Kearney's downtown transformation energized | Local News | kearneyhub.com – Kearney Hub

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Americans spent too much time home and alone during the pandemic ordering by phone and online. The shut-in experience left them eager to return to normal shopping experiences, said Laura Ryan, owner of the four businesses in the 2200 block of Central Avenue. “We saw that people wanted that nostalgic experience of shopping local, having something to do. They were burned out shopping online,” Ryan said. “We saw there was going to be a baby boom, and people were focused on their home lives.”
KEARNEY — The city’s central business district — Downtown Kearney: The Bricks — is in the midst of a historic transformation.
With a nudge from City Hall in the form of friendlier regulations and more generous building improvement grants, merchants are sinking more of their own money into efforts to expose the ageless character of individual buildings and the downtown scene.
“This is truly a historic era to witness the reinvestment occurring in downtown Kearney, as the Bricks serves as the heart of our community,” said Brenda Jensen, director of the city of Kearney’s Department of Developmental Services in 2021 after she dispersed $175,000 in facade and building improvement grants. She said the sum that the city rolled out was about twice as much as normal, thanks to federal stimulus money that jump-started a number of projects.
Owner Kari Printz is a believer in small town businesses, a philosophy rewarded during the coronavirus pandemic by loyal customers who supported her Ktown Cakery. The business has moved to 2206 Central Ave., which provides Printz with greatly expanded floor space for retail merchandise that complements Ktown’s assorted baked goods.
After the city awarded the $175,000 in downtown rehabilitation grants, property owners and merchants responded with cash infusions of their own.
The 14 grant recipients invested an additional $800,000 of their own money to modernize and revitalize their places of business.
The city then conducted listening sessions with business owners to see what kinds of assistance would be useful in downtown Kearney.
The result was a five-point plan that will be implemented during 2022.
The five-point plan is intended to boost the momentum business operators are creating in their downtown businesses.
Customers couldn’t help but notice the enlarged bar at Fanatics. The bar now is large enough to accommodate four bartenders.
In addition to awarding $175,000 in building improvement grants, City Hall has decided to waive permit fees for remodeling projects, simplified right-of-way agreements for sidewalk seating areas, replaced street lights, fixed potholes and laid asphalt on several downtown streets.
City Manager Michael Morgan said the efforts are focused on the downtown area because it’s historical, possesses a large amount of charm, and would be impossible to restore if it’s ever lost because of neglect.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Morgan said.
Among merchants who have invested in downtown Kearney, Kari Printz believes there is something appealing about small businesses. Printz and her husband Matt purchased the former Self Service Furniture building at 2206 Central Ave., and are calling it The Mercantile on Central Avenue.
Printz said “The Merc” is about five times as large as her prior Central Avenue location, so there is enough space to house her mainstay business, Ktown Cakery, along with displays of various retail merchandise.
Ktown customers still can sit with friends or family to enjoy a delicious pastry, but the bakery has branched into retail and offers an assortment of cookware and food products. Printz said she intends to stock more merchandise and soon will attend a market to see what other products might broaden Ktown’s selection.
Another business that’s invested in a face-lift and more space is the Fanatics Sports bar at 2021 Central Ave.
For Todd Schirmer and the crew, it was a fast turnaround — as rapid as possible, given the supply chain surprises that have become a fact of life in business.
The Fanatics project included a remake of the bar so there is more space for bartenders. Changes also added more seating in the dining area.
Patrons immediately notice that the bar has more than doubled in size, giving it a commanding presence. Schirmer said it’s a change that definitely alters the sight line for patrons, but it also boosts efficiency.
Today there is room for four people behind the bar. Previously it was a squeeze to have two bartenders.
The new floor plan and table arrangement capitalizes on lessons learned before and during the pandemic. There’s no longer a stage in the back. The change has increased seating capacity and improved flow.
Seating now is 100-110 in the main room; 60-80 in the party room; and 40 in the beer garden.
Laura Ryan’s building improvement grant came as she was renovating three downtown structures to use as retail spaces.
Money from the city gave her the impetus to increase her investment to $1 million of her own money to accelerate the renovation and upgrades she was planning.
“We saw that people wanted that nostalgic experience of shopping local, having something to do. They were burned out shopping online,” Ryan said. “We saw there was going to be a baby boom, and people were focused on their home lives.”
She said COVID created growth opportunities for her company.
Ryan is betting she’s right about the trends. She has purchased three stores on The Bricks and is pouring more than $1 million into remodeling the buildings, which will be open in 2022 or sooner and will be on the 2200 block of Central Avenue.
Collectively Ryan has named her three buildings 22nd Marketplace.
Ryan is carrying designer lines, which she believes will be unique to the Tri-Cities.
The Denim Bar has three of Kearney’s most spacious and unusual fitting rooms with barn doors and massive antique mirrors. Ryan said one of her goals is to boost Kearney’s reputation for destination businesses.
mike.konz@kearneyhub.com
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Americans spent too much time home and alone during the pandemic ordering by phone and online. The shut-in experience left them eager to return to normal shopping experiences, said Laura Ryan, owner of the four businesses in the 2200 block of Central Avenue. “We saw that people wanted that nostalgic experience of shopping local, having something to do. They were burned out shopping online,” Ryan said. “We saw there was going to be a baby boom, and people were focused on their home lives.”
Owner Kari Printz is a believer in small town businesses, a philosophy rewarded during the coronavirus pandemic by loyal customers who supported her Ktown Cakery. The business has moved to 2206 Central Ave., which provides Printz with greatly expanded floor space for retail merchandise that complements Ktown’s assorted baked goods.
Customers couldn’t help but notice the enlarged bar at Fanatics. The bar now is large enough to accommodate four bartenders.
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