Topekans are still welcome in Lawrence.
That's the message of an advertising campaign spearheaded by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, in the aftermath of a February downtown shooting that prompted one local business owner to publicly blame Topekans for similar problems.
"We know that particularly downtown merchants have a lot of business from Topeka," said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau, a chamber agency, "and we want them to know they are welcome there."
The trouble began in early February, when one man was injured and another killed in a shootout following a concert at the Granada, 1020 Mass. A murder charge was later filed against the Topeka man, Rashawn T. Anderson, accused in the killing.
In a Feb. 7 Journal-World article, Mike Elwell, owner of the Lawrence club Abe & Jake's Landing, outlined a Friday night policy for his bar that required customers to have two forms of identification, one to show their age and the other to prove enrollment at Kansas University or Haskell Indian Nations University. He said in the article that he thought many problems that come to Lawrence drinking establishments "center on Topeka."
Those comments sparked a letter of apology from the Lawrence City Commission. In mid-March, the chamber followed up with a series of advertisements in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
The ad features a welcome mat and says: "Perceptions are everything, right? We just wanted to make sure that all our neighbors know they are always welcome in our community. So come and make yourself at home."
Eighteen businesses joined the chamber and City Hall in sponsoring the ad.
"We have a lot of customers from Topeka, longtime loyal customers," said Geri Riekhof, owner of The Bay Leaf. "Our perspective was to thank them - to recognize they make the drive ... and that's part of keeping downtown alive and well."
"We don't usually advertise in Topeka, because our focus is getting people to spend the night," she said. "But we felt there was enough negative talk and negative publicity. Merchants said some of their customers made mention of it. So we thought it would be good to say, 'You're welcome here.'"
Billings said the ad would run a final time in the Capital-Journal on Wednesday.