Stores slog through slumps, or slip into oblivion.
Restaurants rally or rest in peace, eventually.
Entertainment? Even venerable venues vacate premises sometimes.
It can get rough out there for retail. So how did the three oldest, continuously operated shopping centers in the Oklahoma City area hang on for generation after generation? They’re about as different from one another as Neiman Marcus is from a Hobby Lobby, or McDonald’s is from, say, P.F. Chang’s.
- Campus Corner in Norman, dating to 1917.
- Mayfair Village Shopping Center, NW 50 and N May Avenue, which was Oklahoma City’s original retail corridor, started in 1948.
- Park Estates, at NE 36 and N Kelley Avenue, started in 1951.
Each one withstood the test of time for different reasons, and The Oklahoman reviewed the history, and memories, for each location.
Campus Corner has been a retail boomer for Sooners just off the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman for 105 years
More than a century ago, Campus Corner started to develop to meet the needs and desires of the closest market: OU students and faculty. And over 100 years later, many are still enjoying the district and hold fond memories from their time in Norman.
“Within the next 20 years, the Corner was thriving and had emerged as the center of all activities for the University community,” according to the Campus Corner website. “Restaurants, clothing stores, laundry facilities, pharmacies, and beauty salons were just a few of the merchants located in the corner.”
Now, spanning four blocks adjacent to campus, “Campus Corner is the heart of Norman’s game day activities … and houses the best shopping, dining and nightlife in town,” the website claims. “Expect to find the entire city here on a college game day as Campus Corner is where all the action is aside from the field.”
Campus Corner’s 225,000 square feet of stores, bars, and restaurants, marketed by Norman’s Equity Commercial Realty, are as full as a college freshman’s backpack: no vacancy, according to Price Edwards. The latest addition is a Raising Canes, which just leased the former Coolgreens space at 765 Asp in a deal handled by Mark Inman with CBRE Group.
So how has Campus Corner survived this long?
“Campus Corner is the perfect example of retail adapting and growing organically over time,” said Jim Parrack, Price Edwards’ senior vice president. “It’s had varied ownership and tenants through the years and its fortunes have ebbed and flowed with the university and the economy from the Harold’s store that we all remember to the dive bars that would come and go.”
Campus is party central in Norman on game days. Asked for memories, one OU grad cracked, “I’m not sure any of my stories are printable.” Another one quipped, “My stories can’t be published.”
Others were happy to spill, like Casey Friedman, who was in a band, the Jimmy Dale & the Diamondback Trio, formerly The Poison Okies.
“May ‘98 I was in a rockabilly band playing at the Deli,” said Friedman, who is still in a band with his wife, Casey & Minna. “We always had a great crowd, except one night the venue was empty. I asked the bartender where everyone was. He pointed to the TV: the final episode of ‘Seinfeld.’ Soon as the show ended, the bar filled with patrons and we played.”
Friedman’s memories are intergenerational: “I have very fond memories of eating Pizza with my Grandfather at Hole in the Wall Pizza on Campus Corner on game days in the early ’90s.”
Tanner Blair, a 2014 OU graduate, lives in Austin now and was happy to think back.
“One of my favorites is taking an amp to Campus Joe for repairs late at night one time, and him telling me he would fix it for a bowl of chili from Wendy’s,” Blair said. “Another favorite is when a bunch of us that worked at the Earth (Cafe & Deli) organized an Earth Day bike-in where we took up every parking spot on Campus Corner with a bicycle. People were losing their minds!”
Tiffany Lea was a student from 2008 to 2013, then worked for the university until last year. She thought mostly of places to grab a bite.
“So many great memories. First night at the dorms walking over to Pita Pit for dinner. Cafe Plaid for lunch most days,” she said. “Loved the scones and vegan chocolate chip cookies at Crimson & Whipped Cream. Crooked Crust was a fast fave, too.”
Erin Yarbrough, 2005 grad, said: “I would pay all the monies for Cafe Plaid tortellini salad and free focaccia bread.”
Parrack said it’s not just students and the Sooner faithful who have kept Campus Corner booming lately.
“The last 10 years have been good to retail in general and to Campus Corner in particular as it’s stayed nearly fully occupied with restaurants and retailers that have thrived. A stable group of owners along with a growing Norman economy and university have put it in a great position to be successful,” he said.
As for the broader Norman retail market, which Price Edwards combines with Moore, it saw “modest improvement over the first half of the year with vacancy at 8.3%, down from 8.8 in our year-end report,” the firm said.
74-year-old Mayfair Village survived, then thrived following COVID-19 challenges
Mayfair Shopping Center, as it was first called, helped establish suburban Oklahoma City retail. Developer C.B. Warr, namesake of Warr Acres, started Mayfair in 1948, working with his son, Gene, who finished it in 1958 after his father died.
The shopping center survived a massive fire in 1971, and Gene Warr operated Mayfair, including the 1989 renovation and rebranding that gave it a Cape Cod look and new name, Mayfair Village, until he retired in 2001. Gene Warr’s son, Kory, then took over the family business, which included the shopping center until the Warrs sold it in 2006.
Now, Mayfair Village Shopping Center’s 82,642 square feet of space flanking May Avenue south of NW 50, anchored by Michael’s and Aldi, is being transformed by owners Nick Preftakes, the Estate of Mark Ruffin, and Caleb Hill. Mayfair was 7.55% vacant at midyear, Price Edwards said.
It would seem to be a remarkable achievement for the owners. They closed on the investment purchase on March 12, 2020, the day after the never-played Thunder game that brought broad awareness of COVID-19 to Oklahoma City courtesy of an infected Utah Jazz player, triggering shutdowns across business and society in general.
Mayfair Village weathered the coronavirus storm. Ruffin, sadly, did not. He died of it nearly a year after the purchase.
So how has Mayfair Village lasted this long?
“May Avenue was the original retail corridor for Oklahoma City and Mayfair Village anchored the south end of the corridor,” Parrack said. “Although the adjacent neighborhoods have changed through the years, there have been two constants – good traffic and lots of houses nearby.
“Three owners ago the Warr family remodeled the center into the ‘village’ design most of us are familiar with,” Parrack said. “Current ownership is re-imaging the center with a more modern look, more pad sites and an upgraded group of tenants, continuing its long-standing position in our city’s retail history.”
Despite the timing of the purchase, retail surprisingly recovered, then thrived even with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hill said Mayfair’s makeover, thanks to Clyde Riggs Construction, the subcontractors, and Bockus Payne Architecture, should be complete by early next year.
“Purchasing this property the day COVID lockdowns began has created a lot of unforeseen obstacles, but we are slowly overcoming those obstacles,” Hill said. “UPS Store, AM Nails, Mayfair Barber Shop, and Lamees Tailor have all been relocated into new spaces. The new spaces look great and business has been good.”
Hill said the building at 4711 N May, now home to now home to Summer Moon Coffee, Lamees Tailor, Mayfair Barber Shop, and soon-to-open Empire Slice House, is his “favorite discovery” at Mayfair.
“A mid-century modern structure which had been covered in a plywood mansard roof is now back to its original design. Floor-to-ceiling glass, in-ground and neon red stripe lighting, and a large patio creates a lot of architectural excitement. This building has been fun to uncover and redevelop,” he said.
Stein Mart, however didn’t make it. The chain had a store at Mayfair from 1991 until 2020, when it filed for bankruptcy in response to the pandemic, closing its bricks-and-mortar stores. It saddened longtime customer Karen Johnston, who said she shopped the Mayfair store for herself and her husband, David, for 25 years until he died in 2015.
“When they closed down, there was this heartsick feeling that hit the bottom of my stomach,” said Johnston. “I wasn’t even aware they were shutting down. I knew the women — for years — who worked there. They were distant friends. We like to shop the places that make us feel welcome and comfortable.”
Other changes: Touchstone Imaging has started construction at 4901 N May with space to let; the former Stein Mart building will yield to construction of new restaurants; and Domino Express is under construction at the site of a demolished gas station, Hill said.
“A lot of moving parts, but overall we are happy with the progress and reception received from the neighborhoods and community,” Hill said. “Their support is why Mayfair continues to be a special place.”
As for the broader northwest Oklahoma City submarket as defined by Price Edwards, vacancy was nearly flat at midyear, at 12.2%, compared with 12.3% at year-end, the firm said.
Northeast OKC’s Park Estates: Completed in 1951 and still essential
Park Estates was built at midcentury by developer A.G. Meyers to a design by architecture-engineering firm Hudgins Thompson & Ball, designer of Founders Tower, among other city structures. It is near a neighborhood Meyers was also developing, according to the late Lynne Rostichil’s 2017 book, “Oklahoma City’s Mid-Century Modern Architecture.”
“Completed in 1951, the Park Estates Shopping Center served both the neighborhood and visitors to nearby Springlake Amusement Park,” Rostichil wrote. “Park Estates is one of the few vintage shopping centers to maintain its original design.”
How has Park Estates lasted this long?
“Park Estates history has very much followed the history of northeast Oklahoma City,” Parrack said. “The intersection of 36th and Kelley became a retail hub for the area with two other neighborhood centers being built adjacent to Park Estates.
“Though the years when the area began to lose population and make it harder on retailers, Park Estates was able to survive by accepting non-traditional tenants, like churches and service providers, and by offering affordable rents,” Parrack said.
Johnston, who shopped Stein Mart at Mayfair Village until it closed, remembered Park Estates’ heyday in the 1950s.
“We lived two miles away from Park Estates Shopping Center. My sister and I were 11 years old and 8 years old,” Johnston said. “We saved our allowance, from doing our chores, so we could buy our mother a TG&Y glass pitcher and six iced tea glasses for her birthday. She had it until she passed in 1992! Great memory!”
At $4.50 per square foot per year, Park Estates’ rental rate is currently among the lowest in Oklahoma City.
Park Estate’s Shopping Center’s 38,000 square feet of space at 1027 NE 36 at N Kelley Avenue, anchored by Beauty Town, marketed by owner Usman Rashid and his Checkers Investments, was 21.05% vacant at midyear, according to Price Edwards.
“We all love new shiny retail buildings, but all types and price ranges of shopping centers are needed to meet market demand,” Parrack said. “Older centers and even some that would be considered run-down allow inexperienced and undercapitalized tenants a place to incubate their businesses, but also allow discount concepts to provide affordable products that wouldn’t be able to operate at higher-priced centers.”
Park Estates is in good company in the broader west-central submarket as defined by Price Edwards, but most of the retail action is more west than central.
“The West-Central submarket has been one of the best performing retail areas for several years now with a mid-year vacancy of 5%, down from 6.5 last year. The newer centers in the market, Westgate Marketplace, Yukon Village, The Market at Czech Hall, and West End Pointe and the OKC Shoppes are doing well and staying well-occupied,” the firm reported.
Additional notes regarding Oklahoma City’s retail real estate market
The Price Edwards report provides a regular glimpse the good, bad and ugly trends in retail leasing, and detailed information about each of about 270 retail centers larger than 25,000 square feet, totaling 31 million square feet of space, plus another 17.1 million square feet in freestanding stores in the Oklahoma City metro area.
The twice-a-year report on how retail property is used, to what extent, and by whom gives on-the-ground context for where people shop, dine out and find entertainment. The statistics show what parts of the metro area are most popular for different kinds of consumer spending, and can indicate where the local consumer economy is strongest and weakest.
Here are some highlights.
“As expected, the overall retail market continued to do well through the first half of the year,” according to the report, compiled by Jim Parrack, senior vice president, and brokers George Williams, Ev Ernst, Rosha Wood, Aaron Diehl, Jacob Simon and Allison Bailey. “Overall market vacancy declined to 9.2% from 10.1 at the end of last year.
“The improvement was fairly broad across all submarkets and retailers. At this point, the economy is fully open and virtually all retail sectors have recovered from the pandemic.”
“Americans are flush with money, nearly $4 trillion more than the first quarter of 2020 … and you’d expect continued market strength,” Price Edwards said. “But consumer confidence has been suffering and we all know why — inflation is over 8%, most economists assume we’ll have a recession in 2023, and there’s plenty of local, national and international political turmoil to go around.”
On the other hand, “You would expect these issues to begin hurting our market, but we haven’t seen it yet in the numbers. In fact, our market, our economy, is better than it seems like it should be.”
It’s the seven shopping centers on the list that are more than half empty. Such high vacancies could be from the loss of one big store, mismanagement, or functional obsolescence, which is real estate speak for outdated, no longer useful, or out of step with the surrounding market.
The future? Uncertain, but retail development put on pause because of the pandemic is picking up again.
Rose Creek Plaza, for example, a “mixed-use lifestyle development” to be anchored by a Homeland Food Store, just broke ground at the northwest corner of NW 164 and N May Avenue, adjacent to the Rose Creek Golf Course and Rose Creek neighborhood. It will have 220,000 square feet of space for lease across 27 acres.
Rose Creek Plaza will attract a local and national “array of upscale retail, dining, services and entertainment,” said Steven Callendar, COO of the local developer, Skybridge Development.
“The lifestyle complex will merge luxury, leisure and convenience, appealing to visitors and residents alike. After years of planning, we’re thrilled to watch it come together,” Callendar said.
Senior Business Writer Richard Mize has covered housing, construction, commercial real estate and related topics for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com since 1999. Contact him at [email protected].