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Why are so many stores closing in the Country Club Plaza?

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Carlos Moreno
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KCUR
A vacant storefront on Nicholas Road in the Plaza

Nearly a dozen stores, both local shops and national chains, have closed their Plaza locations over the past year.

A string of recent store closures on the Country Club Plaza has some local business owners concerned about the future of the shopping district.

Over the past year, nearly a dozen stores, including national chains and local independent shops, have left the Plaza.

One of the local business owners who decided to close her Plaza location is Chrysalyn Huff, co-owner of RE:, a home goods store.

Huff said the COVID-19 pandemic and worker shortages, as well the Plaza's high rent and disconnected ownership group, all contributed to her decision not to renew her lease. Her shop in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District will remain open.

Huff and Tyler Enders, the owner of Made in Kansas City, spoke to KCUR’s Up To Date on Monday about the present and future of the Plaza.

While Enders has no plans to leave the shopping district, he said having out-of-town ownership can tilt the scales toward nationwide chains over local businesses.

While having major real estate players on a national scale allows for more name recognition for local businesses, Enders says it also makes paying rent on prime real estate harder each month.

“At the end of the day, you're looking at two different tenants, and most of the time an independent brand does not have the same balance sheet,” Enders said. “And then also local tenants typically can't afford the same rent that a lot of these national brands can afford.”

Huff added that the current ownership model doesn’t appear to have a unified vision for the district.

The Plaza is currently owned by two separate real estate firms: Macerich, a real estate investment trust, based in California, and Taubman Centers, based in Michigan.

“The disconnect is between two and three different companies, and each part of that company is doing a different portion, and the arms and legs are not working together,” Huff said.

Huff also said that the Plaza management has made cuts to weekend maintenance staff, which has negatively impacted business.

Ownership of the Plaza declined to appear on Up To Date, but in a story this month for Flatland, Taubman provided this comment: "The truth is, the Plaza successfully met the challenges faced by the changing retail environment and the pandemic head-on. It is strong and is well-positioned to thrive.”

Huff and Enders both said the future of the Plaza is promising, and that customers are looking for that marriage of local businesses and big brands.

“What the Plaza is trying to do is to really push forward and think about what are these new exciting brands that we need to bring to the Kansas City market,” Enders said.

Other Kansas City residents, like Twitter user Elle Dee, want an even greater emphasis on local shops.

“Time for the Plaza to pivot and make it more affordable for small, local businesses. Not all the neighborhoods in that area are affluent," Dee tweeted. "There’s an untapped market for sure.”

Drake Development, a Kansas City-based development firm, currently has plans in place to renovate the Jack Henry Building into a multilevel entertainment and retail space, which they hope will attract customers to the Plaza outside of retail shopping.

And the streetcar expansion project may also be a boost when it offers service to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus in 2025.

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Jacob Martin is a news intern at KCUR. Follow him on Twitter @jacob_noah or email him at Jacobmartin@kcur.org.
Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.