Archive for Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Malls still a fixture after 50 years

Kief’s owner recalls store’s beginnings

Kasey Lane, a worker at Lasting Impressions in The Malls Shopping Center, sorts through clothes for sale Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009.

Kasey Lane, a worker at Lasting Impressions in The Malls Shopping Center, sorts through clothes for sale Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009.

November 18, 2009


Kief’s Records and Hi-Fi started out in the Malls, in the current location of Wheat State Pizza.

Kief’s Records and Hi-Fi started out in the Malls, in the current location of Wheat State Pizza.

On the street

Why do you shop at The Malls Shopping Center?

It’s very convenient; I’m only a short distance away.

More responses

Open houses

• Kief’s Audio/Video, 2429 Iowa, will celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary in business during an open house from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. It is open to the public, and all former employees have been invited. John Kiefer opened Kief’s Records and Hi-Fi in 1959 as an original tenant of The Malls Shopping Center, at 23rd and Louisiana streets.

• The Malls Barber Shop, which opened with the shopping center in November 1959, will have an open house from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 24, said Bob Brandt, the barber shop owner and shopping center manager.

John Kiefer remembers the early days when he opened Kief’s Records and Hi-Fi in a space at The Malls Shopping Center, on the southwest corner of 23rd and Louisiana streets.

When the 11-store Malls opened 50 years ago Thursday, it was on the south edge of Lawrence. No gridlock on 23rd Street in those days.

“I watched cows all day long and never saw any people,” Kiefer said.

For Kiefer — who moved his store out of the Malls in 1977 — the shopping center was a crucial piece in the development of his business.

Dyslexia forced Kiefer out of engineering school, and he started his own record store in the market of jazz, soul and blues albums. Today Kief’s has grown into a successful audio retail business at 2429 Iowa that has a downtown music shop, 823 Mass.

Kiefer, now 77, still remembers the tough times when he sold records from a space that currently houses Wheat State Pizza. He’d pop next door and ask barber shop owner Joe Lesch basic questions, such as how to cash a check or to pay an employee.

“I really was naive. I don’t know why I survived,” Kiefer said.

Bob Brandt, who bought The Malls Barber Shop from Lesch in 1983, said the shopping center has remained successful because of loyal customers and its central location in Lawrence.

“We keep it clean, keep it up to date and keep it affordable,” Brandt said. “In this day and age, that’s the only thing you are going to be able to do to survive.”

It has expanded in 50 years. Some stores have gone out of business, and some stores have moved around.

“A lot of it has changed, but a lot of the people who still come here have been coming here for years and years,” said Brandt, who also manages the shopping center for owners P&T; Realty.

The Malls currently has four vacancies out of 21 spaces, he said. As Lawrence has grown west, some commercial real estate tenants have gravitated that way, but Brandt said that has slowed up, especially lately as business owners deal with overhead costs.

Kiefer remembers one deal he made at The Malls that helped his business grow. He began supplying some records for the TG&Y; store at the Malls.

“If we hadn’t done it, we would have failed,” Kiefer said.

It’s a practice known as “rack jobbing,” and soon Kief’s was supplying 50 to 60 discount stores across the country.

Kiefer was able to eventually make his way into the audio business, and the store moved in 1977 to the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center, 2100 W. 25th St., before settling into its current location in 1988.

He attributes the company’s success to several loyal longtime employees and being able to work with and tap into the market of Kansas University students.

“I’ve had some brilliant people work with me,” Kiefer said.


Clare Galloway 8 years, 5 months ago

I remember the Malls TG&Y Safeway, Godfathers Pizza, So-Fro Fabrics cant remeber all the stores that were there I grew up close to the Malls spent plenty of time browsing the stores there

Scott Tichenor 8 years, 5 months ago

Bring back Poncho's Mexican restaurant, a former tenant there! No one could put together a meal of pork and rice & beans like that guy. I miss getting that fix!

Bill Lee 8 years, 5 months ago

Hanging out at Kief's back in the late sixties was a lot more fun that going to my kU classes. Maybe that's why I never finished my degree, but built a very large record collection. I should have taken the job John offered me, but I didn't see myself as a retailer back then. I love the Malls and still shop there.

Mike George 8 years, 5 months ago

Started buying 45's in Kief's in 1962 and taking them back to my small town for the high school jukebox. John has always put the customer first, and it is interesting to recall the development in that area. I remember there was a dairy (?) farm south of that building where Kief's was, and the other posters are correct that the Malls has served the community well. I've lived in Lawrence since 1964, and even with all the diverse goals and attempts at development, it is still a great place to live. Thanks for the memories. You guys forgot to mention the Dynamite and the Carriage Lamp in your lists - but maybe I was spending my time in the wrong pursuits.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 5 months ago

Kiefs is a good place to shop. They carry all price levels to include some same items that the big box people stock and Kiefs can match prices on like merchandise.

His staff know what they are talking about. Been shopping that place for the last 20 years. Affordable merchandise and Kiefs are one in the same.

Then again there are likely few places within a 100 mile radius that can walk the high end buyers through the opportunities with as much expertise as the staff of Kiefs.

John Kiefer knows the business and likes what he is doing.

mdrndgtl 8 years, 5 months ago

Doesn't Wong Computing Services have a office at Holiday Plaza?

grandmap 8 years, 5 months ago

George's Hobby House was in the Malls with the race track in the back of the store. The photography studio (can't remember the name), Carriage House, there was also a grocery store located where Family Dollar is (before Aldi's).

Mark Kostner 8 years, 5 months ago

I arrived in Lawrence back in 1972, and shopped there, primarily because of and at Kief's. Besides records, that's where you went for your concert tickets. There was a Safeway in the shopping center and IGA across the street and plenty of fast food all around. The one thing that always puzzled me was the name, The Malls. The place was not a mall. Where did the name come from?

average 8 years, 5 months ago

I would always be frustrated by the lack of anywhere to lock a bicycle at 'the Malls' when I needed to visit Ace or RadioShack. I don't even mean "there was no formal rack so I had to use a tree or post". I mean, there was absolutely no functional place to lock a bike at all. Any improvement there?

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