Despite overall retail sales lagging 20 percent behind last year, which wasn’t a banner year, a relative few Lincoln Avenue commercial spaces have gone vacant as ski season winds down. And there is news of some new leases being signed.

Photo by Tom Ross

Despite overall retail sales lagging 20 percent behind last year, which wasn’t a banner year, a relative few Lincoln Avenue commercial spaces have gone vacant as ski season winds down. And there is news of some new leases being signed.

Lincoln Avenue landlords and tenants prepare for downtown construction

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The empty storefront at 1125 Lincoln Ave., which housed the Tile and Carpet Shop for many years, is one of a few stores on Steamboat’s main street that stand vacant.

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— Lincoln Avenue business owners are entering a difficult transition early this month. Construction crews are poised to begin tearing up the street Monday to begin a major repaving project as a ski season that saw double-digit sales decreases fades away. To top it off, a blustery storm in the third week of March took the wind out of the annual sidewalk sale.

With all of those odds piled against them, only a relative few storefronts have gone vacant, said Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs.

“There aren’t more than four or five, and one just went under lease,” she said.

The children’s clothing store Duck Duck Goose closed its doors at 617 Lincoln Ave. on Wednesday, and building owner Fred Schwartz put a “for rent” sign on the door that afternoon.

“We were getting $3,100 per month plus property taxes, which was $20 per square foot,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be able to get that.”

He said he’s had interest from one possible tenant but isn’t certain anything will come of it. He and his wife have owned the building since the late 1980s.

Linda Cullen, of Apparel Goddess Inc., signed her new lease in Howelsen Place before the economy went south, but she said she remains “optimistically cautious” about plans to move her Quiksilver store and another called Nine7Zero (it features the DC skate brand of clothing) into the prominent corner location in Howelsen Place at Seventh Street and Lincoln.

“It’s right in the center of downtown, and it’s going to be such a focus,” Cullen said. “I think it’s going to be a huge draw in itself.”

And the reconstruction of Lincoln Avenue this spring and summer isn’t an issue for her new location — she won’t move in until 2011.

Ski Town Lifestyle Prop­erties will continue to maintain its sales office there in the meantime.

Old, new strategies

Veteran Lincoln Avenue retailer Tod Allen, of Allen’s clothing store, said the word he’s hearing on the street about any new vacancies is “wait until the end of ski season.”

“It’s so hard to know how other people are doing,” Allen said. “The attitude certainly is, ‘We’re hanging in there.’ It helps that our family owns our building and we work our own store.”

Allen said his business would meet the disruptive street construction head-on by promoting that it has three parking spots available in the alley behind the clothing store. The owners and their employees will park elsewhere while the street work continues through June and again when it resumes in the fall.

“We’re telling customers we have parking five steps from our door,” Allen said.

Coincidentally, the building with the new lease that Barnett spoke of is next door to Allen’s, where the Ortega family will use 115 years of working relationships with Navajo crafts people to stock a new Native American jewelry store at 824 Lincoln. Their Realtor, Sue Weber, of Old Town Realty, said the extended family has jewelry stores across the Southwest. Steve Hitchcock, of Prudential Steamboat Realty, represented the landlord.

Elsewhere on Lincoln Avenue, landlords are working with tenants to help them through lean times.

“Business is typically down 20 percent, and I know there have been considerable adjustments in rent, but I think they are all different,” Barnett said.

Mark Scully, of Ski Town Lifestyle Properties, has vacant retail and restaurant spaces in Howelsen Place. He said that although he has recently seen the most interest from prospective renters that he’s seen in two years, this is a time for landlords to find ways to help their tenants.

“There’s no cookie-cutter solution,” Scully said. “It might be contributing some money to their build-out, a little rent to get going.”

Scully said annual lease rates in Steamboat’s prime downtown shopping zone before the recession were $30 to $40 per square foot. One Steamboat banker said he is aware of cases where tenants were offered their first six months rent-free in a new location.

Even a parking perquisite can help. Howelsen Place has unsold residential condominiums, and Scully figured, why not offer underground parking spaces to his retail tenants?

Scully also oversees commercial leasing at Alpenglow at Sixth and Lincoln, where an existing store, Over the Moon, moved up from the side street to a larger store fronting on Lincoln Avenue during the last week in March.

“Shayne Cooke came to us, and after talking for a couple of months, we struck a creative deal,” Scully said.

Scully acknowledged that he’s been trying for two years to find a restaurant tenant for the corner space in Howelsen Place at Seventh and Yampa streets. He continues to court a Boulder restaurant that is known for salmon salad and gourmet burgers.

“I call it unhealthy organic,” he quipped.

Branding with flexibility

Cullen has a licensing agreement with Quiksilver for her store and said its sales on a per-square-foot basis have been among the highest among stores in its category. She likes the fact that the business relationship allows her to take advantage of branded windows displays provided by Quiksilver, but allow her to buy merchandise she knows will be a good fit in the Steamboat market.

The new store will allow her to show all of her merchandise on one level, and she anticipates that Quiksilver will install a version of its latest store design, perhaps one similar to the industrial look in a new store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in New York.

After a drop in 2009, sales at Quiksilver in Steamboat are down half as much in 2010, Cullen said.

“It’s going in the right direction. The store was crowded over the weekend with a lot of families in town, and they were buying for spring, so they were paying full price,” she said.

She took special encouragement from a 635 Lincoln Ave. women’s clothing store she owns, Chez Nous.

“Chez Nous is up year-to-date,” Cullen said, “and that’s a good indicator. If women are buying, then pocketbooks are beginning to open.”

Scully takes encouragement from one of his newest tenants, Ciao Gelato, which has found a following for its Italian ice cream, coffee and pizza.

“They’ve linked into the community really, really well,” he said

Barnett said Ciao Gelato is one of the few dining establishments to actively court teenagers.

Scully plans to try to further liven up the Yampa Street frontage of Howelsen Place this summer by attracting a temporary operator to rent cruiser bikes to visitors.

He said he thinks recent improvements to Sweet Pea Market and Sunpie’s Bistro will contribute to a lively pedestrian environment on Yampa Street this summer.

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