Alex Pintair sometimes still answers the phone at Liquid Energy, his Church Street soup-and-smoothie cafe, but these days the doors are closed and locked. If you're looking for a fruity concoction with a shot of wheat grass, you'll have to visit the outpost at Racquet's Edge.
Pintair says his decision to downsize and focus on cafes in health clubs was just a move to more effectively target his customers, and not necessarily a reaction to the rising cost of doing business on Church Street. But he doesn't deny that rents on the Marketplace are "high and getting higher."
Liquid Energy is one of several downtown businesses that have closed or relocated in the past few months, and shoppers and diners are curious to see what will replace them. In this case, the new tenant will be yet another jewelry store; last week Zinnia Inc. filed a zoning permit to begin a $50,000 renovation that will turn the former cafe into downtown Burlington's twelfth bijouterie.
While there may be room for local businesses on the luxury end of the retail spectrum, there's less room everywhere else. Some retailers say it's getting tougher to be an independent operation on a street increasingly dominated by national chains. ECCO owner Lara Allen, whose clothing shop has been on Church Street for 13 years, says stores like Old Navy are driving up rents and offering lower merchandise prices that are difficult to match. "It's been very hard to compete on a lot of different levels," Allen says.
But Yves Bradley, a real estate agent with the Pomerleau Agency and co-owner of The Body Shop, says Church Street rates are still reasonable compared to what retailers pay in cities such as Boston. Bradley, who's in charge of the former Champlain Clothing Co. space on the block between Cherry and Bank Streets, estimates that Marketplace street-front space rents for $20 to $40 per square foot; space above or below street level fetches roughly $8 to $15 per square foot. Bradley notes the street-front rate is comparable to what you might find in Boston's Fanueil Hall.
But he points out that the Triple Net Lease fees -- in which businesses must pay a percentage of their profits to cover maintenance and Marketplace costs -- are lower here; $8.50 per square foot compared to $45 in Boston. "In perspective, it's damn cheap," Bradley says.
Regardless of who moves in, says Ron Redmond, director of the Church Street Marketplace Association, the spaces will undoubtedly fill up quickly. Redmond reports that demand has been particularly high the past two years. "The minute someone announces they're going out of business," he notes, "a long line forms and lots of businesses start vying for those available spots."
ECCO owner Allen says that despite the costs, it's worth it to be on the main drag. "The difference in traffic and everything is phenomenal," she says. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
WHAT'S IN, AND OUT
Liquid Energy closed on Church St. but will have cafes in health clubs;
Zinnia, a jewelry store, is moving in.
Symmetree closed; Miguel's Stowe Away Restaurant & Cantina opens at the end of May.
Leather Express closed, Northfield Savings Bank coming in mid-April.
VonBargen's Jewelry moved across the street; rumor has it the textiles store Anichini is moving in.
Champlain Clothing Co. expanded to space on Bank Street above Climb High; no new tenant yet.
The B Side closed; new "French-Asian" restaurant coming in July from the owners of Asiana House.
Anna Liffey moved store to Connecticut; Stella shoe store is stepping into the space.
Phoenix Gallery closed; no new tenant yet.
Trillium Interiors: closing at the end of April; no new tenant yet.