New boutiques head for downtown

BY ADAM SALAZAR | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Since the Iowa City City Council passed a bar zoning ordinance June 2, downtown has seen new retailers arrive, taking over real estate that otherwise might have ended up as new bars.

Two new boutiques, Lyla’s, 211 E. Washington St., and a yet unnamed store at 114 S. Clinton St., are setting up for business.

“We would like to see new businesses,” said Karen Howard, an associate city planner. “We would like to have a variety downtown.”

Owners of the new boutique filling the space recently vacated by Vortex Gifts are determined to succeed.

“Our successes is that we are a fun, affordable boutique,” said Lisa Barillas, a co-owner of Lyla’s.
She and Twyla Tindall of Clear Lake, Iowa, also opened stores in Clear Lake and Ames this year. They heard of the vacancy at Vortex Gifts from real-estate agents.

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Lyla’s grand opening is slated for July 11, though the store — its doorway coffee-scented from its neighbor — is already stocked with colorful merchandise.

A few blocks away, Iowa City resident Stevie Leigh Hardesty hasn’t decided yet on the name of her new Clinton Street business — which will carry clothing and shoes. The opening is scheduled for Aug. 1.

She is teaming up with her friend Vikki Liu, whose lease at Hebe Boutique, 132 S. Clinton St., ends at the end of July. Hardesty had worked at Hebe for a year when she noticed the vacancy that was once a pet store.

She felt something else was missing downtown.

“Being a downtown shopper, I noticed the lack of shoe stores,” Hardesty said.

Liu urged her to fill the gap with a shoe store for men and women. Three weeks after calling a local real-estate agency, she had the lease ready.

Neither Hardesty or Barillas and Tindall are worried about the possibility of failure in the often fluctuating downtown retail community — even in spite of the national economic climate.

“At this point we’re pretty confidant. Our biggest concern is getting good [clothing] lines,” Tindall said.

It could be because the national credit and retail crunches have not had the city or county in their grip.

Iowa City boasts the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, and an Associated Press analysis found Johnson County residents — around 25 percent of whom work for the government — are the least stressed in the state.

“We have a very large and stable employer in the region in the UI,” said Charles Whiteman, an associate dean of the Tippie School of Business. Even with the recent threat of job cuts at the university and UI Hospitals and Clinics, he said, he sees a “pretty vibrant class of workers whose jobs are secure.

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