The fate of a prominent block of downtown property is up in the air after Lamonts Apparel Inc. announced Friday it will close its downtown store at W618 Riverside.
The Lamonts decision comes three weeks after the adjacent J.J. Newberry store announced it will close by late January or early February. When Lamonts closes March 31, the entire block of Riverside between Wall and Howard will be vacant.
“It’s unfortunate from a downtown perspective,” said Heidi Stanley, senior vice president at Sterling Savings Association. Sterling is across from Lamonts at N111 Wall.
“It leaves us with one whole block void, but I wouldn’t paint it doom and gloom. It may be an opportunity, also,” she said Monday.
Low volume has plagued the two Riverside Avenue stores for several years. Both are closing as part of corporate restructurings under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, according to separate company statements.
Newberry’s and the space it occupied is owned by Pennsylvania-based McCrory Stores, which bought the downtown site in the 1970s. Tom Russell, McCrory’s spokesman, did not return phone calls Monday.
Lamonts leased its building from the Spokane-based Riverside 89 Partnership, according to the affiliation’s managing partner, Al Payne. Although Lamonts signed a lease through the year 2000, the Chapter 11 filing entitles the company to end the lease early.
“We’re not ecstatic, but we’re not concerned, either,” Payne said. “Actually, this couldn’t have happened at a better time, because the climate downtown is better than any time in the past.”
Although the partners hope to fill the building with small retailers, Payne said that leasing the property as office space is a viable second choice if no retailers come forward.
The space will most likely go vacant for a few months after Lamonts final clearance sale in March. Payne is optimistic that future tenants will contribute to the revitalization of downtown.
“The benefits outweigh the negative side,” he said. “This is an opportunity.”
However, Payne and McCrory could find stiff competition when looking for retail tenants. They’ll have to compete with Crescent Court and River Park Square, which hopes to add tenants as part of a renovation.
Reaction from the business community was mixed.
“I see it as an opportunity to to something more lively with that part of Wall Street,” said Tom Barbieri, president of the Downtown Spokane Association.
“You can do something fun with that building and really charge the street,” Barbieri said. “The location has great exposure on Wall Street… and it could probably go to a better use than a department store, which wasn’t necessarily a big draw.”
Barbieri said Goodale & Barbieri, which renovated the Crescent Court building in 1994, did not have any concrete plans to buy or lease Newberry’s or Lamonts.
But some small tenants in the buildings, such as Global Emporium and Desired Image Salon, said the sudden closure does not give them enough time to relocate.