The retail bay that housed Vogue Vision’s Kaleidoscope store for 25 years sits empty following the retailer’s departure in October. Photo by Duane Tinkey
The retail bay that housed Vogue Vision’s Kaleidoscope store for 25 years sits empty following the retailer’s departure in October. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Vogue Vision Center ended its 25-year tenancy at the Kaleidoscope at the Hub in October, citing a desire to merge the downtown shop with its flagship store on Ingersoll Avenue.

Vogue's parent company, Real Optics Inc., which owns and operates 20 stores throughout Iowa, has been working to consolidate several of its locations during the past few years, which, according to Vice President Rachel Sivi, was the primary reason for the move.

And besides, the downtown skywalk system was starting to seem a little too quiet.

"The reality of all business is that things change over time; you have to keep being flexible and change with it," Sivi said. And though the decision wasn't easy, she said the move was something Real Optics had been considering for at least two years.

The economic downturn, which Sivi believes has contributed to a slowdown in traffic on the Kaleidoscope's skywalk level, was also a factor. And though her shop wasn't losing money, she said, sales were down.

"Over a year ago, it seemed like things were picking up," Sivi said, adding that around the time the economy started to slide, going into the first quarter of 2009, she began to notice fewer people strolling by.

"You'd see the traffic at lunchtime and then kind of nothing," Sivi said. "Over the years, as businesses have also opened up their own cafeterias, I've been told the lunchtime traffic has decreased." And though traffic spiked over the noon hour, she continued, after 1 p.m. it declined considerably.

The numbers

An October 2008 study conducted by Harvest Research Group for the mall's owner, Hubbell Realty Co., found that nearly 14,000 people walk through the Kaleidoscope each weekday, according to Colleen Johnson, a broker and vice president with CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial.

"We get a mass of people in there," Johnson said, adding that 14,000 is a fairly strong number for a "small, unanchored" mall, compared to Des Moines' regional shopping centers, such as Merle Hay and Valley West malls, which are open seven days a week and attract about 28,000 to 30,000 visitors a day.

Johnson said it's hard to believe that traffic has waned in the Kaleidoscope, considering that downtown's daytime population numbers have increased in recent years. However, she confirmed that according to the Harvest Research Group study, half of the mall's daily visitors, about 7,000 people, were counted between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Johnson also said there are more vacancies on the 98,000-square-foot mall's skywalk level right now than Hubbell would like. She said that 11 of the Kaleidoscope's 47 bays, based on the mall's current configuration, are empty, including six in the skywalk.

Two years ago, the mall was 100 percent occupied, she said.

That was before the recession.

"In previous times, if a tenant went out for whatever reason, it was pretty easy to refill that space," Johnson said. "This year, it's just not."

In early 2009, Rocs on Sixth, a long-term tenant located on the Sixth Avenue skywalk bridge, also vacated its space, Johnson confirmed, shortly after that store's owner merged the popular gift shop with Etc., his other skywalk storefront. Both businesses had closed near the end of February 2009.

Also in the past year, the Kaleidoscope's two largest tenants, Principal Financial Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., moved out, dumping about 36,000 square feet of space back on the market. Those moves contributed to a 45 percent vacancy rate.

"To go from 100 percent (occupancy) to a 45 percent vacancy rate is pretty devastating in such a short period of time," Johnson said. She said nearly half of that rate represents about 22,000 square feet of vacant space on the ground floor of the east building.

Looking for retailers

With the exodus of Principal and Citigroup, Johnson said she is excited for an opportunity to return the Kaleidoscope to a purely retail mall.

Touting a downtown daytime population of 75,000, Hubbell is working with the Greater Des Moines Partnership and other economic development agencies, Johnson said, to identify the needs of national retailers that may be interested in locating to the mall.

And though things are slow right now, as many national retailers have shelved plans to open any new stores in 2010, Johnson said Hubbell is always working to attract local operators. "That's a year-round kind of thing," she said.

"Retailers set their market goals," she said. "So you have to search for those whose location criteria fit what you already have."

About four months ago, Hubbell reduced its lease asking rates by about $10 per square foot at the Kaleidoscope. It had been asking $23 to $24 per square foot gross rate for the space.

Now, Johnson said, it's marketing the first-floor and skywalk-level spaces at $13.50 and $14.50 per square foot, respectively. Johnson also said that if the right office user showed interest in the space, Hubbell would consider that option. "We are dependent on the market," she said.

In Vogue

Though it was a tough choice to leave downtown, Sivi said, the apparent slowdown in pedestrian traffic at the Kaleidoscope, coupled with a desire to turn Vogue's Ingersoll Avenue location into the company's flagship store, helped to solidify the decision.

Real Optics is in the process of purchasing the 2405 Ingersoll Ave. building from Knapp Properties Inc. and plans to completely remodel the space this year, Sivi said. In November, she added, the Ingersoll store was Real Optics' largest revenue generator.

"(The people at Hubbell) have been great landlords, and we really have liked being down there, but for various reasons, it has definitely slowed down," Sivi said. "We really wanted to focus on making (Ingersoll) the new location for downtown and this area."

"We hated to see them go," Johnson said. "They had been a good tenant for a very long time."