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DOWNTOWN STORES Smaller shops are chain reaction

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Cities look to unique, local merchants to keep retailing alive downtown.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- For Ohio cities that have seen decades of dwindling downtown retail, the solution may be in changing the definition of downtown shopping.
Across the state, developers and city officials are turning attention away from major retailers and department stores and experimenting with smaller shops selling unique items that echo the history of the city around them.
In downtown Cleveland on Monday, developer Werner Minshall announced his $30 million purchase of the Galleria, a glass-enclosed shopping mall that has been losing major tenants for years. In the past two years, the mall has lost Eddie Bauer, Williams-Sonoma, The Limited, Express and Victoria's Secret.
Unique boutiques
Minshall said he is hoping to attract a different kind of business to the mall.
"We want to bring unique retail, local merchants, like the Hungarian Heritage Society gift shop," Minshall said. "We want to look to this community to populate this mall."
John Ferchill, chairman of The Ferchill Group, announced in December a plan to build a new $40 million entertainment/shopping complex in downtown Akron, near the site of the new Akron Aeros downtown baseball field.
Ferchill said he has no interest in attracting traditional shopping mall tenants.
"Putting a Gap store where you can drive to five other suburban malls and get it doesn't work," Ferchill said. "We are trying to build a destination point with restaurants and theaters," the kind of urban experience people cannot get elsewhere.
Jim Phelps, Akron's deputy mayor for economic development, said the city is building for a young generation that has tired of the sameness of suburban shopping malls.
C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a consumer research firm in Charleston, S.C., said the new urban retail attracts the same young people who are moving into loft apartments and converted warehouses downtown in cities across the county.
"These are people who look at retail very differently than their parents did," Beemer said. "They are not chain driven. They are much more willing to consider independent retail stores."
In Columbus, vacant retail space is being converted into galleries, offices and nightclubs. A block of former stores was converted last year into Long Street Live, six different themed clubs under one roof, with lines around the block on Friday nights.
A bar and stools have been installed in the former Madison's department store, vacant since the early 1990s, as part of its conversion into a jazz club. Developers are buying nearby buildings to turn into apartments.