Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Downtown care

April 19, 2007


To the editor:

During the recent City Commission race, we heard lots of talk about our thriving downtown, how it is one of the city's greatest assets. I take issue only with the thriving part. On the surface, downtown does look healthy, but looks can be deceiving. Just ask a local merchant. Many unique shops remain, but for how much longer? Some go for hours, a whole day even, without making one sale.

No, these aren't just charming storefronts put there to make Massachusetts Street look like a Disney set. They are stores with real people inside with real bills to pay, stories to tell and wares to sell. No matter what your theory about the cause - Internet sales, an anemic economy - if people don't choose to purchase things from stores, those stores eventually close. Each time you find a way to rent a DVD or buy a piece of cloth, a CD, a book, a frying pan, a pair of shoes someplace else instead of from a local merchant you put one more nail in the coffin.

Lawrence residents rightly speak about downtown with pride, as if they own it. But when you own something you have to take care of it.

Kelly Barth,



caitgrace 10 years, 11 months ago

This past Christmas I made it my goal to shop local - even at the cost of higher prices. I also spread the wealth- buying cds for instance at both downtown locations instead of just one. Sometimes it takes more effort, and sometimes it "costs" more - but the alternative will be a greater expense overall. Eating at local establishments instead of chains is just as important as retail sales. Everyone that comes to visit is impressed with the Lawrence downtown - and we all have lived in multiple cities whose city's core had died or was gasping its last gasp. It will be the residents of this city who either help Lawrence maintain the vital downtown area or help it along toward so many others' fate. Buy Local - no excuses.

Kookamooka 10 years, 11 months ago

I couldn't agree more. But it's a double edged sword. I ran into a dad the other day at Target lamenting that he wanted to buy a birthday present for his daughter at the Toy Store but it was closed. Imagine a downtown open for shopping until 8 or 9 pm every night. Would more people shop downtown? It's a risk.

If these shops want to do a brisker business they also need to develop an online platform that enables them to capture markets outside of Lawrence. (KU Alumni live everywhere and have special loyalty to their downtown Lawrence!)

Our downtown IS in danger. The Fields building is still vacant. If Downtown Lawrence was a desirable real estate market, Doug Compton and friends would have purchased that building already. Snapped it up. But there aren't any buyers. Makes you go hmmmmmm.

Kat Christian 10 years, 11 months ago

Riding through downtown the other afternoon I noticed something different....the downtown area is beginning to look shabby. Signs are aging and it just looked overall trashy. Also there are too many eating establishments downtown.
I love the shops downtown, the diversity of them and could only wish I could afford to shop in them. Until wages are raised (minimum wage of Kansas) for working people with families such as I then I am driven to chain stores with more affordable prices.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

When downtown landlords cut me a check for my share of downtown rents I'll be happy to help take care of it. In fact Kelly, you and I are going to pay for up to 75% of the tab for Teller's, Lawrence Masonic Temple, Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, Goldmakers, The Bayleaf, Hobbs, and Silver Works and More's new sprinkler systems. I have yet to hear so much as a "thanks" from the property owners for paying to improve their private properties.

The rich downtown landlords and businesses are using the Lawrence City government to force me to pay for improvements to their property, but they can't force me to patronize their business. If they could they would, until then I will NEVER spend another dime in any of those businesses.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

Oops, I said "mediocre over priced meal at Tellers????" but I meant to say "over priced mediocre meal at Tellers????"

Porter 10 years, 11 months ago

Sigmund, Are we paying for the fire sprinklers? The article I read only mentioned a grant - it didn't say where it came from.

Regardless, it's a little short-sighted to claim that the fire sprinklers don't do more than protect the businesses that you mentioned. Even a small downtown fire could impact several businesses and apartments. This is yet another reason why comparing Teller's to On the Border is an apples-to-oranges exercise.

You're right. We do treat downtown businesses differently than national chains and big box stores. As I mentioned previously, downtown is part of our identity. Why not do all we can to make it succeed? No, I don't see us paying for new roofs. Unless of course, the hyperbole keeps pouring down...

cowboy 10 years, 11 months ago

Downtown merchants

Move away from the feeding trough , now

plant your own flowers , save the city $90,000

put in your own sprinklers save the city money

give back all the ad dollars the city gives you , pay your own way

give back the DLA grants save the city some money

until the city decides it will subsidize all businesses in lawrence it should not subsidize downtown

Or charge the downtown merchants an impact fee each year that accurately represents the cost of these businesses to the city taxpayers , if it works for developer it ought to work for downtown don't ya think

Raider 10 years, 11 months ago

If downtown had more diversity in terms of shopping, then it wouldn't be dying like it is. Where can you buy men's clothing? I don't mean old men's clothing (Weaver's) and I don't mean college and high school boy clothing either.

While there are some good restaurants downtown, there are some (Mad Greek, Buffalo Bob's) that should go. They've outlived their time, and the food is awful.

How many "kitch" stores do we really need down there? It seems like there are so many places that offer the same type of thing, and mask it as "art".

Downtown should re-invent itself. Brick off Mass. St from 10th to 7th street and turn it into a Legend's type shopping area. Bring in some decent national retailers and capture some out of town dollars. Have more events, festivals, music etc other than the one annual sidewalk sale. You have to bring people into downtown for it to thrive, but you also have to offer them what they want when they get there.

Kat Christian 10 years, 11 months ago

Brick the downtown area up? No way.... the best part is driving down Mass Street alone. AND Mad Greek is the BEST restaurant downtown. The Bars can go excluding Free State of course. Granada and definately go. Turn it back into a movie theatre. since I moved here so many wonderful shops have closed to where there are a lot of the same things. Overall downtown is becoming a big disappointment.

brotherskeeper 10 years, 11 months ago

You know, I really think that the stores hours are really a big driver for lower revenues. I had friend in from out of town on Friday, I got off work and wanted to show them cool shops, but they were all closed. If your competition is open until 10... maybe you could at least try and be open until 8. I want to shop local, but unless it is food, or beer, I am stuck after 6 pm. Thursday isn't just the only day that I need or want to buy things. This is a very complicated issue and this downtown is really nice in comparison to many cities. I just hope that we can get some more viable businesses down there. I mean I love comic books, mystic crystals and beer as much as the next guy, but how about some shops with broad appeal. Oh, and how about a no sleeping on the sidewalk law. Before anybody goes and says we are bad place for the homeless, how about they go try and sleep in a park in some other small town. You think police in other towns (that aren't SF) allow this amount of vagrancy. Build it and they will come...

brotherskeeper 10 years, 11 months ago

oh yeah... don't turn the Thai House into Snoop Doggs Crib after dark. Woot!

mick 10 years, 11 months ago

I don't sympathize with any local merchant who is a member of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. They don't sympathize with the very least of us. It was the Kansas Chamber of Commerce which had the proposal to raise the state minimum wage from $2.60 an hour shut down. They also influenced the proposal to do away with the waiting week for the unemployed. That also failed. I will trade with the national chains or shop online, save money and get what I want.

craigers 10 years, 11 months ago

The only reason I like to go downtown is at the sidewalk sale when some of the prices aren't bad and to get my haircut. The only other times I will go is if I am wanting a little trinket or specialty gift for Christmas to give away. Other than that I spend my money in cheaper places. We all have to do what works best for us.

Compy 10 years, 11 months ago

seriously the thai house needs to qit attracting the G element downtown. leave that to last call.

also, last call: go away.

Raider 10 years, 11 months ago

Keeper, you are correct. Most people don' thave the option of going downtown to shop during "working hours". Thos of us who work 8-5 need stores to stay open beyond 6pm. People don't like having Saturday as their only option to shop. Hopefully Downtown Lawrence Inc will take note of this and suggest that stores stay open until 8pm during the week.

blackwalnut 10 years, 11 months ago

If you want to envision Lawrence after downtown languishes, take a look at Topeka.


kshiker 10 years, 11 months ago

Downtown Lawrence needs to be revitalized, but at what cost? I would agree that some sort of innovation needs to take place to attract more shoppers downtown. Getting rid of Last Call and other unsightly establishments would be a very good start.

However, if these merchants are unable to compete with new retailers in West Lawrence, I'm terribly sorry. You either need to offer a product or service that is superior or you need to close up shop. Government should not be in the business of subsidizing inefficient business models.

littlelawrencian 10 years, 11 months ago

The last time I went downtown, to eat at my favorite bbq, Vermont St. BBQ, we had to park in the back parking lot and walk through the little alley that is between the buildings. My complaint is this: Does the alley way HAVE to be the public urinal at night for the nightlife prowling around there? I am not talking stray dogs either! The smell of urine was so bad the whole alley was putrid, then who's hungry after that? I wonder when do they ever clean that? How embarassing. If I had brought a guest in from out of town with me to have to smell that. I know one thing... they need to be cleaning the walkways/alleys between the buildings, customers have no choice but to use them when parking in the back.
I love downtown but I don't go at night, too many roughnecks or folks with attitudes and panhandlers. I know folks fall on hard times and become homeless, shoot I have been homeless myself for about a year so I have walked in those shoes. I also never felt the need to hassle anyone downtown either. It is just a chosen FEW that are doing that and making everyone look bad. I know if we don't take care of our downtown it is going to fail and to be sure, we will all miss it very much when that happens. Just can't have as much fun at Target or Walmart like I can in our downtown area. Well, that is my 2 cents' worth!

BorderRat 10 years, 11 months ago

If one of the "Unique Shops" goes hours or the entire day without a sale, is it possible they are selling items that nobody needs or wants?

DGL 10 years, 11 months ago

What you're seeing downtown is either 1) a poorly thought-out business plan 2) poor customer service

Either way, capitalism is doing it's job.

mh131 10 years, 11 months ago

I agree that the stores need to stay open later. I commute everyday along with my girlfriend and we get back around 6:30 everynight. If we want to shop downtown then we have to wait until thursday. I don't know how many times we decided to just get it in johnson county on the way home for the convenience.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

Landlords, lower your rents downtown so more merchants can occupy empty shops and charge lower prices. Merchants, keep your stores stocked with items I want and stay opened later. City, don't charge me to park and keep the aggressive bums and panhandlers off the sidewalks and out of my face. I don't have to shop downtown Lawrence and I won't till I see progress made. Oh and BTW Mayor Sue, increasing the sales tax in Lawrence discourages people from shopping in Lawrence. Yes it really is that simple.

I hereby donate my $500,000 consulting fee to save the taxpayers from yet another shameless study/survey/consultant ripping off tax dollars to tell you what you want to hear, mainly because it isn't what you want to hear, but it is the truth.

As for me, I still will not shop in the stores that I mentioned before, they have all the money they will ever get out of me by force of law. But to be truthful it is no big sacrifice, not one of them is any good anymore anyway.

The strong arm tactics of Downtown Lawrence, Inc. and the Chamber are breeding more and more resentment towards the downtown merchants. The taxpayers are sick and tried of subsidizing your failing businesses and are unwilling to protect you from competition any longer.

Meatwad 10 years, 11 months ago

It's sad that there are 'downtown haters' who think we care what they think on here. Move away from Lawrence, move to Topeka or Olathe where you can be in the chain store heaven you crave. We live here because we LIKE our downtown. I don't have much money and yet I managed to buy every single one of my xmas gifts and gift certificates from local merchants, so I don't buy the argument that downtown shops are too expensive. Some are some aren't. I do agree that the agressive panhandlers are making shopping, eating or visiting downtown a horrible experience. And it IS starting to smell from people using it as their own personal toilet. This problem is only going to get worse unless our city does something about it.

kshiker 10 years, 11 months ago

Legends + Zona Rosa = Retail centers that are not declining and in need of public financing.

In marked contrast to our illustrious downtown, people are actually traveling to shop at Zona Rosa and the Legends are presumably satisfied with the experience. As always, capitalism triumphs. If downtown Lawrence does not adapt to consumer's changing tastes, then it will become less desirable and it will not be profitable for merchants to continue their businesses. It is that simple.

perkins 10 years, 11 months ago

Maybe we can increase the sales tax. That ought to help downtown.

kshiker 10 years, 11 months ago

scenebooster --

Why shouldn't the Legends be compared to Downtown Lawrence? If you truly think that downtown Lawrence is the mecca of retail shopping, why don't enough consumers share your enthusiasm and strive to spend their money downtown?

Was I discussing drug use and prostitution? Let me look ... No, I wasn't. I was discussing the inability of downtown Lawrence merchants to wake up and smell the coffee. Offer something for sale that somebody wants or go out of business.

Porter 10 years, 11 months ago

"..Offer something for sale that somebody wants or go out of business..."

Something that SOMEBODY wants, or something YOU want?

I just wasted 3 minutes reading about how a bunch of hillbillies don't like the stores downtown. Great. Let's bulldoze the place and turn it in to a Chuck E. Cheese.

Yes, yes, I know. Wal-Mart's cheaper. You like the cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster more than anything at La Parilla or Ole Tapas. None of that means that there isn't a market for the niche stores and restaurants that we have.

We support these businesses (with a few flowers and some sprinklers) not because Lawrence is full of hippies, but because downtown is a HUGE part of our identity. Other than KU, what do out-of-towners know about Lawrence? Mostly, Mass St. THAT'S why we support it. If you don't want to be associated with a place like our downtown, or you don't want to do your part to keep it going, then move to Topeka.

kshiker 10 years, 11 months ago

Porter --

I will repeat your question. "Something that SOMEBODY wants, or something YOU want?"

If people were actually shopping downtown and these businesses were thriving, then you would not have seen this letter to the editor and the people on this forum would not be having this discussion. If people are not naturally choosing to spend their money downtown, then these stores should close. It is that simple.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

I don't hate downtown. I hate rich downtown landlords forcing me to subsidize their businesses with my tax dollars and I am not alone. I want downtown to succeed and everyone of you to get even richer, but not by taking city tax dollars. Here is how that can happen: 1. Landlords, lower your rents downtown so more merchants can occupy the increasingly empty store fronts and existing merchants can charge lower prices and still cover their overhead. 2. Merchants, keep your stores stocked with items that more people want/need and stay open later. If you don't have stuff people want/need or you aren't open when they can shop, guess how much of their business you are going to get? 3. City, don't charge me to park, don't increase the sales tax, and keep the aggressive bums and panhandlers off the sidewalks and out of my face.

Nobody has to shop downtown Lawrence and increasingly many people are choosing not to, that is not my fault that is yours. Feel free to ignore my advice, fine by me as well. In any case keep your grubby piggish hands out of the City's pocketbook, we have other uses for those dollars you've been grabbing all these years.

Confrontation 10 years, 11 months ago

If we lose the downtown's "uniqueness," then where will all the potheads get their "water" pipes? Creation Station is full of other necessities, too. They have ugly clothes, anti-meat-eatin' purses, and plenty of "I hate the World" items.

Porter 10 years, 11 months ago

none2, I apologize if I hurt your feelings, but if you think the pro-downtowners are the rude ones on this forum, you need to re-read the posts from those like Confrontation above.

I'm not trying to be snobby at all. In fact, I don't mind big box stores/chains in Lawrence. I spend plenty of my paycheck at Home Depot, Target, and Chipotle. Sometimes time, budget, and required items make that a necessity. However, I support downtown when I can, because I'm happy that it's such a huge part of Lawrence. If my taxes are higher here then when I lived in Overland Park, then I understand why. There is no place like Mass St. in all of Johnson County. My comment about how you should move to Topeka shouldn't have riled you up. If you don't want a beautiful downtown, and you only want to spend your money at chain stores, then move to a city that doesn't make a downtown its priority.

To those who moan and whine about how the downtown stores don't offer what YOU want, I ask who's being snobby? Why are you the ones that decide what everyone else should be shopping for??

No downtown store is paying rent with city subsidies. The city helps keep the downtown beautiful with flowers and sprinklers and you guys get your panties in a wad. Would it be easier for everyone if they just asked for a tax abatement like every other business??

Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

A study in Iowa estimated that 84% of the sales at a new Wal-Mart would come at the expense of existing businesses. When the same question was asked of a Wal-Mart proposed in Vermont, it was concluded that 76% of Wal-Mart's sales would come at the expense of local businesses.

A common conclusion of these studies is that all big boxes create little in new retail sales and new jobs. People don't spend more, they spend in different places, and the jobs follow them. This is economic displacement not economic development. Economic displacement is connected to all big box type development. Why would any practical thinking taxpayer accept this?

Why would merchants at 31st&Iowa,6th&Lawrence,23rd street corridor, Clinton Pkwy & Kasold, 6th & Monterey Way or Downtown support economic displacement? Why would taxpayers support economic displacement?

Economic displacement neither provides relief to taxpayers nor generates more tax revenue. But if developed can INCREASE the Cost of Community Services to the taxpayers.

Isn't it time for Lawrence Business decisions to be reached with the data of specific tools tied to each major project? Voters and taxpayers should have the opportunity to vote these into the decision process because city government refuses to bring these methods on line.

Taxpayers should pat attention to the above if tax relief is a concern.

coneflower 10 years, 11 months ago

Staying open later would help some downtown stores - if only until 7 p.m.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

Porter, I too spend some money downtown and at Home Despot, Best Box, and Wally World. But I resent Teller's, Lawrence Masonic Temple (I have to admit that I have never frequented the Masonic Temple, but at the same time why should you and I give them a dime???), Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, Goldmakers, The Bayleaf, Hobbs, and Silver Works and More's new Fire Sprinkler systems?

This is a large amount of money and will significantly increase the value of THEIR investment. They won't be paying this money back, this isn't a loan, and when they sell the building the added value goes into their pocket. At the same time it takes money from the citizens of Lawrence that could be used for sewers, roads, police, and fire services for the WHOLE City.

In fact, given the wide ownership of Walmart, Best Buy, and Home Depot stock in personal investment accounts and retirement plans of Lawrencian's the "return" to the community of these "non-locally owned" businesses is probably far greater and wide spread than stuffing George Paley's, Bob Schumm's, Peter Zacharias's, Anne Yetman's, David Millstein's, Mark Swanson's, and James & Cara Connelly's pockets full of pork.

But then to be lectured by Kelly and others on this forum for "not supporting" downtown is just plain insulting. What next, you want working families in Lawrence to buy these 8 people a new roofs and a fresh coat of paint and then force us to eat a mediocre over priced meal at Tellers????

altarego 10 years, 11 months ago

Did somebody say "Tellers"? At those prices, I expect a meal better than I can cook in my backyard. Seriously.

What do the sell at the Masonic Temple?

Anyway. Whats the use of having suburban sprawl if you have to go downtown in all that traffic too? Give me 6wak.

For those of you who like to invite people like me to move to Topeka, I have some advice. Buy some of those beat up old buildings, lower the rent, and have at it. Put a Hooters in while you're at it, and I'll come eat some wangs.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

Unless this grants come from the tooth fairy or directly out of the pocket book of the Commission (I sincerely doubt either) then it is coming out of yours and mine. Should tax payers pick up 75% of Fire Sprinklers for ALL downtown businesses? Should we reimburse Borders for paying for their own Fire Sprinklers? How about businesses not downtown?

If a condition of this grant was a lien on these properties for the amount of the grant to be repaid to the city on sale of the property, I might have a more favorable opinion. But as it is, it's just another example of greedy, rich, politically connected downtown landlords (who can and should afford to pay 100% of their own Fire protection) getting into the pockets of working people.

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