Halls’ Crown Center department store to grow, Plaza location to close

In a striking retail realignment, Halls will close its longtime Country Club Plaza store and consolidate it with a relocated and expanded Crown Center store.

Kelly Cole, president of Halls, said it no longer made economic sense to operate two Halls stores within about 20 blocks of each other.

The move also highlights the resurgence of downtown Kansas City and marks the end of what was once a Plaza anchored by large, upscale traditional department stores.

Plans announced Tuesday call for Halls to take over the third-floor retail spaces in the Crown Center Shops. The current Crown Center Halls store will close in February 2014 and the new, bigger 60,000-square-foot store will be scheduled to open in September 2014.

The new location across and on the other side of Grand Boulevard from the current store will have all the current Halls departments as well as an in-store café. Plans call for the enclosed walkway bridging Grand to be opened up with windows, allowing customers to view Crown Center Square and the downtown skyline.

Currently on the third floor, Function Junction, which sells housewares and home furnishings and has a culinary studio, said it had an agreement to move to the second floor.

Sister retailers Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works have already closed. The American Heartland Theatre will close in late August.

The remaining third-floor retailers are mostly “mom-and-pop” operations with leases set to expire at the end of the year. Though they had heard changes were coming, they expressed surprise at the Halls announcement Tuesday morning.

The Halls Plaza store will remain open through late July or early August 2014 and then close to consolidate with the new Halls store in Crown Center.

Eventually the 230 full- and part-time staff members will be reduced by about half.

“Customers are excited about a re-imagined, brand new Halls,” Cole said late Wednesday morning as word was getting out about the changes.

The downtown revival — with the addition of Sprint Center, the Power & Light District, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and both Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Kansas City at Crown Center itself — is attracting more residents to the area who would shop at a revived Halls Crown Center store, he said.

As for Halls Plaza, Glenn Stephenson, vice president for Plaza landlord Highwoods Properties, said it was too early to say what would happen to the 55,000-square-foot building at 211 Nichols Road. It could have one tenant, or be split up for six or seven tenants on the first floor. The second floor had been parking until Halls converted it to retail, and it could be switched back to parking.

“Retail is all about change, and we are exploring all the energizing type options,” Stephenson said. “It’s a great location.”

Halls had operated out of several downtown locations for 50 years before opening the Plaza store in 1965 and the 90,000-square-foot Crown Center store in 1973. The Plaza has traditionally been anchored by department stores such as Halls, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Kathleen Tulipana, a longtime customer who was shopping at the Halls Plaza store on Tuesday, said it’s “like an anchor on the Plaza. It seems sad that they’re closing. I think we’re losing the unique character of many of the stores that used to be here.”

Fellow shopper Susan Lierz, who makes the drive from St. Joseph, said: “I’m going to miss it a lot.”

She also is a customer of the Crown Center store and thinks the changes will most likely work, especially given what the Power & Light District has done for downtown.

“I’m sure they know what they’re doing,” she said.

Owen Buckley, president of the commercial real estate company Lane4 Property Group, lives and works on the Plaza. As a Halls customer, he said he’ll miss running across the street to buy men’s clothing for himself and gifts for his wife and other loved ones.

“I was surprised. It is a Kansas City special institution,” Buckley said. “I guess Halls wants to bring that store back to real estate that they own and I guess embellish it and make the commitment to take it to a whole new level. My gut tells me that initially it will be a loss for the Plaza, but they will fill it with things that will make up for it.”

For the new Crown Center store, Halls has hired Charles Sparks + Company, an award-winning retail store design firm. The firm counts Neiman Marcus among its clients, as well as museum stores for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The preliminary designs show an open, modern look with lots of light.

The space over Grand Boulevard to be fronted by windows would encompass a 9,000-square-foot area that would be known as “The Bridge.” It would blend Halls’ men’s and women’s contemporary departments, and have an urban-industrial feel with its own sound system and comfortable furniture where customers could take a break and socialize.

An expanded beauty department will cover more than 5,000 square feet in what is now part of the third-floor hallway and have a private treatment room for facials that will be customized to skin type. Spacious fitting rooms will have amenities such as custom furniture and designer wall coverings.

Crown Center president Bill Lucas said that in the last 2½ years about $50 million has been invested in Crown Center’s new attractions and hotel renovations. Updating retail is the next phase, and the $10 million Halls move has been in the planning stages for about six months.

Most of the third-floor retailers want to remain but wonder whether Crown Center still wants them. If they are offered a new spot on the second floor, they want to know whether they will get funds to move and whether their rent will increase. Still, they consider it a good move for Halls and for Crown Center.

“It is going to be nice for the Halls’ strategy to make this a destination place for people to come back to,” said Kirk Sheppard, manager of Wilderness Reflections, which has operated in Crown Center for about a decade.

The shop, which sells wildlife gifts, Native American jewelry, minerals and children’s science toys, has seen sales increase since Sea Life and Legoland opened just over a year ago, but not as much as shops and restaurants on the lower levels.

“So the second floor would be fairly attractive,” he said. “We may have to adjust some of our products. They are pretty distinctive, but we might have to make them even more distinctive.”

Vickie Yarbrough, who owns Kansas City Artist Venue, which sells works by local artists and gifts, also would like to stay.

“I love, love, love it here,” Yarbrough said. “But whether we stay here or not it is fantastic for the city. A 60,000-square-foot department store? How could it not be?”