I got to talking last week with Lew Van Buskirk at the downtown partnership.
He told me things are really buzzing in the world of downtown retail. So I grabbed a notebook and just walked around Friday, looking for a story.
I saw a lot of old friends, got a little sun and turned up a neat little scoop on South School Street. But I'll save that for later.
I started on the north end of the street.
I walked by the Stadium 12 Theater and ogled the marquee. Quizno's will be opening soon in one of those retail spots. The paper had a help wanted ad Tuesday.
Tony Goehring, the city's jobs guru, tells me Me 'N' Ed's Pizza has a lease on another one of those theater spaces and the improvements are in for plan check. Stadium 12 owners Ed and Anthony Barkett have a couple more prospects, as well, Goehring said.
While we're on the topic of the Barketts and the city, Rad Bartlam tells me he is working out details of a "master lease agreement" with them for the retail space in the new parking garage. The council wants a long lease, perhaps 50 years. It would leave all the headaches of tenant improvements, shopping for tenants, collecting the rent, etc., to the Barketts while giving the city a steady stream of income to help pay for the three-story structure.
Specialty stores are shooting up downtown like asparagus.
At 11 N. School St., Shelly Holguin's 2-Illuminate candle shop is taking shape.
Across the way at 10 N. School, Joel Van Patten and Frank Moshen at Talk Time are open to sell cell phones and satellite TV. They offer phone service from four different companies. Still, there are days when I think I'm going to be the last one to own a mobile phone. Too much like a leash.
Around the corner at 5 N. Pine, Meyer (pronounced "mayor") and Teresa Puzon were putting the final touches on Lodi Cooks, which will specialize in fine cookware and kitchen gadgets.
At the corner of Pine and School, I stopped in to say "Hi" to Sheri Didreckson who was at a busy register. Across the street, Mike Locke at Christensen's was admiring the spring color.
"Specialty shops," he harumphed. "Not one of those people are going to make a mortgage payment on those shops."
And the new rental agreements aren't going to make retailing any easier. While checking facts for the column, Goehring and I talked about rates downtown. They're going up, though the range is still pretty spread out. Older space with few improvements is still available for 55 per square foot a month. Owners of brand new space are asking upwards of $1.90 per foot, though they're not necessarily getting it yet.
After Locke and I assessed the downside, he told me about his dream of opening an antique shop. He wants to specialize in cash registers, slot machines and other 20th century mechanical marvels.
Hey, won't that be a specialty store, Mike? He's not always upbeat, but he's always provocative.
At 28 S. School, I walked by Hazel's. That reminded me of the rumor that the Wine & Roses folks are buying out Bill Sandeen. Fact or fiction?
Fact, Kathryn Munson said Tuesday. They hope to sign a deal later this month and the transition will be complete "in a couple of months."
Bill looked nationwide for a buyer. He even put an ad in the Wall Street Journal but found the right deal in his own backyard.
The buyers are the Wine & Rose partnership headed Russ and Kathryn Munson, and Del and Sherri Smith. The kitchen will be managed by the Wine & Roses kitchen chef John Hitchcock and Marlow Kerner will be back - he'll be bringing in some exciting musical talent.
Not all my contacts were upbeat.
Carol Smith told me she's had to close her Tea Cozy tea shop inside Nana's Attic, 105 S. School St. But elsewhere in that space, things are vibrant and fun.
Nana's attic is an interesting business concept. The four or five craftspeople who sell there are independent, rent space from owner Dev Thornton and rotate days in the shop.
On down the block, I could see evidence of F&H Construction setting up to do tenant improvements in the old Woolworth Building. Goehring is pretty sure a lease is signed with microbrewer Curt Nizolli of Oakdale.
The front space at the old First Interstate Bank building is still available. The Gaddy Ward Co. insurance brokerage is ensconced, but their deal with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter fell through after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Goehring said.
Next door at Poser's, I had a chat with retail veteran Lew McWilliams. Like Mike Locke, he'll tell you retailing is not a bed of roses. He was excited a year or so ago about satellite television. He was selling Dish Network services, the same one the youngsters at Talk Time represent. The business was healthy at one point, but the margins are getting thinner now.
His latest tack is a sublease with a personal computer guru. I'm sorry I didn't get the name of the business, but the young man repairs and sells Windows-style PCs.
At 230 S. School, Boyd Fyffe is shutting down the garage his dad, Everett, opened in 1935. But he's signed a lease with Mimmi Vanderlans, who is moving Immigrant's Corner back downtown.
She specializes in European antiques and was getting ready for the Street Faire Sunday. Vanderlans, wife of rubber manufacturer Gerald Vanderlans, couldn't be more enthusiastic about downtown Lodi:
"Lodi will become distinguished for what we have here downtown and for its wine industry," she said.
That's how it looks from here.
Marty Weybret is the Lodi News-Sentinel's publisher. He can be reached via e-mail.