Archive for Saturday, October 10, 1998

LANDMARK TAVERN UP FOR SALE

October 10, 1998

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Increased competition and tougher liquor law enforcement has the owners of Johnny's Tavern thinking of abandoning the site where it all started.

Johnny's Tavern, the landmark bar and grill just north of the Kansas River Bridge, is for sale.

``There's just too many places'' to compete with these days, co-owner Rick Renfro said Friday. ``I don't think anybody's doing real outstanding right now.''

Especially since Johnny's opened successful locations in Overland Park and Mission, Renfro and his partners have been wondering whether the struggle to stay in Lawrence is worth the trouble.

``Our two places in Kansas City are flying high,'' Renfro said. ``It just seems like we're wasting time down here.''

Johnny's is owned by Renfro, Louie Riederer and Doug Hassig. This summer, the trio celebrated 20 years of ownership of the place that's been in business since early this century. In that time, it's changed from a neighborhood hangout for blue-collar types to a Lawrence institution where bikers rub elbows with students and pinstriped businessmen.

But while many who have passed through Lawrence over the years have a warm spot in their hearts for the comfortable surroundings, its frosty mug beer and greasy cheeseburgers, sentimentality's not enough to pay the bills.

It's not that Johnny's is a losing venture, Renfro said. He wouldn't be specific, but said the Lawrence store has annual sales between $500,000 and $1 million.

``But our store in Overland Park does three times that,'' he said. ``Our store in Shawnee has been doing twice that.'' And after a recent expansion, Renfro said it would do even better.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence store has been declining.

``I'm probably down 50 percent in gross sales,'' he said. ``The college kids aren't coming over here. We're not the `in' place. ... It's been a real struggle.''

Besides increased competition, increased enforcement of drinking age laws has taken a bite out of liquor sales, which make up about 65 percent of total revenues.

Renfro said the business was listed for sale at $200,000. He's asking $400,000 for the real estate -- about 9,000 square feet of space in the original building and an addition, and a parking lot.

There have been some nibbles, but no sale is imminent. Renfro seemed comfortable with that.

``I don't want to leave Lawrence,'' he said. ``I like living here. I like contributing to the community. ... But it's going to take some increased revenue. I need to get people to drive the 300 yards across that bridge. If locals would support the local business a little bit, it'd be a lot better.''

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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