The giant "World Capital of Peace" that the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi plans to build in Smith Center isn't the only sign of his group's growing presence in Kansas.
Earlier this year, his nonprofit corporation set up a storefront "Maharishi Enlightenment Center" in Lawrence where customers can buy special herbs and organic cotton clothing, learn about transcendental meditation and undergo a stress-relieving treatment that involves having sesame oil poured on the forehead.
"It's kind of like a franchise," said Allen Reminick, manager of the store at 2121 Kasold Drive. "It's all under the venue of an international corporate structure that ultimately is here to promote very high quality products for the benefit of people's health and longevity and well-being."
The group opened a similar store last year on Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, and it's negotiating to buy land near the Kansas Speedway to house an ornate "Peace Palace" that would serve as a larger, more-permanent location than the storefront shops.
In the past year, similar stores have opened in roughly 30 cities nationwide.
Reminick said eventually a "Peace Palace" could be built in Lawrence, but that no definite plans have been made. Advertisements for the Lawrence store's opening proclaim the "grand offer of the Global Country of World Peace."
The Maharishi, who lives in the Netherlands, is perhaps best known as the founder of the transcendental meditation movement and a guru for celebrities including the Beatles and Mike Love of the Beach Boys.
He's been in the headlines recently for his organization's plans to build a $14 million, 480-acre complex in Smith Center intended to be a haven for meditation and organic farming. It also will be home to the Maharishi-affiliated U.S. Peace Government, led by John Hagelin, a quantum physicist and a fringe U.S. presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.
Some people in Smith Center have expressed concern they might be landing a cult, but Laure Edwards Reminick, director of the Lawrence and Overland Park stores and Reminick's wife, said she's not out to convert anyone. She practices and teaches transcendental meditation, she said, because it works to relieve stress and help her fulfill her human potential.
She likened it to a tool such as a can opener.
"You don't have to believe in the can opener. It works," she said. "I am not a proselytizer."
So far, business has been somewhat slow at the Lawrence shop, Allen Reminick said. The store has hired a male and female massage therapist and offers roughly 53 products based on ayurvedic healing techniques, including a calming spice mix, rose petal spray, and an antioxidant paste made of ingredients such as gooseberry, gallnut, butterfly pea and white sandalwood.
"It's all geared toward a lifestyle," said Jesse Blevins, 28, a massage therapist at the Lawrence store.