Business closures in downtown Fort Collins are business as usual

Ravyn Cullor

Mainline Ale House, La Luz, IHOP, Old Chicago, Bisetti’s and Al’s Newsstand have all left the streets of downtown Fort Collins in the last year, but the reasons behind the closures have been unrelated. 

While the closure of a half-dozen restaurants and shops in the downtown area this year seems to be indicative of something larger, Fort Collins business experts say it’s just business as usual.

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“Some of City Council asked us about the closures and whether or not it was the natural ebb and flow of the downtown cycle,” said SeonAh Kendall, the City of Fort Collins economic health manager. “A lot of the closures are based on unique situations.”

Kendall cited the salmonella outbreak for the closure of La Luz and changing business models and underutilization of space for Mainline. She said, according to the City’s research, the average lifespan of a restaurant in Fort Collins is six years, taking into account reapplication for business licenses after a buy-out.

Kendall, who owned Suehiro Japanese Restaurant in downtown with her husband until 2015, said the restaurant market in Fort Collins is “competitive, vibrant and collaborative.”

Matthew Robenalt, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, said rents in the downtown area have increased, but those increases aren’t necessarily responsible for closures in the area. He compares the closure of the Old Chicago location in Fort Collins to a similar closure in Boulder, saying that a change in the company’s business model moved the restaurant out of all buildings that the company does not own.

Kendall said businesses may have signed a below-market lease agreement during the recession and property owners are expecting market value as the agreements expire.

The rapid succession of closure in the downtown area has opened vacancies for new businesses or growth of existing ones.

“Vacancy rate in our downtown is incredibly low for commercial space,” Robenalt said. “A healthy vacancy rate would be around 4 or 5 percent. In downtown Fort Collins, the commercial vacancy rate is around 2 percent.”

Robenault said the closures of Old Chicago and Mainline  have opened up an enormous space in a historic building, the likes of which haven’t been available since the opening of Mainline.

Kendall said, as businesses move towards a buy-local and farm-to-table focus, good community relations and market understanding carries businesses who have survived the test of time, like the Silver Grill Cafe.

Between spaces from new and growing businesses and landmark institutions, both Kendall and Robenalt have seen growth in the market and have positive outlooks for the area’s future.

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“Overall, both restaurant and retail are doing really well in downtown Fort Collins,” Robenalt said.

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99