UPDATE: Two Monroe Street businesses closing, leaving one big hole - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Two Monroe Street businesses closing, leaving one big hole

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By Jamie Hersch - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) -- For years, Monroe Street has been a coveted area for businesses, with its eclectic mix of national chains like Trader Joe's and local galleries and coffee shops like Ancora. Soon, however, Ancora and next-door neighbor, The Dardanelles restaurant will both close, leaving a gaping vacancy.

The sign on the window of Ancora says it all: "Great location. Excellent traffic." The part that doesn't make sense is posted right above it: ''For Lease.''

Come July, this popular coffee shop will shut its doors on Monroe Street.

Right next door, The Dardanelles restaurant is having its own trouble. Barbara Wright has owned and operated the restaurant for nearly 14 years.

Wright is shutting down the place on Thursday to focus on her health, but says rising rent plus a down economy was another factor in her decision.

"The landlord is just an absentee landlord who feels like his job is just to collect the rent and not put any money back into the building, so we've had some issues with him," said Wright.

Wright says landlords are often too inflexible and refuse to stop increasing rent annually, despite a business' struggles. She says many landlords don't understand it's better to have a tenant with a fixed, long-term lease than an empty lot.

Realtors say roughly 15 percent of Madison's retail commercial property is vacant and nowhere -- not even Monroe Street -- is immune to this.

"[Monroe Street] is always good real estate; it's just very unique in that its users are specialty and boutique and that's probably the industry that's been hit one of the hardest here in the last year or so," said Patrick Carpenter of First Weber Realty.

Most of the small businesses on Monroe Street have been there for years, some decades. Now, the loss of two staple businesses has others on the street worried.

"It's such a fun, eclectic mix of stores. It's like this little small community, and to know there's going to be those vacancies up the street, you kind of get a little nervous. We're all small businesses; we're all trying to hold on and do the best we can," said Emma Loehnertz, a longtime employee at Katy's American Indian Arts on Monroe Street, which has been there for 27 years.

Jason Wessels, vice-president of operations for Ancora, says rising rent costs was one reason for the decision to relocate the coffee shop. The business faced a 10 to 35 percent increase in its rent annually, said Wessels.

Wright says a number of buyers have contacted her about the lot, but none has signed a contract. She was hoping to have a buyer solidified by the time she closes her store on Thursday.

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