses and business people pass through Clifton Square in 45 years of owning the center.
Jo Zakas saw a lot of businesses and business people pass through Clifton Square in 45 years of owning the center. The Wichita Eagle

Even with pocketing $1.4 million with the sale of Clifton Square, Jo Zakas was bound to experience a range of emotions selling the retail center she founded 45 years ago.

She never expected to wind up in the hospital, though.

At 4:30 a.m. on June 30, the day she was supposed to close on the sale, Zakas realized something was wrong.

“I went to the hospital thinking I had a heart attack,” she says.

“Some people think that was triggered by all this,” Zakas says of the sale, “but I felt good about it.”

It turns out she has an issue with her aorta. She’s tried to tell people it has nothing to do with selling Clifton Square.

“I’m OK.”

Mike Corley, Adam Steiner, James Lyon, Jason Clark and Steiner’s father, Kent, are the new owners of the center.

In the initial story on the sale, Zakas mentioned that perhaps it’s good that mostly millennial owners are now managing the center full of mostly millennial tenants.

“They think different than the rest of us.”

Zakas never intended to open a 27,000-square-foot retail center with almost 20 buildings.

She was one of the founders of Happiness Plaza across the street at 3555 E. Douglas and had a dress shop, Plaza Nine Ltd., there.

“I kept looking at (what later became) Clifton Square across the street,” Zakas says. “I just wanted to use some of the buildings that were there.”

She eyed a couples of houses that were from 1885 and 1886 and thought it would be fun to move her shop there.

One was what she calls a hippie colony. Another was a drug house.

The hippie house was for sale, but Zakas says she was denied zoning.

She was in her 20s, and Zakas says she confronted the planning commission member who opposed her.

“I threw him up against a hall wall, and I said, ‘Why did you do that?’

“He said, ‘Well, I’ll fix it.’ 

The planning commission said she had to acquire a couple more properties in order to have enough parking.

“They never heard of anybody putting a business or retail in a house,” she says. “So that’s how Clifton Square started.”

She says it took her seven years to acquire all the houses that became the center.

One homeowner didn’t want to sell, Zakas says.

“They had lived there forever.”

She learned the owner liked the color blue.

“I went out and bought them a house and painted it blue.”

She added blue carpet. Then she went to the owner.

“She lovvvved the house,” Zakas says.

The owner said she’d never be able to afford it, but Zakas says she only wanted to swap.

Zakas points out that through the years, a number of the city’s biggest developers have been her tenants, including George Laham, Dave Burk and Gary Oborny.

Now that she’s sold the center, Zakas says she’ll have more time to travel and work with her Clifton Square Foundation, which helps at-risk children. She still has other properties as well.

“And I’m going to get my heart fixed and just enjoy myself till I decide what else to do.”

Zakas says she wants to thank all her tenants through the years and Wichita shoppers as well.

“I want to thank Wichita because without them, Clifton Square wouldn’t be what it is today.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers