When Countryside Village was new in 1953, the oldest baby boomers were in elementary school, and their parents were scooping up ranch homes and leaving urban neighborhoods and downtown shopping districts behind.
Omaha's first shopping center re-created a small downtown on the city's new western frontier, and the center provided a retail hub for the families drawn to its 87th and Pacific Streets location by its neighbors, Westside High School and Christ the King Parish.
Now supported by the third and fourth generations of west Omaha residents, Countryside Village is showing its age and is in line for a makeover expected to freshen up its look while maintaining its neighborhood scale.
Owners Larry and Mariana Myers and their son Andrew Myers said they will spend about $400,000 this winter to replace the sidewalks throughout the complex as well as the roofs and the distinctive dark wood fascia on the center's two buildings. They'll replace the dark, peeling wood with a lighter fiber-cement siding in a wood grain.
Other centers in the area also have remodeled in recent years, but they were motivated by some major vacancies.
The owner of Frederick Square shopping center south of West Center Road on 84th Street invested more than $2 million in exterior improvements in 2007, following the loss of Baker's as an anchor tenant. 74 Pacific Plaza had significant vacancies before it changed hands in 2009 and the new owner, Mike Huber, spent about $1 million to upgrade the 1974 center, which he said generated new interest from tenants.
In contrast, Countryside Village has enjoyed nearly full occupancy and currently has 30 tenants and two vacancies.
Finding tenants who want to lease at Countryside has never been difficult, Myers said; the challenge is maintaining the right retail mix. He is currently interested in attracting a high-end ethnic restaurant for one of his vacancies.
Today, tenants include almost everything the neighborhood could need: a grocery dating to the center's beginning, a shoe repair shop, bookstore, dry cleaners, travel agency, clothing shops, florist, two coffee shops, a bakery, optician, even a dog boutique and, coming soon, a Cherry Berry frozen yogurt shop.
Tucked in among the trees with a low roofline, Countryside will “still have a village feel,” Larry Myers said.
The center will keep its stone facade but won't have the imposing rock and stucco corner towers popular in new centers in heavily commercial districts.
The architecture is essential and reflects the neighborhood center and community of retailers that Countryside has become, said Diana Abbott, manager at the Bookworm, in the center since 1999.
“It's really a small town here,” she said. “We're all in this together.”
She said that the investment in the property is “wonderful” and that changes are not easy with established architecture. “You don't want to homogenize.”
Gary Kirkpatrick owner of Palma Shoe Repair since 1980, is less concerned about the buildings' older look — “I really have never heard anybody complain about it” — because he attributes his success to the location and the support of neighborhood residents. “It's a great customer clientele,” he said, who are the reason the center has “stood the test of time.”
The center was built in 1953 by Larry Myers' parents, Larry and Virgie Myers, who had managed clothing shops around the Midwest before moving to Omaha. Here, Larry Myers became a homebuilder and Virgie Myers started her own business, four women's clothing shops called Virgie's Town & Country.
Several shopping centers were planned in the early 1950s, according to a 1952 World-Herald article, but Countryside was the first to reach construction.
“My mom and dad were visionaries,” Myers said. (Their vision including having son Larry, who was 13 when the center opened, mow the lawn at the shopping center.)
Early advertisements touted the ease of parking and the fact that customers could avoid “nerve-wracking” downtown traffic. A thousand people came to the center's August 1953 grand opening, and the manager of the ice cream store said she made more than 400 sales in three hours.
A decade later, the Myerses built Rockbrook Village, also known for its local retailers and community feel, and sold the centers in 1977 to their son and daughter, Sue Daub. In 1986, the siblings divided up the ownership.
Myers said the shopping center maintains a cooperative relationship with the parish and with Westside High School. The three properties share parking for one another's big events, he said, and Christ the King, for example, avoids hosting a wedding on the June weekend when Countryside hosts its annual art fair.
The stores attract customers from around the city but find their core customers right in the area. For example, Roots & Wings boutique, founded by a Westside High School graduate, caters to the school's students right across Pacific Street. Le Quartier bakery opened in 2010, its owner said at the time, aiming for a “loyal neighborhood base.”
Bookworm co-owner Beth Black said the remodel should help keep the center vibrant. “Any time you get a facelift, it's a good thing. It freshens things up and people become aware again.”
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