Most Lawrence residents are adamant about not wanting to be swallowed up by Topeka or Kansas City. They want to maintain Lawrence's character and independence as a free-standing community.
Yet every time Lawrence residents take their shopping dollars to other communities, they chip away at some of that independence.
That fact was illustrated again Monday, when the owners of Marlings Home Furnishings announced they would close their Lawrence store at 27th and Iowa streets at the end of the year. The "bottom line," according to Jon Anderson, vice president of the family-owned business, is that "Lawrence residents want to shop in Kansas City."
The concept of "retail leakage" certainly isn't new to Lawrence. Local shoppers always have gone to Topeka and Kansas City. Business and community leaders have talked for years about how the choice to spend retail dollars in other communities undercuts the local economy, but local shoppers continued to go out of town in search of more choices or lower prices.
The end result is that, while they may find more choices in other cities, Lawrence residents are finding their local selection further diminished because of their failure to support local business.
Marlings is the last of three major furniture stores that did business in Lawrence 20 years ago. The family-run Johnson and Miller furniture stores in downtown Lawrence have both gone out of business. A few new stores have stepped into the market, but Marlings' exit will significantly reduce the furniture choices available in Lawrence.
For some people, that isn't a problem. They may like the atmosphere of a giant store like Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City. The vast choices available at such stores may be worth the time and inconvenience of staging a shopping expedition to another city. But for others, it creates more of a dilemma. For instance, what about older residents who are in the market for furniture but don't feel comfortable making the drive to Kansas City? Because of the business being siphoned off by out-of-town stores, their local choices will be seriously reduced.
It's ironic that, even though many chain stores with outlets in Kansas City and Topeka now have established stores in Lawrence, shoppers still want to travel elsewhere to spend their money. Anderson said Lawrence people just want to shop in Kansas City. That certainly is their choice. But as they drive east, they might consider that they soon may not have a choice, because the items they are buying in Kansas City simply won't be available in Lawrence any more.