By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Carbondale has been growing at a considerable rate in recent years, both in terms of residential population and commercial activity.
Where not too long ago there were unkempt open lots and vacant fields, there now are businesses, parking lots and all the other facilities that come with new businesses in a highway-oriented town that happens to possess a lively historic commercial core, with the promise of more business growth around the corner (so to speak.)
But, oddly enough, there is very little data about how many businesses there are in town, and in particular how many vacancies there are in the various buildings that contain operating retail and other shops.
The town government keeps no such statistics, nor does the local chamber of commerce, or the real estate offices that sell, lease or otherwise handle all that commercial space.
Laura Gee, a broker with Woodbridge Realty, said that based on her 16 years in the valley’s market, “…it’s probably a little higher than normal.”
But, said Lynn Kirchner of Amoré Real Estate on Main Street, speaking of the general commercial rental climate, “we’re no worse than Glenwood Springs, no worse than Basalt. They’ve got a lot of vacancies in Willits, too.”
One reason for Carbondale’s apparently slow commercial real estate market, both Kirchner and Gee agreed, is relatively high rents that come in between $22 per square foot and $30 per square foot, which Kirchner said compares well with the $50 per square foot for a business in Willits, or the “hundreds per square foot” that Aspen businesses can pay.
Some local business owners, Kirchner added, often speak of relocating to the Front Range, where retail rents are more like $15 per square foot and landlords offer incentives to attract leaseholders.
To rectify the lack of local data, The Sopris Sun has sent its small reporting team out on the streets in recent weeks, conducting an admittedly informal, unscientific and quite possibly incomplete survey of the different nodes of retail and commercial activity, in search of some idea of the breakdown between thriving businesses and vacant store fronts.
As of early June, according to the Sun’s survey, there were approximately 391 business spaces in different parts of town — Main Street, Highway 133 (including Nieslanik Ave., 12th Street, ET Plaza, Industry Place and West Main), Village Road and Buggy Circle, Cowen Drive, Dolores Way, and the Third Street Center.
Among those available spaces, 342 of them were occupied, 49 were vacant.
Those numbers translate into an estimated commercial-property vacancy rate of just about 12.5 percent, which is slightly higher than the national average for retail spaces, according to the Statista website (www.statista.com), which gathers and publishes commercial and retail business information.
But the deeper story, for Carbondale shoppers and observers of our local economy, might be to take a look at where the vacancy rates are at their highest, or their lowest, in town.
Our intrepid surveyor reported a total of 91 occupied commercial properties along Main Street, 13 buildings with vacant space inside. Three retail spaces in “transition” — the Dandelion Market, the Coloradough baker and Teresa’s Market, all located in two buildings owned by investor Bren Simon in the 400 block of Main, are scheduled to move out of their current quarters at the end of this month.
Two other Main Street spaces — the former homes of European Antiques and the Carbondale Animal Hospital — also technically are in transition at the moment, with the former slated for the new alcoholic beverage tasting room known as Batch and the latter for “The Carbondale Gypsy Wagon.”
In the data submission, our surveyor mentioned that he included any businesses within a block of Main Street in either direction between Snowmass Drive and the roundabout at Highway 133.
On West Main, beyond the roundabout, a surveyor found a total of nine commercial spaces, six of which were occupied and three of which were vacant. The vacancies, according to the surveyor, were “mostly in the 7-Eleven area.”
Other areas in the central part of town, including West Colorado Avenue, Twelfth Street and Merrill Avenue, yielded six occupied businesses and one vacant one, our survey showed.
The stretch of highway bifurcating town from one end to the other, but excluding side streets, revealed a total of 85 occupied business spaces, 11 vacancies and one address in “transition”, at 304 Highway 133, for a vacancy rate of nearly 13 percent overall.
Looking into the side streets off the highway, Cowen Drive at the north end of town showed 15 active businesses and one vacancy; Industry Place contained 15 occupied and operating concerns; and ET Plaza showed 10 occupied commercial spaces and two unoccupied, which put it among the highest vacancy rates in town at 16 percent.
A long-time hub of commercial business, the Sopris Shopping Center at the corner of Colorado and Highway 133, takes the prize, however. Our survey showed that of the 18 business spaces available in the shopping center, 11 are occupied and seven are vacant, for a vacancy rate of nearly 39 percent, giving it the highest vacancy rate in a single-owner space in town.
On the other side of the highway, Dolores Way leading to the unincorporated Satank neighborhood, boasts a total of 32 available commercial spaces, of which 31 are occupied and only one is vacant, for an vacancy rate of a mere three percent, the lowest in town.
One atypical node of activity, The Sun’s own landlord, the Third Street Center, has 33 active organizations and only one vacancy, representing a similar three-percent vacancy rate. But because the it is a nonprofit center rather than a traditional business plaza, it is not factored into the retail and commercial, for-profit vacancy rate for the purposes of this story.
This survey, which represents a baseline of data for the town, is intended to take place annually henceforth.
Published in The Sopris Sun on June 8, 2017.