A Woman’s Touch is moving — but it isn’t going far.
In March or April of next year, the Near East Side’s signature sex boutique and sexual health center for women will pull up stakes from its long-time location at 600 Williamson St. in Madison and move roughly one and half blocks east to a new building at 300 S. Livingston St.
The new space will be bigger and better organized inside, and it will offer more parking and better signage outside.
"It’ll be easier to get to," said Ellen Barnard, who has co-owned A Woman’s Touch with Dr. Myrtle Wilhite in its current location since 1996.
"We are in the process of designing the (interior) space now," Barnard added. "It’s very fun."
The lease transaction, signed about three weeks ago, was handled on the store’s side by the Madison office of Cresa Wisconsin, a commercial real estate services firm that has never had a client quite like A Woman’s Touch before.
Not that they’re complaining, Cresa principal Tim Rikkers said.
"It’s a little atypical for a group like ours to get involved with a company like that," he said. "But they needed some help with real estate, and they were absolutely a joy to work with."
And in one respect, Rikkers said, the challenge facing the owners of A Woman’s Touch was no different than that of many of the law firms, technology startups, insurance companies and non-profits for which Cresa has hunted locations and negotiated leases in the past:
"One, they needed more space, and two, they needed better parking," Rikkers said. "And they’re going into a building that has potentially some green features."
Construction by Krupp General Contractors, who also will own and manage the building, starts next month. A Woman’s Touch will occupy the entire first floor, with several floors of apartments above it.
The store’s current location, inside an interior mall shared with a number of other stores and restaurants, also means the business has no store front facing the road. The new site’s more prominent location also will feature about 5,500 square feet of space, vs. about 4,500 now.
"Honestly, we need better visibility," Barnard said. "Where we are now, inside the mall, it isn’t great with our signage. It means it’s really hard to find us."
Barnard said space inside the store has gotten tight and badly organized by default over the years, as the business has grown and changed.
"When it’s busy, like when we get a whole lot of inventory in, it’s incredibly chaotic," she said. "This will allow us to have a much better flow for things and people who work here can stay their mellow selves and make it through the day. People rely on us for this, too."
Beyond the products it sells on-site, A Woman’s Touch has a wholesale operation with annual revenues of $2 million, and locally it serves as a resource for doctors who refer patients for educational purposes.
"We need a bigger classroom," Barnard said. "We do a lot of training for health care providers, and we need a space that’s more conducive to that."
Both of the business owners bring advanced credentials that set A Woman’s Touch apart from most other adult stores.
Barnard is a sex educator with a degree in social work, Wilhite is a medical doctor trained in internal medicine and epidemiology, and even store employees know how to do more than stock shelves. Each get about 80 hours training in anatomy, physiology and sexual behavior, Barnard said.
"A sexuality resource center is what we call ourselves," she said. "We are a business that offers both products and education related to sexual health and pleasure."
At its new location, the space will be split about half and half between the store operations and back-office space, including a few private offices and a shared work space where employees can work together separate from customer-related operations out front.
"The new store will be a little bigger," Barnard said, "but we’re going to make it very much the same in terms of the look and feel (of the current store.)"
Barnard said she wouldn’t be hiring new employees for the store immediately when it reopens, but likely would add one or two people over the first year or two in the new space.
"We expect an increase in business because of the parking improvement," she said.
Rikkers said Cresa never met with any resistance from potential landlords about the sexual nature of the business, as agents considered available spaces for it in the neighborhood and further east along East Washington Avenue.
"It never was an issue, primarily because their message really is sexual education and sexual health," Rikkers said. "It couldn’t be more upstanding and responsible. It’s fascinating what they’ve done."
Barnard said she interviewed three real estate firms before picking Cresa.
"They understood our business, and they knew the (real estate) market," she said. "They offered a good set of services to help us figure this out. They also like to find people they enjoy working with, and we worked well together."
NOTE: This entry represents a new direction for Property Trax focused on commercial real estate. While the blog will continue to cover mostly residential real estate, we’d like to periodically highlight interesting and/or important lease or purchase transactions in area commercial real estate.
I’d like to encourage commercial agents, brokers and anyone else with knowledge of the industry to email me at email@example.com about recent transactions, sharing key details and briefly highlighting why the deal stands out. Let me know especially if the new location is expected to create jobs or represents a location-based shift in the industry or has other interesting elements.
We could contact you to flesh out the idea for a blog post and perhaps include it in a possible quarterly feature for the print newspaper highlighting a handful of commercial transactions.
Remember you can follow Property Trax at www.facebook.com/propertytrax and on Twitter @proptrax. Click to "Like" the Facebook page and you'll get any blog updates posted there, plus links to additional real estate stories.