What’s the future of The Farm? We ask the merchants and the owner


Merchants and patrons are concerned about the future of what some consider an iconic, long-established local shopping center.

The Farm, at the southeast corner of 51st Street and Sheridan Road, has been a mainstay in Tulsa since the early 1970s, when a barn at the site was refurbished and a retail and restaurant destination were built around it.

Historically, with at least 40 specialty shops, restaurants and offices, The Farm was considered by many to be similar to Utica Square, though not as upscale.

But the number of businesses at The Farm is now down to 18 to 20.

The Farm’s merchants cite the COVID-19 pandemic and the purchase of the center by an out-of-state property management company as reasons for its decline.

Shop Cos. of Dallas bought The Farm in 2021.

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“In the beginning, when they introduced themselves, they said, ‘We’re putting in $4 million in improvements in the shopping center.’ And what’s happening is the capital improvements that they are doing, they are passing off as maintenance fees,” said Ken Rudzienski, manager of Windsor Market, an antiques and home decor store that is marking its 27th year in business.

Windsor Market owner Ken Rudzienski walks around The Farm shopping center. “I was leery about signing another five-year lease because I said it’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic,” he said.

Windsor Market, which moved to The Farm in 2018 from 68th Street and Memorial Drive, recently signed a five-year renewal lease to stay at The Farm.

“I was leery about signing another five-year lease because I said it’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic,” Rudzienski said.

He and other merchants at The Farm spoke with the Tulsa World recently about their concerns.

“There’s what we call a common area maintenance — or CAM — fee that includes taxes, insurance, utilities, security, you name it,” Rudzienski said. “The CAM fees went up considerably.”

“A lot of us can handle an increase in rent. Everything is going up nowadays, so it’s expected.

“But what the rent was going to increase to, and the CAM fees increasing too, it just made it impossible for some of these businesses to stay open.”

Among the businesses relocating is Billy Sims BBQ, which opened its original location at The Farm 20 years ago, said co-founder Jeff Jackson. Billy Sims now has 34 restaurants in six states.

The restaurant’s lease at The Farm expires at the end of the year, he said.

“The rents were going to be too high for my budget,” Jackson said, adding that increased CAM fees were also a factor. “The writing was on the wall.”

Billy Sims BBQ will be relocating about a mile away to 61st Street and Sheridan Road, probably in January or February, he said.

Jackson said that while it’s “unfortunate what’s going on” at The Farm, he said Shop Cos. has been good with him.

“They’ve been very nice to work with,” he said. “I don’t know the full direction they want to go, … but I’m sure they are trying to do the right thing and have a plan.”

‘We’re absolutely committed to The Farm’

Daniel Fuller, president of Shop Development, a division of Shop Cos., said the development company is committed to The Farm.

“We think The Farm is an extraordinary property,” he said, adding that Shop Cos. has two partners from Tulsa. “We were drawn to it for the very reason it’s a landmark property.”

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Many businesses have left The Farm shopping center at 51st Street and Sheridan Road in Tulsa. It historically boasted at least 40 specialty shops, restaurants and offices but is now down to 18 to 20.

Asked to respond about merchant concerns regarding rising rent and CAM fees, Fuller said the leasing structure for many of The Farm’s tenants had to be reconfigured to include a more comprehensive fee structure, including insurance and property taxes.

“Many of the leases at The Farm were structured as gross leases. There’s an industry standard for a retail lease, and the standard is a triple-net lease,” he said, including property taxes and insurance, in addition to landscaping and other costs.

“It makes it easier to make sure the reinvestments are happening at the property as they should be,” Fuller said. He added that Shop Cos. has little to no control over insurance rates and property taxes.

Shop Cos. has invested millions of dollars into The Farm, he said.

“We want to think of ourselves as stewards of the property. We are trying to be thoughtful as far as what we want to do in bringing the property forward,” he said.

“It’s like any other business: We’re subject to the conditions that are affecting our economy,” Fuller said.

“We’ve tried to go beyond what is considered typical … with upgrades.

“We are excited to make that reinvestment. But that reinvestment has to come at a price, and that’s just an economic reality of business.

“We’re absolutely committed to The Farm.”

Fuller also said a majority of tenants who were at The Farm when Shop Cos. bought it in 2021 have renewed their leases.

“I think the good news is that the overwhelming majority of tenants that have come up for renewal have chosen to stay at The Farm,” he said.

“We’ve done 14 to 15 lease renewals.

“The occupancy of the center was not a surprise to us. We knew,” Fuller said of Shop Cos.’ purchase in 2021 and existing vacancies at The Farm.

“The plan has been to reinvest in the property significantly. We’ve invested millions in the property. The Farm is a property we imagine we will continue to reinvest in for many years in the future,” he said.

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Shop Cos. of Dallas bought The Farm shopping center in 2021.

‘We will miss our Farm family’

The Black Sheep Boutique, a women’s clothing store that has been at The Farm more than nine years, is among the businesses that are leaving.

The boutique said on social media last month that it was moving to a new location on Cherry (15th) Street and is promoting a moving sale.

“Thankful for the last 9.5 years at @thefarmshoppingcenter where Black Sheep was originally founded!” the shop said on its Facebook page.

“The relationships, endless memories and more were made here. We will miss our Farm Family.”

The owner of the boutique did not respond to the Tulsa World after being asked to comment via phone and in-person messages to her employees about the move and The Farm’s status.

Before its announced move, the boutique was burglarized last month and lost thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, it said. But it is not clear whether the burglary was a factor in its decision to move.

Tulsa police arrested Terry Dane Drury on four complaints of second-degree burglary after he reportedly left his cellphone in the business and is alleged to have been recorded for about two hours by interior video surveillance. He remained jailed last week in lieu of $16,000 bond, according to jail records.

Rudzienski said the level of private security has declined since Shop Cos. bought The Farm.

“We had on-site security … that did not go from shopping center to shopping center. They stayed here. Since the new (management) company came in, that (former security) company went away,” he said.

Of current security, he said, “they make periodic drives through. We’ve had break-ins.”

The manager of another Farm business, who declined to be identified, also said security in the area has diminished.

The manager also lamented highly increased rents and CAM fees imposed by Shop Cos.

‘I just think it’s a shame’

Karen Kenny is a Tulsa retiree and loyal customer of Windsor Market and The Farm.

“I just think it’s a shame what’s happening,” she said. “For 50 years, The Farm has been here. To see it decline like this is just not good for anyone. Someone needs to know what is going on. … Otherwise, we might lose something that is very unique to Tulsa,” she said.

“I’ve had other customers like her (Kenny) who have approached me and said, ‘What is happening with The Farm?’ They either live in the area or they frequent The Farm regularly and they are alarmed by the empty spaces,” Rudzienski said.

He said the shopping center’s decline began with the COVID-19 pandemic, when several large stores, including Backwoods and Yutaka Grill, closed.

But since then and after The Farm was purchased, many other businesses have also closed or left.

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Windsor Market recently signed a five-year renewal lease to stay at The Farm. Manager Ken Rudzienski said the new property management company initially said they planned $4 million in improvements around the shopping center.

“I don’t know how they expect to lease out a shopping center when the vacancies are so great. It’s not an incentive for retailers to say, ‘I want to move into The Farm. Look how well they’re doing,’” Rudzienski said.

“My personal opinion is if I would have bought this shopping center, I would have focused on the big, empty spaces that came with it when I bought it, keep everybody that was existing happy — maybe raise the rent a little bit to cover some of the improvements that you did — and focus on the big spaces and get them leased.

“You have a better chance of leasing them when all the smaller and medium spaces are full, and you have traffic coming in. Then when you’re full, you can call the shots.

“You can say, ‘OK, we’re 100% full or 95%, and this is what we’re going to do.’

“But when you take a shopping center that had that many vacancies and you jack up maintenance fees and rent to the point where the locals can’t sustain it and have to leave, it’s a sinking ship.

“Nobody in here is out to be a millionaire — drive a Rolls-Royce — they just want to own a business, provide a service and make a decent living.

“When you have out-of-town or out-of-state investors that come in here and think that they are going to get Dallas prices for this area, they’re wrong,” he said.

Fuller refuted that notion and said many new deals for potential tenants are in the works.

“There are easy opportunities for us to lease the larger spaces, but when you focus on quality, it takes us longer to land the tenants that you want,” Fuller said. “There’s an art and science to merchandising.

“There are a dozen new deals working,” Fuller said. “There are exciting negotiations underway with a dozen or so exciting new tenants.

“Once we get to a point where there are announcements to make, we’d love to reach out to you,” he told the Tulsa World.

“Things change. People get anxious. So now we’re going to be good stewards and respect the history of The Farm and bring it forward,” Fuller said.

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