On the street
Mount Oread. KU means everything to me. I’m a double graduate from there, and I work for KU Endowment, and it’s just all about ‘The Hill.’
It’s not just Wall Street and Detroit that are feeling the brunt of economic collapse.
Cities all across the country are staring at unemployment levels that have eclipsed 10 percent for the first time in decades.
In certain respects, it proves the theory of “trickle-down economics.” Or at least that the bad parts tend to trickle down.
Locally, it begs the question of how the spiraling economy will threaten the quality-of-life aspects that draw people to Lawrence. Whether it’s the arts scene, the music scene, the fervent sports culture or just the quirky little thrift shop downtown, the city’s distinctive quality is empowered by its multifaceted fiber.
“We’re a pretty strong, connected community, where we can come together and say, ‘We like it here. We want it to be a great place to live,’” said Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
“I don’t know if we’re bulletproof to this economy. But having (Kansas University) be our largest employer is just incredible. Granted, if the state starts cutting funding to them, we’re going to see some layoffs, and that could hurt us. But the other great thing about Lawrence is we’re not solely dependent on one industry. You may see one business having to do layoffs, but you can look at another business in town that’s adding people.”
Johnson said the chamber hadn’t noticed any significant negative impact brought about by the struggling economy. But she admits that if the city is forced to further cut funds, that could hamper services such as the bus system or parks and recreation.
“If those things would go down, we would definitely see a harder way of selling Lawrence as ‘Lawrence,’ the coolness that it has,” she said.
Johnson cites an example of Lawrence residents already taking a proactive stance against such cuts. For the first time in its history, the city asked for volunteers (rather than recruiting paid workers) in March to help with the beautification of downtown this summer.
“From what I heard, they immediately received volunteers who were like, ‘Yeah, sure. I’d like to help,’” she said.
Of course, that also means that the workers who normally do the summer beautification could be out of a job.
Lawrence’s cultural scene has been harder hit by the economy.
“If the predictions that it’s going to get worse for another year are true, that could be tough for a lot of the arts organizations here,” said David Leamon, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center
He says the economy has forced the center to hold off adding new events that his staff believes would make for a strong draw. And in a town such as Lawrence where there are “plenty of arts and entertainment options,” that’s a problem.
“What we’re looking at is a reservation by people: ‘I don’t know whether I should do this. Maybe I’ll hold off and wait until next time to see how things pick up.’ There’s an impact on us in that sense already. While it’s not severe, anything like that is a concern.”
Leamon, who took on the position in November and has yet to move to Lawrence from Topeka, says he’s noticed much more of an impact on the capital city’s arts scene. He says galleries that have been fiscally strong for years are now “hanging on by a thread.”
Sandy Sanders, director of development for the arts center, says the give-and-take nature of arts funding should ideally be beneficial to both parties.
“We’d like to be able to serve the arts community better by having more local art shows and giving back to the local art community. Because of the economy and because we’re a nonprofit, we’re always asking for money. We want to give back. Part of this economic crisis is belaying that,” she says.
Hit hardest is the center’s marketing budget, which has forced cutbacks on its printed program calendars and stalled technological upgrades needed to improve its Web site.
“There is a common way of thinking that the arts are ephemeral. The arts are far from ephemeral,” Leamon says.
“I don’t think people realize that for every person who works here and has a job, how much money one single person spends in this community that goes to groceries, to taxes, to whatever. How are they going to replace the literal millions of dollars of money that comes through the arts collectively? Because it will be felt tremendously. And there is no way to make it up. It’s cheaper to keep the arts going than to lose it.”
No need to panic
Lawrence’s expansive music industry has come to the same realization that Hollywood did during the Great Depression: Even in times of economic collapse, people still want to be entertained.
“It’s Tuesday night and 20 degrees out at a time of year it’s normally pretty warm. It’s extra-dead everywhere, but we just enjoyed a sold-out show for (the band) Blitzen Trapper,” says Nick Carroll, owner of The Replay Lounge and The Jackpot Music Hall.
That’s not to say the economy has no effect on the music and club scene — Carroll explains things just manifest themselves in different ways.
“I actually had this talk with a big promoter last night who said they were doing a lot better now (in March) than they were last year because of the gas prices. When gas goes over four dollars a gallon, it’s really difficult to tour,” Carroll says. “Gas is much more of a factor in our business.”
Carroll also believes the initial economic panic caused people to overreact and start saving their money. He thinks they’ll be ready to spend again once the temperature gets consistently warmer.
He says, “It doesn’t matter if things are down. People still like to get out and socialize.”
“There is concern, and there should be concern. But people are still getting out. They’re still supporting local businesses,” said Mike Amyx, a Lawrence city commissioner and owner of Amyx Barber Shop.
Amyx believes the overall attitude of Lawrence residents is healthy, regardless of the national economy headlines.
“People are constantly thinking of ways to use better expenditures of money. It’s making people think more about different things they see around the community,” he says. “Things are going to get better.”