May 30, 2014 Updated: May 30, 2014 at 7:48 pm
Popular women's clothing store Kirk and Hill, a downtown mainstay for nearly 30 years, will move this summer to the Chapel Hills Mall on Colorado Springs' north side. It will join another mall newcomer: Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill, a restaurant chain that bears the name of the country music superstar.
The additions are expected to bolster the mall, which competes with newer retail centers on the north and northeast sides and where anchor J.C. Penney closed this month. At the same time, Kirk and Hill's departure is a blow to downtown, which for years has seen traditional retailers bolt to outlying shopping centers.
Kirk and Hill, at 129 N. Tejon St., is targeting an Aug. 1 move to the mall, where it will locate in the upper wing near Dillard's. Kirk and Hill has started a moving sale and will remain open downtown until about mid-July, said owner Jackie Gunn.
Gunn opened Kirk and Hill in January 1987 in the downtown Plaza of the Rockies, moved the next year to a storefront on North Tejon Street and then moved next door to its current location a decade ago.
The upscale women's clothier targets clients ages 25 to 80, Gunn said. But sales went flat in recent months, she said, and she sent a survey to clients to learn why.
Many responded that the store should consider locating on the north side because they live in that part of town, and wanted Kirk and Hill to return to the area, Gunn said. A few years ago, she had a second, temporary location at the Promenade Shops at Briargate, north of Chapel Hills.
"We learned (from the survey) that we were more of a destination for our customers, and many of them stated that it wasn't always easy for them to get downtown," Gunn said.
At the same time, Gunn said her flat sales might have resulted, in part, from customers being turned off by vagrants and panhandlers downtown, which she said has been a growing problem. However, that wasn't the primary reason for her move, she stressed.
Gunn said she'll miss downtown. But to keep growing her business and to add new customers, she decided to move.
Chapel Hills also will offer benefits she doesn't have now: expanded and free parking, extended hours and 24-hour store security, Gunn said. And while she will compete with department stores, other, smaller Chapel Hills stores don't offer the same upscale apparel, Gunn said.
"Just because you reach 50 years old, doesn't mean you want to look frumpy," she said. "We cater to those customers that really want to remain stylish and fashionable, but they don't want to look ridiculous - like they're wearing their daughter's clothing."
Kirk and Hill will occupy 2,000 square feet at the mall, the same as it does downtown. Gunn has two full-time employees and three part-timers, but probably will add another full-time position and a couple part-time jobs because of her store's longer hours.
Meanwhile, Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill will take over the 14,000-square-foot first floor of the former Borders Books & Music store at Chapel Hills, said Victoria Harley, the mall's general manager. An opening date hasn't been set, although Harley hopes it will be this year. Representatives of an Arizona company that will operate the restaurant couldn't be reached for comment.
The second floor of the Borders store, which closed in 2011 after the chain went out of business, will be closed off from the restaurant below; an escalator will be removed and an elevator sealed, she said.
The chain, which has a location in Denver and several other states, is named after a 2003 hit song by Keith. The country-themed restaurants have guitar-shaped bars; menus with steaks, fried chicken, ribs, burgers, mashed sweet potatoes and other items; cowgirl servers; and country music videos playing on television screens, according to a Toby Keith Bar & Grill website.
It will be the first full-serve, sit-down restaurant at the mall since a Ruby Tuesday's closed several years ago. The mall has many places to eat in its food court, but the addition of a full-serve restaurant, serving alcohol, will create more choices for Chapel Hills customers and store employees, Harley said.