Renovation project on one side of the street hurt retailers, but Hunky’s impending move, new businesses give gayborhood a brighter outlook
It’s been a tough year for retailers on the Cedar Springs strip, but Scott Whittall is optimistic that things are looking up heading into the holidays.
Whittall, co-owner of Buli CafÃ© and president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said retailers on the strip have been hurt by a major renovation project on one side of the street between Reagan and Throckmorton streets, which has closed off the sidewalk and blocked parking spaces over the last several months.
Other factors hurting the retailers include continuing redevelopment and demographic changes in the surrounding neighborhood, rainy weather and, of course, the ongoing recession, Whittall said.
But he noted that the newly renovated sidewalk on the north side of the street is now fully reopened. Meanwhile, Hunky’s is preparing to move into the old Crossroads Market, and two new businesses have come on line in recent weeks a few blocks away at the mixed-used development ilume.
"It got rough there during the summer, but I think we’re just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Whittall said this week, adding that he estimates 2009 sales at Buli CafÃ© are down 10-15 percent from last year.
Whittall encouraged people to consider doing some of their holiday shopping on Cedar Springs.
"I think the main thing is we’ve got to get the word out that we are the lifeblood of the gay population, this is their street," Whittall said. "Yes, there are other areas, but remember where your heart is. We need everybody to continue to support us during our transition period.
"I know that people don’t need a gay street anymore," Whittall added. "They have to want it now instead of need it."
Rick Barton, owner of Hunky’s, said this week that he now hopes to move the iconic burger joint from its current location to the site of the old Crossroads Market sometime in January. Barton originally intended to move in November, but he said there’s been a delay in obtaining permits from the city.
Barton noted that retail sales are down everywhere, not just on the strip. But he said he wouldn’t be moving Hunky’s to the new location if he didn’t believe in the future of the street.
"That’s my Christmas wish, that all this is going to come back soon," Barton said.
A crew began finish work on the inside of the new Hunky’s this week, Barton said.
Outside, another crew appeared to be wrapping up faÃ§ade work on the Center, which stretches from Throckmorton Street to the other side of the Round-Up Saloon.
The sidewalk and faÃ§ade improvements began in July and were originally scheduled to be complete in early October, but reportedly were delayed in large part by wet weather.
Peter Deinken, vice president of Harry B. Lucas Companies, which managers the Center, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. But Deinken said in a voicemail that the sidewalk and faÃ§ade improvements were "coming along pretty well."
"I think we’re going to be wrapping up most of the physical construction about the end of the month," Deinken said. "We’ll probably have a few little things we have to tie up still, that will take us into at least the first few days of December, but things are starting to look kind of like they should, and hopefully everybody likes the look.
We’ve been getting lots of great comments from our tenants and other people."
Whittall said with the sidewalk and faÃ§ade improvements wrapping up, the Merchants Association is preparing to order benches and trash receptacles for the street, which represents the first phase in the group’s planned $2.5 million beautification project. The Merchants Association has raised about $36,000 through galas and raffles thus far.
"We haven’t even scratched the surface," he said.
The Merchants Association is working with the city of Dallas to obtain funding for things like cobblestone crosswalks and streetcorners. Meanwhile, private donors and sponsorships are being sought for gateway arches at either end of the strip.
Although the beautification project will eventually stretch from Oak Lawn Avenue to Wycliff Avenue, efforts are currently focused on the area between Reagan and Throckmorton streets.
Whittall said the Merchants Association hopes to eventually win approval for palm trees on the strip, which aren’t currently allowed under the Oak Lawn zoning ordinance.
It’s unclear what potential tenants are being eyed for the Center. Hunky’s will take up only the corner that was once occupied by a coffee shop, leaving at least three additional storefronts for lease.
Whittall said the Merchants Association’s wish list for Cedar Springs includes an art gallery and a flower shop, adding that options are somewhat limited by minimum parking requirements.
Barton said he’s heard rumors that a mom-and-pop burrito restaurant will occupy the site of the old Hunky’s once it moves. George Christ — property manager for the building that also houses Havana, Obscurities (which is currently moving into a storefront facing Cedar Springs) and Hungdinger’s — didn’t return a phone call seeking comment this week.
Whittall expressed concern about rumors that Mickey’s, one of several gay bars on the strip, is in danger of closing.
"That’s the last thing we need is another empty building on Cedar Springs," Whittall said.
Mickey Briggs, owner of Mickey’s, confirmed this week that there’s a possibility the six-year-old establishment will have to close at the end of the year.
Briggs said he needs to retire for health reasons. He also said his landlord wants to significantly increase his rent effective in January.
Briggs said he’s currently looking for someone to buy the business for next to nothing. He said his top priorities are protecting his 12-15 employees and finding a new owner who will support the community.
"I’m trying to look at it from a good standpoint," Briggs said. "I could be negative and say I think I’m the latest victim of landlords raising the rent because of all the development on Cedar Springs. But I’d rather look at it like this is an opportunity for me to retire and for someone else to take over and hopefully continue on and have a great business.
"For me to have to step back from it is really difficult, and the main thing is, what we’ve created here, I want it to continue," he added.
Briggs said he had a potential buyer for Mickey’s lined up, but the deal fell through early this week. He said he hopes that even if another buyer can’t be found by the end of the year, he can extend his lease on a month-to-month basis.
While Briggs blamed new developments like ilume for causing rent increases and pulling away some customers from existing businesses, most believe ilume will eventually be a boon to the area.
Dish, an upscale bar and restaurant, has been open for a few weeks at ilume, and Red Mango, a popular frozen yogurt chain, opened this week.
Luke Crosland, chairman and CEO of ilume developer the Crosland Group, said the deli/convenience store Beyond the Box is expected to open the first week of December. Crosland said other future retail tenants include Delicatessen, a hip restaurant/lounge that offers international comfort food and currently has two locations in New York City; a sushi place or a restaurant from the chef of Geronimo Restaurant and Coyote CafÃ© in Santa Fe, N.M.; and a salon.
Crosland said more than 100 of the 306 planned residential units at ilume are complete, and 60 to 70 percent of them are already occupied, mostly by LGBT residents.
"We ought to have all the retail filled up by June, and I think the property should be fully occupied by June or July," Crosland said. "I’m just real excited that people have received it so well."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.