After about five years of sitting empty, a multimillion-dollar project has brought the old Food-4-Less building on South Iowa Street back to life.
A Topeka-based retail group on Thursday officially marked the opening of three new furniture stores that are doing business in the 45,000-square-foot building at 2525 Iowa.
Discovery Furniture, RoomMakers and Mattress Headquarters have opened in the former grocery store that was one of the larger vacant pieces of retail property in the city.
“We’ve heard from a lot of customers in Lawrence who said they wanted more choices when it comes to furniture,” said Jamie Winter, manager and co-owner of the store with other members of the Winter family from Topeka.
The new stores are employing 25 people. Although all are commonly owned, the building is broken into three stores. Discovery sells several lines of furniture and offers special orders. RoomMakers exclusively sells the Ashley Furniture brand. Mattress Headquarters focuses solely on bedding.
City leaders have praised Discovery’s move to Lawrence as one of the more promising signs for the city’s retail industry, which currently is being studied by a special task force at City Hall.
“They saw Lawrence as being a little under-served and they decided to get into the market,” said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut, who also chairs the city’s Retail Task Force. “That’s what we need to have happen.”
Chestnut said the Retail Task Force is considering forwarding a recommendation to the City Commission that it hire an outside company to conduct an analysis of what retail areas are most under-served in Lawrence.
“I think the task force is finding that information is going to be so instrumental in deciding what we want to target and what areas we really have a strong case to make to an entrepreneur,” Chestnut said.
The study could cost $50,000 to $100,000, Chestnut said. He said he likely will urge the county commission, and perhaps some nearby communities, to participate in the cost since the study would look at the entire county.
“I think it will produce the kind of information that will be as important to our existing retailers as it would be to new retailers,” Chestnut said. “Existing retailers can look at it to help them decide whether to expand or tweak their inventory.”
Chestnut said the task force likely will decide whether to recommend such a study sometime this fall.