Customers have an easy time finding Stuart’s House of Vacuums at its new location, only its second home in nearly 40 years, and owner Tom Berkshire says he’s in a great spot to boost business.
Berkshire and his wife, Sandy, moved the shop into the Central Avenue Plaza at the corner of 32nd Street West in December. It’s a smaller space, but the couple say they have better display space and cheaper rent in a growing Billings West End neighborhood.
“It’s been great over here, and we’re actually seeing people that we haven’t seen in the shop,” Berkshire said last week.
Stuart’s House of Vacuums is the ninth tenant to move into the Central Avenue Center, filling the strip mall only about 18 months after construction was completed.
The space was formerly home to two crumbling homes and three vacant lots before developers Ed Jorden and Jerry Neumann got to work. They bought the land, tore down the houses and began building the center in two stages.
For the first building, they reached an agreement with the owners of Great Harvest Bread, Bryan and Susie Layton, to open their second Billings store in the corner space facing the intersection.
Jorden said the eatery helped give the $3.5 million center an identity in the neighborhood, and the developers were soon convinced to proceed with the second building.
“The number-one reason for attracting tenants was the location. It’s right in the middle of the West End with lots of residences around it. The traffic at 32nd and Central has increased over the year quite a bit,” Jorden said.
“What’s nice about the way the retail center sits, facing Central, there’s quite a few cars that get backed up at the light. There’s not a lot for those cars to do but sit there and look and the businesses around there,” he added.
Central Avenue Center is home to Great Harvest, Grant Chiropractic, Victoria Hayes’ State Farm insurance office, Re/Max, Able Tax and Accounting Services, Guild Mortgage, Fringe Salon, Stuart’s and Petlantis.
“Our thought was to have businesses that were conducive to neighborhoods, if that makes sense," Jorden said. "So that people a block away would go have lunch. People would go walk a block and have their dogs groomed."
City officials say 32nd Street West is growing into a bustling corridor, but expansion there is limited by design. Planners in the early 2000s wanted to avoid creating another street with non-stop retail, like 24th Street West, and installed guidelines to prevent massive traffic flow, said Nicole Cromwell, the city’s zoning coordinator.
Today, the street is a mix of retail, schools, churches and residential, primarily on the northern end. Cromwell said retail growth is targeted for the intersection of Grand Avenue, which has vacant space on three corners.
“Those are all teed-up right now for development. Lots more could happen there,” she said.
At Central Avenue Center, Jorden and Neumann are already planning for growth. They own a quarter-acre parcel behind the center that’s reserved for parking, which Jorden said they plan to build out as needed.
The center is a few hundred feet south of residences along 32nd Street West. Jorden said he hasn’t heard any complaints about increased traffic to the neighborhood.
“The majority of the people that live just north of us are appreciative of our building blocking all the noise from Central Avenue. And cleaning up those lots,” he said.