Realtors grabbing up retail space

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— Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, is arguably the community's hottest retail district. But recently there has been a mini-trend toward new real estate offices and showrooms opening in prime retail country.

No fewer than seven real estate storefronts have taken up residence on Lincoln Avenue between Fifth and Ninth streets.

Jan Lomas, one of the partners in the long standing Artisans-Market between Sixth and Seventh streets on Lincoln, said her store's business has been hurting this winter, and she's worried that rising rents will eat further into the store's profitability.

Lomas said she's concerned that the willingness of real estate companies to pay high rents is lending momentum to escalating leases on Lincoln. If retailers can't make it on Lincoln, however, there will be less of the foot traffic that draws Realtors to Lincoln, Lomas contends.

But at least two real estate-related businesses on Lincoln said their motivation for being in the heart of the retail district isn't really about foot traffic that could lead to walk-in business.

"It was mainly related to our product," Tony Walton said. "We felt it was real important to have as good a location as we could get."

Walton is one of the principals of Mason & Morse real estate, the listing brokers for Catamount Ranch and Club. And as far as he was concerned, the most prestigious location for the sales office representing the high-end building lots offered by Catamount, was in the prime two blocks of downtown Steamboat between Seventh and Ninth streets.

Walton said he was so convinced that Catamount needed to be in its location at 708 Lincoln Ave. that he initially backed it up with his own money.

"There was no space available, basically," Walton said. "I went down and signed a lease personally and then did a sales job to convince the developer we needed to be there and we needed to completely remodel the space."

The building was given an entirely new storefront and the interior was remodeled to give the feeling of a rustic mountain lodge complete with a fireplace faced in natural stone.

Mason & Morse remains the leaseholder for the building and sub-leases it to Catamount. Walton said he pays between $20 and $25 a square foot, triple net, implying that he covers also ancillary costs such as taxes, utilities and insurance.

Terry Erwin, marketing manager for the Trappeurs Crossing Resort Preview Center, said his firm pays a similar amount $30 per square foot including triple net. They are situated right next door to the Chieftain movie theater between Eighth and Ninth streets. They opened for business in December 2000 and chose the space "because downtown represents the prime location in Steamboat Springs," Erwin said.

They don't actually sign real estate contracts in their downtown office, but use it as a showroom all of the fixtures are the same as in their high-end condominium units near the base of the ski area.

"Having an office in a prestigious area gives credibility to the company," Erwin said. "It gives our customer the feel he's dealing with a group that knows what they're doing."

The downtown office communicates "substance, reliability, longevity and substantiveness," Erwin added.

Lincoln Avenue has been transformed over the last two decades. The striped pole of the tiny barbershop has moved onto a side street, there aren't as many hardware stores as there used to be, but Boggs Hardware still thrives. And just as it has in most small towns in America, the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store has disappeared.

Erwin thinks real estate companies have just as much right to be on Lincoln as any business. Walton says he supports a diversity of businesses on Lincoln, and if the trend toward real estate store fronts meant there was going to be one less T-shirt shop on Lincoln, it wouldn't concern him.

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