Downtown’s retail scene has made a positive turn in the past year as vacant storefronts are beginning to fill.
Within the past two months, almost half the vacant retail space on Tejon Street between Colorado Avenue and Boulder Street has been leased.
Seven businesses plan to relocate or open new shops, while brokers say they’re close to commitments on other spots and have had a lot of calls about empty ones.
“We’ve just been able to do some of those deals in the last 60 days,” said Julie Phillips, a broker with Fountain Colony, which leased spaces at 103, 107, 109 and 250 N. Tejon St. “We’re happy to see Tejon filling up. Downtown has a lot of vibrancy and I think people see that.”
Mark Miller and his wife CJ plan to open CJ’s Unique Boutique at 107 N. Tejon St. by the end of June. Drama Boutique moved out of the location last summer. The Tejon storefront will replace CJ’s main retail operation at 3858 Maizeland Road, where attracting customers has been a challenge.
“Moving downtown was just kind of a no-brainer for us,” Miller said. “This location here (on Maizeland), you can’t pay people to come here.”
Josh and Kristen Goeser are painting and decorating 250 N. Tejon St. where they will open a women’s boutique, called Halo, in July.
“I have been in the fashion industry several years, so I know the key to success is a good location,” Kristen said. “We searched and finally found a location that not only is close to our hearts, but is also a great location for our business.”
Matt Carpenter and Molly Martyn opened the Venice Olive Oil Company at 109 N. Tejon earlier this month. They moved from Denver to live and work in downtown Colorado Springs. When they were looking for a storefront to expand, Martyn’s stepfather’s Florida-based business, they only looked on Tejon.
“Everyone we talked to, it was unanimous,” Carpenter said. “They all told us we had to be downtown on Tejon Street.”
That sentiment seemed to be lacking last summer when long-time tenant Mrs. Fields Cookies led almost a dozen Tejon business closures.
But with Einstein Bagels now occupying that location at 132 N. Tejon St. and other vacancies filling, brokers say there is more optimism about downtown.
Mark Kemper has been trying to lease 124 N. Tejon since Johannes Hunter Jewelers moved out in January.
“In the month of June, which just started, I’ve had four inquiries on that space,” Kemper said. “The last year I may have gotten four calls, maybe not even that.”
He said he expected to have a new tenant by the end of this week, but declined to discuss the deal before the papers were signed.
“I’d better keep my mouth shut,” he said. “But everything is looking a little bit better.”
Next door at 122 N. Tejon is the former Michelle’s building, vacant since 2007. But owner Kamala Ghimire says she has started actively marketing the building for lease and has had significant interest. One potential tenant promised to send a proposal by June 15.
“We don’t know if we’ll agree to that,” she said. “But we’ll go from there.”
Ghimire owns Taj, a popular Indian restaurant in Boulder. She announced plans to open a location on Tejon in 2010 when she bought the building. She opened a second store in Denver instead and has decided to lease the Colorado Springs space.
Charles D’Alessio, a broker with Synergy Home Realty, says he’s had several inquiries in the last couple weeks about 26 N. Tejon St., which has been vacant most of the four years since a tattoo shop moved north. Sam Guadagnoli backed out of a contract on the building, located between two of his existing downtown clubs, when his proposal to expand next-door Gasoline Alley met with neighborhood opposition.
Holly Trinidad, managing partner at Hoff & Leigh Real Estate, has started marketing downtown space that will be available soon. The ground floor of 6 N. Tejon is a little bigger than 12,000 square feet, which is proving to be too large.
“The space has been vacant for a long time,” Trinidad said. “Our strategy is — let’s go in and renovate the lower level and make it more accommodating to smaller tenants.”
The O’Neil Group, which purchased the building and moved its Braxton Technologies in last fall, is planning a major renovation.
“They’re going to build out a really neat corridor and simultaneously give the building a facelift,” Trinidad said. “It’s really going to add a neat dynamic to that building.”
In addition to a spot for a coffee barista, there will be four large retail spaces. Trinidad says she’s had interest from some banks and a couple exciting restaurant concepts.
Trinidad said she expects to see leases coming through and renovations starting by the fourth quarter of 2012. She has been calling businesses to market the space.
“We’re finding that a lot of businesses really want to be downtown, or they’re not interested in it at all,” Trinidad said.
Despite all the good news, there are still several vacant spaces downtown.
Steve Hunsinger, a broker with Olive Real Estate Group, represents 218 N. Tejon, which was home to boutique Idoru until 2010. He’s seen little interest in the space.
“We have showings from time to time,” he said. “But it needs interior finish and people don’t always have that vision.”
He added that there are plenty of other spaces to choose from downtown. For the seven vacant storefronts that have leased, nine more remain vacant. That includes a few where brokers say they have deals pending.
It also includes some that have been on the market without much meaningful activity. Mark Useman, a broker with Sierra Commercial Real Estate, says he’s shown a retail condo at 106 N. Tejon a little more frequently in the past few months. But no one has been interested enough to write a proposal.
He’s also marketing 112 N. Tejon St., where Bryan & Scott Jewelers closed this winter. The building, for sale rather than lease, is more than 10,000 square feet and would require a large retailer or restaurant. Useman said he’d like to see a restaurant with rooftop dining go into the space.
“Everybody has their opinion about downtown,” Useman said. “Some are positive. Some are cautious. And some are negative.”