Towne West Medical Plaza coming to Towne West Square for nontraditional use

Michael Payton (from left), Jeff Englert and Grant Glasgow are trying to market a new Towne West Medical Plaza for a nontraditional approach to filling the mall.

WICHITA — Area mall manager Michael Payton is using a new saying to describe Simon Property Group malls such as Towne East Square and Towne West Square.

“The malls are starting to become the ‘alls.’”

He means the malls offer more than retail and restaurant options these days.

“We’re starting to see more and more nontraditional users work their way into the mall environment.”

The latest foray into a nontraditional use will be the new Towne West Medical Plaza, a potentially 50,000-square-foot area that could be home to a variety of medical users.

“Basically kind of a one-stop shop for different medical needs,” says Jeff Englert of Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.

Englert and colleague Grant Glasgow are marketing the property, which will be on the west side of the mall between Sears and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“This is something they’ve tried in other markets,” Glasgow says of Simon.

“You have a built-in customer base within Towne West mall.”

Glasgow says the mall has 6 million visitors annually.

Payton says the medical location will be convenient for patients, who also could be shoppers.

“They can do some shopping. They can eat.”

Glasgow says to see why this idea makes sense, look at the number of medical providers in the southwest Wichita area.

“It is by far the fewest in Wichita,” he says.

Englert says that area has only 1 percent of all medical offices in the city.

“Obviously, there’s a clear void,” he says. “That’s another reason why we thought this would be a good use of space.”

In addition to being convenient for patients, Glasgow says a medical plaza at the mall makes sense for doctors and dentists, too.

“This allows medical users to cluster,” he says. “They like to all be together.”

On-site management is another plus, he says.

“There are benefits like 24-7 security.”

The area likely will develop in phases.

“It will not cut off through the rest of the mall,” Englert says of access to shopping through that entrance.

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Habitat for Humanity ReStore to move to Plaza West and double in size

WICHITA — The Habitat for Humanity ReStore shop is doubling its space with a move to the Plaza West shopping center at the southwest corner of Central and West.

“We are just growing,” says director Katrina McGuigan. “We’re getting a lot of good stuff coming in from our donors and just needed to find a bigger showroom floor space.”

The ReStore shop is a retail discount home improvement store that has new and used merchandise donated by the public.

“We exist to support Habitat for Humanity,” McGuigan says.

The current showroom is 6,000 square feet at the southwest corner of Harry and Hillside. The new one will be 12,000 square feet and have 3,000 square feet more for storage.

“Our loyal customers will easily follow us,” McGuigan says. “And we’ll have a whole new, fresh set of customers on that side of town.”

She says the new store will be in a more visible, high-traffic area with a Walmart Neighborhood Market in the same center and Dillons across the street.

“This just makes all the sense in the world for us.”

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‘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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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.”

Willow Group lands Texas-size franchise deal for 14 new ‘Til We Meet Again stores

UPDATED — On the heels of getting its first franchise in April, the Willow Group has inked a deal with an undisclosed group for 14 ’Til We Meet Again stores in Texas. All of them will be open no later than 2014.

“It’s huge,” says Nathan Smith, who is partners with Traci Smith-Cone in the venture.

The two opened the custom casket store in Towne West Square in 2010 with no plans to franchise.

That changed, though, and in April they landed their first franchise with a store in Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Smith says they’ve just finalized a deal for a Milwaukee store, though the franchisee hasn’t signed a lease for mall space yet, and are close on a three-store deal in Phoenix.

Smith thinks the Texas deal will help him and Smith-Cone close other deals.

“For the folks that are out there that we’re talking to right now … those guys that are on the fence … seeing that definitely gets them off the fence quickly,” Smith says. “It helps legitimize what we’re doing.”

He says it gives other potential franchisees a sense of security to know “they’re not the first ones, and they’re not doing this by themselves.”

Smith says he and Smith-Cone have the infrastructure in place for the rapid expansion.

“That’s what is the best part about what we’re doing here and what makes this work,” he says.

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54 Palms Latin dance club to open in Towne West Square June 15

WICHITA — Former Copa Cabana owners Ricardo Moreno and Carlos Ortiz Sr. are opening a new Latin dance club at Towne West Square.

Their 54 Palms, named for Highway 54, will open in almost 10,000 square feet next to Denim & Diamonds on June 15.

Copa Cabana was open briefly in 2003 before trouble with a third partner forced it to close, Moreno says. It was downtown.

“There’s a big building there now called Intrust Bank Arena,” Moreno says, laughing.

He didn’t want to locate in that area again.

“We wanted to stay away from Old Town,” Moreno says. “There’s too much trouble down there. There’s too many problems with police – young crowds getting out of hand.”

He says he and Ortiz want to offer what he calls the security and safety of the mall.

There will be theme nights throughout the week.

Saturday is the premier night with Latin music, salsa and merengue. Friday is “throwback jams” with music from the ’80s. It’s the only night there will be food. Doors will open at 5 p.m. to attract an after-work crowd that might need “alcohol therapy,” Moreno says.

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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.”

‘Til We Meet Again gets its first franchisee

UPDATED — Two years after opening ’Til We Meet Again, the custom casket store in Towne West Square, the Willow Group has its first franchisee.

The franchisee is opening a ‘Til We Meet Again in the Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne, Ind., next month.

Several more likely will follow in short order. That’s even though Willow Group partners Nathan Smith and Traci Smith-Cone never planned to franchise.

“We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re going to do this on our own,’” Smith-Cone says.

What changed?

“The YouTube video,” she says.

There have been a few videos about the store, one of which has been viewed almost 124,000 times on YouTube. Calls from around the country started coming from people who wanted to open similar shops. Then a January story in Entrepreneur piqued even more interest.

“We’ve been flooded with inquiries,” Smith says.

“My limited knowledge about franchising was we would lose control of those businesses,” Smith-Cone says. “For two type-A personalities to do that, that was very tough.”

They realized they didn’t have much choice, Smith says.

“Once it got out there, to prevent anyone else from doing what we were doing, we had to move quickly,” he says. To secure exclusive deals with manufacturers, who create all kinds of unique caskets and urns, they needed to open more stores than they could afford to do on their own.

“Our fear was more of other people starting their own and creating competition for what we wanted to do,” Smith says. “Before we didn’t have that buying power.”

Now they do, but it hasn’t been easy.

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It’s A Wrap to open near food court at Towne West Square

WICHITA — Instead of continuing to work for other restaurants, Brahim Elhamdaoui and Destiny and Raed Mansour are now going to open their own.

“It’s been a dream of ours for a few years now, and we’re finally doing it,” Destiny Mansour says.

They’re opening It’s A Wrap at Towne West Square, just outside of the food court.

They’ll sell wraps, paninis, salads, smoothies, coffee, energy drinks and juice.

The kiosk opens April 1.