Mall not worrying Louisville retailers

LOUISVILLE – Señor T’s lunchtime is already bustling at 11:15. Businesspeople and families fill the reasonably priced Mexican mainstay in downtown Louisville.

Between the dings of the cash register and good-byes to customers, Marc Manzanares, whose parents opened the restaurant 27 years ago, flashes a smile at the suggestion that the FlatIron Crossing mall might threaten business.

“It’s an asset to have a mall in town, so it will be really good for us,” he says. “Downtown Louisville is getting more recognized. I think it will keep booming.”

In most towns, the development of a 1.5 million-square-foot mall might have local merchants in a state of panic. Louisville’s business community, however, doesn’t seem worried. In fact, many believe it will actually help business.

‘Positive impact’

“I see the mall making a positive impact on Louisville’s businesses,” says Gene Caranci of the Louisville Chamber of Commerce. “They’ll get their share of business from people attracted by the mall.”

Bob Meyer, whose old-school barbershop, Thunderbird Barbers, has watched over Main Street for 12 years, agrees. “There will be more traffic downtown. It (the mall) won’t really change anything for me, but I think it will help other businesses here.”

Whether or not predictions such as Meyer’s are correct, when FlatIron Crossing mall opens in August at the 96th Street Interchange with U.S. 36, it is expected to be at least 90 percent occupied with everything from high-end department stores to specialty retailers and a variety of restaurants.

The manager of Louisville’s Kohl’s department store says his store will benefit when the giant mall opens. “We feel positive about the mall and welcome the competition,” Eric Harkins says. “Typically we’re priced better, so we should do better within the new market. We have a lot of merchandise similar to Dillard’s and Foley’s, but about 90 percent of our store is on sale.”

Owners of Louisville’s smaller businesses have their own reasons for feeling confident about the arrival of the new mall.

Manzanares says that the small-town charm of Main Street will keep people loyal to Señor T’s and other Louisville establishments. “People come down here for a hometown feel. We’re more personal. People aren’t customers, they’re friends.

“We have one family that’s come in for five or six years, and they’ve become such good friends. Their kids draw pictures for me at school. They come in, not just to eat, but to have a good talk and see what’s going on.”

‘Mayberry-type’

Caranci agrees. “We have a historic, Mayberry-type Main Street. It gives you that small-town feeling,” he says. “That’s a draw in itself.”

Caranci cites another business advantage for Louisville: “Louisville is in a prime location.” As a result, “our businesses don’t only count on getting business from the people of Louisville. Because of our location, people come over to us.”

Many Louisville businesses are specialty shops that don’t sense any competition from FlatIron Crossing.

With a row of shining guitars hanging behind him, Steve Mesple, owner of Wildwood Music, isn’t worried about the mall.

“The mall phenomenon seems silly. It won’t hurt us at all. All the superstores in the Front Range haven’t hurt us,” he says.

Wildwood is a “destination business,” he says. “We sell very high-end guitars. Most of them range between $1,000 and $30,000. People come from all over to find us. We sell to professional musicians, collectors and, in some cases, investors.”

Hank’s Model Trains Inc. is piled with boxes of detailed miniature train cars. Hank Argue isn’t even sure what the FlatIron Crossing mall is. After an explanation, he says: “Oh, that won’t affect us at all. Trains are very special. We have all sizes and all kinds of accessories. We sell to a lot of folks that are really into trains. And we provide what they need.”

Bouncing back

According to Caranci, the smaller shops that might have been affected have already been forced out by the newer chain stores on McCaslin Avenue.

Señor T’s survived the arrival of a Chili’s. Manzanares acknowledges, however, that big chains have put some people out of business in Louisville.

“But we’ve always bounced back pretty well.”

Cherri Ruskus, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, expressed a more guarded optimism than many business owners did.

“The mall could help business, but we need to be prepared and aggressive. There are only so many consumer dollars. We need to be active. And not sit around and wait for fate to deal us any blows.”

Specifically she wants signs at 96th Street advertising historic downtown Louisville. Ruskus also worries about people being lured to the mall because of its newness.

‘Masses buy mass’

“People will come back (to downtown), but we need to survive while they check out the mall.”

She is also concerned about certain businesses in Louisville. “Newer restaurants could feel it. There will be more to do at the mall besides eat.”

And while there aren’t many small retail stores in Louisville, the few in town face a serious threat from the mall.

Jeff Katz, owner of Gatos Designs, knows that all too well.

“What’s the first thing you see when you walk into a mall?” he asks. “Jewelry store, jewelry store, jewelry store,” he answers. “The masses buy mass merchandise. That’s just something I’ll have to deal with.”

He moved his jewelry store from Main Street in Louisville to 95th Street and Arapahoe Road in Lafayette. For him, the risks of competition from the mall outweighed the possibility of increased traffic in Louisville.

Katz is also concerned with the way other Louisville businesses are reacting to the mall.

“The biggest thing you can do is prepare for this. It doesn’t seem like anyone is preparing. No one thinks there will be a problem.”

He says even the older, established restaurants “may be in for a big surprise. We’ll just have to wait and see.”