You don’t say

“It improves safety for everyone — not just individuals with disabilities.”

Brian Coon, the city’s Americans With Disabilities coordinator, regarding a plan that could allow city buses onto property at Towne East and Towne West Squares

‘Til We Meet Again further franchises and encounters its first stumbling block

WICHITA — Willow Group continues to ink franchise deals for more ’Til We Meet Again stores, but the Wichita company has also experienced its first setback.

The chain’s first franchisee was to open a custom casket store in Glenbrook Square in Fort Wayne, Ind., in May, but Willow Group’s Nathan Smith says mall management changed its mind without giving him or local media a reason.

“Glenbrook Square officials likely sealed a casket company’s fate in Fort Wayne,” read the lead of a Journal Gazette story, which was one of several stories about the issue that appeared in local media outlets.

“It was a mess,” says Smith, who is partners in Willow Group with Traci Smith-Cone.

“Honestly, it took us by surprise,” Smith says. “We do everything we can in the beginning to make sure everything is secured.”

He says the mall took five months to approve the contract.

No one with Glenbrook could be reached for comment.

Smith says the franchisee lost about $100,000 on remodeling and other expenses when told she’d have to vacate the mall five days before opening. He says the store had a contract, but there was a clause that the mall could ask the store to leave at any time.

“We definitely worked quickly with the franchisee to minimize even more loss of funds,” Smith says. “At the time, it was a scramble.”

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Better Buy Jewelry to open at Preston Village at Central and Greenwich

WICHITA — Also opening at Preston Village where BattleStations Gaming is locating is Better Buy Jewelry, which used to be in Towne East Square.

Juan Gonzales says he was forced to move because of Wright Career College’s expansion at the mall, but he doesn’t mind.

“We like the (new) area not only because I live nearby but also because we feel like it’s more secure,” he says. “It’s in a better, safer place.”

Also, Gonzales says, he doesn’t have much competition.

“There’s no jewelry stores on … this side of Kellogg and Rock Road.”

Like the BattleStations deal, Adam Clements of Builders Inc. handled this one as well.

The new store, which will also repair jewelry and watches, opens Sept. 25 and will have a grand opening Sept. 29.

Famous Footwear to open in former Highlands Gastropub space on Rock Road

WICHITA — A new business is going in the former Highlands Gastropub and Cardroom space at 3731 N. Rock Road, but this time it’s not a restaurant.

Famous Footwear is taking the 7,500 square feet.

No one with the company returned calls for comment, but remodeling is under way, and it looks like the store should be open in a few months.

Andy Boyd of Walter Morris Cos. and Christian Ablah of Classic Real Estate handled the deal.

After Highlands Gastropub closed in late 2009, Colorado-based BenchWarmers Tavern & Grill signed a 10-year lease for the space but didn’t end up coming.

Before the gastropub opened in the building, Serengeti Grill was briefly there, and Black Canyon Grille had a longer existence there before that.

In addition to the new Famous Footwear, the existing ones at Towne East Square and Eastgate Plaza at Kellogg and Rock Road will remain open. There also are two Famous Footwears on the west side.

 

Mattress Hub co-founder says chain is doing well despite saturated market

WICHITA — Has the mattress boom gone bust?

That was one reader’s question after noticing that – following the glut of new mattress stores in Wichita the last couple of years – the U.S. Mattress near Kellogg and Greenwich is closed along with the Mattress Hub clearance store at Central and West.

No one with U.S. Mattress could be reached for comment, but Mattress Hub co-founder Ryan Baty says business is great.

“The mattress business is a cutthroat business, but what allows you to succeed over time is giving customers a bigger, better deal and a variety of options.”

Baty says customers begin to focus more on price and options as a market gets saturated.

He says his chain’s clearance store didn’t close, but it did move to Towne West Square to capitalize on foot traffic.

The Mattress Hub at Towne East Square is being remodeled into a speciality sleep gallery that focuses on Tempur-Pedic and Serta iComfort gel beds.

The chain became a Tempur-Pedic Elite Retailer earlier this summer, which Baty says is the top distinction the company awards.

With Wichita already saturated, Baty says he’s working on two more stores in Kansas City, where he already has three Mattress Hubs.

“Our focus really is on Kansas City right now.”

Body Central to open at NewMarket Square

WICHITA — Florida-based Body Central is opening a second Wichita store, this time in NewMarket Square at 21st and Maize Road.

The first Body Central, a clothing store that caters to young women, is at Towne East Square.

“Your part of the country has been very successful for us,” says Matt Swartwood, senior vice president of stores.

“We have a solid group of stores in Kansas City. We do some great business in Oklahoma.”

The chain also is in Topeka.

Swartwood describes the store as “junior fast fashion,” meaning it quickly turns whatever the latest fashions are for the junior set.

Competitors include Charlotte Russe, Forever 21 and Wet Seal.

The 4,000-square-foot store will open next to Carter’s at NewMarket Square.

April Reed of Slawson Cos. handled the deal.

If all goes well, look for the store to open in August.

“We just see this as part of filling in the market,” Swartwood says. “We’re just awfully excited to come to your city with another store.”

Simon Property Group hires local firm to market space

WICHITA — It’s not exactly news when new space is available at a mall, but Jeff Englert makes a good case for 8,000 square feet that he and Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group colleagues are marketing at Towne East Square.

“To my knowledge, it’s the first time that Simon used third-party brokers in Wichita,” he says of Simon Property Group, which owns the mall.

Perhaps more significantly, Englert says, “They want to go after nontraditional mall tenants for this.”

Not that he and fellow brokers Nathan Farha and Grant Glasgow won’t look at retail.

“Retail is definitely going to be our first play there.”

However, Simon has had some luck with nonretail tenants, such as Wright Career College.

“They want to explore that some more,” Englert says.

The space is located on the west side of Towne East between Dillard’s and Sears at the second-most busy main entrance of the mall. Englert says it’s possible to add a glass exterior so the space is visible from outside the mall.

After retail, Englert says there could be possibilities such as office users, educational facilities or a fitness center.

He says he’ll soon have news on a new Towne West Square tenant.

“This will be pretty big news, let’s put it that way.”

Look for it in about a month or so.

JC Penney’s Wichita stores are ‘operating with fewer layers of management’

WICHITA — A source says there were layoffs at both JC Penney stores in Wichita Monday and that it appears to be mostly managers who were affected.

The Plano, Texas-based company will confirm only that it is “operating with fewer layers of management.”

“We are unable to provide specific details on how the restructuring impacts jcpenney stores on a local level,” wrote spokeswoman Sarah Holland in an e-mail.

The company has stores at Towne East Square and Towne West Square.

“The Company’s new approach to pricing, promotion, merchandising and the customer experience has simplified our business and removed a lot of the process-oriented work that was previously required,” Holland wrote.

“These changes are essential to helping us achieve our long-term goals. Over time, we expect that the likelihood for new and more enriched job opportunities will develop as our business grows. We would not have moved forward with these difficult decisions if we did not believe it was absolutely necessary for the future growth of our Company.”

Beau Monde Spa and Boutique to expand at Comotara Center

WICHITA — Michele Wheeler began contemplating expanding her Beau Monde Spa and Boutique at Comotara Center more than a year ago.

With the entry of six new national competitors in the market, though, she figured she better wait before she made the investment.

She’s not waiting anymore.

“I just decided that it was the right time,” Wheeler says.

She’s adding 2,000 more square feet to her almost 6,000-square-foot space at the center at 29th and Rock Road. That’s where Eccentricity was before moving to part of the former Olive Tree Bistro space.

“I knew we had a great clientele,” Wheeler says.

Still, it was daunting when a new Sephora opened at Bradley Fair and two more opened within JC Penney stores. There also are two new Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance stores, which are at NewMarket Square and Eastgate Plaza, and a Bare Escentuals at Towne East Square.

“I had to wait kind of wait and see what was going to happen,” Wheeler says. “We just had to stay true to our game and let everybody go check it out.”

She thinks Beau Monde has continued to do well in part because customers have “gotten behind that ‘shop local.’”

Also, she says, “It’s a little more personal attention when you come in here.”

In addition to the spa, Beau Monde offers makeup and skincare products.

Wheeler was prompted to finally take the extra space for a couple of reasons.

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Costco may be close to a Wichita deal

WICHITA — Wichita, you just may get your wish for a Costco — maybe even relatively soon — though how close the company is to a deal depends on who you talk to.

The Issaquah, Wash.-based chain, which sells bulk items similar to Sam’s Club stores, has been eyeing Wichita again.

“I came to the market to look at the market on a macro basis,” says co-founder and executive chairman Jeff Brotman. “I didn’t like anything I saw.”

Brotman says that “without disclosing our deepest, darkest secrets,” he can say that the locations he looked at didn’t fit with the way the market moves, meaning its natural trade areas.

“I have a mild interest,” Brotman says. “I’m interested in everything, right? . . . It’s just hard to focus on things that aren’t burning priorities.”

That’s not how others tell it. According to them, Costco is close enough to a deal that a 2013 opening isn’t out of the question.

Even Brotman says, “Let’s just assume it was true: I wouldn’t tell you about it. Even after we get a property under control, we don’t talk about it until after we have permits.”

In summer 2010, The Eagle conducted a poll of what businesses Wichitans would like to have in the city.

Costco narrowly lost the top choice to Cheesecake Factory.

“I was a little disappointed that we came in second,” Costco co-founder and then-CEO Jim Sinegal joked at the time. “I’ve got to be prepared to deal with these little disappointments in life.”

Costco has previously been close to at least one other deal here, and Sinegal said a finalized deal is simply a matter of the company giving Wichita some attention.

“Meaning . . . we get off our butts and go take a look,” he said. “At any point and time, we probably have 100 different sites we’re looking at.”

Sources say several sites have been under consideration over the last six months or so.

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