Zandale shopping area evolving to offer a 'small town feel'

ctruman@herald-leader.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Sometimes city neighborhoods are transformed over a long period. Other times, the transformation happens so fast that if you blinked, you missed it.

When the owner of Ramsey's Diner decided to close its East High Street restaurant and moved to Zandale Drive, the move pivoted the Zandale Shopping Center — built when strip shopping centers were the current trend — into new local prominence.

The Ramsey's opened on Feb. 13, trading its longtime downtown spot for a space that, although 3.7 miles away, will seat 160 patrons, up from the 100 inside and 16 outdoor spaces at High Street. And the new eatery provides a lane for patrons who have called in orders to pick up meals to go.

The Zandale Center, across Nicholasville Road from Ramsey's, hosts the new Zandale extension of the popular downtown Common Grounds coffee house. And it appears poised to reinvent itself as a specialty destination shopping center and a walkable destination for the densely populated neighborhoods surrounding it.

Lori McCreary, the owner of Common Grounds, said she likes the way Zandale's tenant mix is going.

"I'm originally from Seattle, and in Seattle we had these pockets everywhere," she said of destination shopping areas that emphasize walkability. "You had this abundance of things you can walk to, when you want to go somewhere and get outdoors. ... It's nice to take care of the area you have and revitalize it. Coffee shops are one of those aspects. It gets you out and meeting your neighbors."

Business has been so good for longtime Zandale tenant Paul Dutille — who with his wife, April, owns the Lexington franchises of Once Upon a Child, Plato's Closet and Clothes Mentor — that the Clothes Mentor is planning to double in size, from 4,000 to 8,000 square feet.

"A resale concept like this can require quite a bit of square footage," he said, and resale shops need more space to display their wares than traditional stores. "Unlike a normal retailer, we have a lot of brands here. We have to show everything we've got."

Events like the Critchfield Meat store's seasonal Friday cookouts bring in police and firefighters, and they get employees from the Zandale stores walking around the Zandale center and mingling with neighbors, he said.

Writing in Urban Land magazine, cities guru Richard Florida said successful suburbs look a lot like their successful downtown counterparts, especially in bringing together neighborhood residents to create a cohesive community with amenities such as cafes and mixed uses and green spaces.

That is because, he said, people are neither exclusively downtown or suburban. Rather, they are moving back and forth between the two at various stages in life.

William McAtee, president of the Zandale Neighborhood Association, has lived in the area for 43 years. For him, the mix of businesses near his home gives him a small-town sense.

He remembers when the area was less populated and wasn't as developed. Back then, the Zandale Shopping Center hosted an Ashland service station, Citizens Union Bank and, in the area where Critchfield is now, a drug store.

At one time there was a Gateway grocery store where Once Upon a Child is now; the Common Grounds site was once a liquor store. The Zandale Barber Shop has remained in the Zandale center all along.

Although time has changed the businesses, and development now saturates the area, McAtee said he appreciates the nearby amenities.

"We do Kroger (Lowry Lane), we do Panera's (Regency Center) ... and I go the barber shop where I have been going for 43 years (Zandale). The most distant place I go is over to Good Foods Market (Southland Drive)."

Larry Critchfield, a partner in Critchfield Meat, said the store has operated in the shopping center since 1987. He remembers when Fazoli's, which opened in Zandale in 1992, was a gas station.

Among consumers, "the trend is toward ready-to-eat or just heat up," Critchfield said, but customers still make Critchfield a target destination, be it in the retail store or online.

Not every business in the area is moving in and expanding. In fact, Batmark — long a go-to store for trophies and engraving — is closing in March. The business started on Burt Road in the Zandale area and eventually moved to larger quarters at 2263 Nicholasville Road, said owner Bob Trisko, who plans to retire.

"It took people years to find us there, but when they did, we grew rapidly," he said. A boon was the moderate rents and being right off Nicholasville Road, he said.

Now that the store is closing, Trisko said, he's ready to let go his 80-hour weeks and enjoy the area.

He'll be a Ramsey's patron by simply walking from his apartment in nearby Continental Towers at 2121 Nicholasville Road.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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