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Leonore Morris, co-owner of Reasons Shoes, has seen a younger customer base since she and her husband moved the store to Main Street. Photo by Yaryna Klimchak.
Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 5 years ago

Downtown attracts high-end retail


Penzeys Spices was a busy place on an unseasonably warm and sunny Friday, with about a dozen shoppers mulling the shelves of spices.

It’s the type of place in which culinary enthusiasts take their time.

“It’s a nice little shop,” said Aron Lamerson, a Lakewood Ranch resident who enjoys shopping in downtown Sarasota with his friend Amber McCoig.

“It’s really nice. We are foodies. We try to hit it up when we can,” Lamerson said.

Lamerson said he would like it if there were more of these kinds of shops on Main Street.

The spice store, a national chain, tapped the space at 1516 Main St. after the unit owner completed extensive renovations in the space Freaky Tiki Surf Shack occupied until 2007. Penzeys opened in August 2011.

The owner “opened up” the space, re-doing the ceiling and exposing wood walls, said longtime commercial real-estate broker John Harshman. Harshman was the leasing agent who brought in Penzeys.

Less than a block away, just off Main Street on Lemon Avenue, Reasons Shoes is another high-end retail store that has moved into a renovated storefront downtown.

The two new stores signal a shift that has been under way during the past two years, said Harshman. Even as some stores close — such as European Focus, Sarasota Hardware and Super Value Vitamins — new retailers are coming to Main Street. And more and more prospective higher-end retailers are checking out storefront space.

“Each new retailer that comes downtown opens the door for another,” Harshman said.

Harshman said Reasons Shoes’ move to the mainland was a “tremendous confidence booster for downtown” retail.

The November 2012 opening of Evelyn & Arthur, at 1480 Main St., was another “great addition” downtown, said Harshman, who was the leasing agent for that commercial space, as well.

But the retailers eyeing downtown commercial space are selective. They want renovated or new space, such as the storefront at 20 N. Lemon Ave., where Reasons Shoes moved.

“They know what they want,” Harshman said of the retailers. “They know what they need to make their businesses successful.”

George Morris, co-owner of the store that specializes in imported shoes, first scouted the space on Lemon Avenue seven years ago. Charles “Butch” Isaac, president of Isaac Group Holdings LLC, which owns the building, told Morris at the time that the space “was for Reasons Shoes.” Isaac persisted in trying to land Reasons Shoes as a tenant.

Reasons Shoes moved from St. Armands Circle Oct. 1, 2012, after realizing that downtown was becoming a more vibrant area for retail. Overall sales have been up since Morris and his wife, Leonore, moved the store downtown. And the store is seeing a younger customer base, with about 20% to 25% more Sarasota shoppers — as opposed to tourists, Leonore Morris said.

The couple likes their new retail location.

“Downtown has gotten more and more vibrant,” George Morris said.

But, for George Morris, the best part of the move is the character of 20 N. Lemon Ave.

They hired a contractor to put the finishing touches on the space, which was a cement and concrete shell before their build-out. The goal was to have an open, sunny atmosphere.

“It’s almost like being outside,” George Morris said.

It took three months to complete the interior space, with white walls, large high windows and a ceiling painted navy to draw attention to the open, 38-foot high ceiling.

George Morris predicts more new retailers will move in nearby.

“We are going to see a considerable rollover of new kinds of stores on Main Street in the next three or four years,” he said.

Since 2009, other retailers, such as Optional Art, have also made the move from St. Armands to downtown.

Harshman attributes the recent retail influx to several factors. It started back in 2000 with a resurgence of interest in downtown residential redevelopment across the country. Then, property owners such as Isaac Group Holdings, which is also developing the delayed Pineapple Square mixed-use project, began renovating commercial space. As more and more retailers moved downtown, including the handful of new stores in 2009, other retailers, including chains and independent stores such as Reasons Shoes, felt more comfortable making the move.

“It is so encouraging to see these changes in the heart of our downtown in the middle of a recession,” Harshman said about the stores that have opened since 2012.

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