News and notes from around town:
• The longtime downtown kitchen store The Bay Leaf is closing after 35 years in business.
Owner Geri Riekhof confirmed to me this morning that she’s made the decision to shut the doors of the business at 717 Mass.
“It is a very sad thing,” Riekhof said. “I go from sobbing and feeling like there was a death in the family to then telling myself that it is a passage of time thing and the retail world is just changing. At least I got to be part of it when it was still a thrill.”
Riekhof said the Internet has done much to take the thrill out of the business. She said consumers need to understand what Internet purchases are doing to locally owned stores. She said legislators also have to figure out a way to fairly tax Internet purchases.
“The Internet is what is killing us,” Riekhof said. “It makes it so easy to shop without paying sales tax, without paying shipping, and they can still undercut us on price. It is killing local businesses everywhere.”
Riekhof said downtown businesses also need to do a better job of banding together to compete. She said she was disappointed that more retailers did not agree to have later hours during the holiday retail season. She said she would have liked later hours at her shop year-around, but found it difficult to justify it if there only were going to be a handful of businesses open.
“You have to have a critical mass,” said Riekhof, who spent 10 years as a manager with the Helzberg Diamond chain in Kansas City. “It was frustrating that as a group we couldn’t get on the same page about how late we need to stay open to compete with the malls that are in the area.”
The store previously was at 725 Mass. Street, but moved to its current location in 2008. The new space was about 2.5 times bigger and allowed the store to add cooking classes. Riekhof said the timing of the move ended up being bad, as the economy soured just a few months after the move. She said her landlord — recently elected City Commissioner Bob Schumm — had made several accommodations to try to keep her as a tenant, but ultimately sales fell to the point that Riekhof decided the business was no longer feasible.
Riekhof — who fell in love with the store in the 1980s while working for previous owners Anne Yetman and Gunda Hiebert — said she’ll start a going out of business sale on Thursday. She expects the store — which has eight employees — to close within 45 days.
• Curry in a Hurry is making a comeback. As we previously reported, Lawrence businessman Sammi Sangam last year made a splash in the local convenience store industry by selling homemade Indian food out of his Shell gasoline station at 1733 Mass. He called the idea “Curry in a Hurry.” But earlier this year, the Shell station closed down (it has since reopened under new management) and Curry in a Hurry closed with it. Now, there’s a sign up at 1111 Mass., across the street from the Douglas County Courthouse, saying Curry in a Hurry will open soon. The location is the previous home of Kwality Comics. The comic book store is now sharing space at 1113 Mass. with Vagabond Books, which as we previously reported is in the process of closing. Folks at the comic book store confirmed that Sangam is the man behind the new Curry in a Hurry restaurant, but attempts to reach him were not immediately successful.
• The issue of economic development has a new face attached to it at Lawrence City Hall. Corey Mohn, a former staff member at the Kansas Department of Commerce, has been hired to serve as the city’s new economic development coordinator. Mohn replaces Roger Zalneraitis, who recently left to lead an economic development organization in Colorado. Mohn will continue to do the same type of analytical work that Zalneraitis did — such as analyzing the cost and benefits of incentives offered to new businesses. But he told me he also hopes to use his ties with the Department of Commerce to help the city work more closely with the state on economic development initiatives.