During the last several years, downtown Lawrence -- especially the 600 and 700 blocks of Massachusetts -- has blossomed as an entertainment and dining destination in the city. On any weekend night -- and many weeknights -- downtown restaurants act as a drawing card that downtown merchants might be able to capitalize on if they are willing to extend their hours and cater to the new traffic.
Especially as the weather turns warmer, patrons of downtown restaurants are likely to spend some time walking along Massachusetts street before or after dining, or perhaps while waiting for a table. It's easy for the idle browser to become a paying customer if stores are willing to stay open a little later. Shops in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza already stay open until 9 p.m. four nights a week. Downtown businesses might benefit by following suit.
Retail stores and restaurants should be able to work together to encourage people to spend an evening shopping and dining in downtown Lawrence. This combination has been successful in many cities, although in many cases the projects have been the result of expensive redevelopment efforts in cities whose downtown areas have seriously deteriorated.
Lawrence is lucky enough to have an intact, attractive downtown that has retained retail businesses while also adding new nightlife attractions. We don't have to rebuild; we can just capitalize on what already exists.
There are many places to shop in Lawrence; retail stores are scattered throughout the city. That is the way it should be. It would be shortsighted to think all new retail development had to take place downtown. The changes taking place in downtown Lawrence may be the signs of an evolution of the area from the sole retail center of the city to an attractive focal point for entertainment and specialty shopping. That certainly isn't a step down.
Downtown Lawrence, as many local residents and out-of-town visitors will attest, is a treasure the city should appreciate and develop. It's great to see so much activity up and down Massachusetts Street, and longer shopping hours might add even more to the atmosphere. Even the Country Club Plaza stores in Kansas City, Mo., have bowed to the pressure to provide more evening shopping. Downtown Lawrence merchants should think about doing the same.