Coordinated effort

Downtown retailers should band together to give evening shopping hours a serious try.

April 12, 2011


There is no magic solution for struggling retailers in downtown Lawrence, but there may be some steps worth trying.

In discussing the impending closure of The Bay Leaf, a longtime downtown draw, owner Geri Riekhof decried the negative impact that Internet commerce has on local brick-and-mortar businesses. It may be hard to attack that issue directly, but Riekhof also raised another concern that would be easier for downtown merchants to address.

She said that downtown businesses needed to do a better job of working together. Specifically, she noted the lack of agreement among retailers on keeping their stores open into the evening hours to help compete with retailers in other parts of the city. Riekhof said she would have liked to keep The Bay Leaf open later throughout the year but was especially disappointed at the unwillingness of downtown merchants to extend their hours during the holiday season.

Casual observation, along with a quick check of downtown retailers on LJWorld.com’s Marketplace listings, reveals a hodgepodge of business hours for downtown retailers. Some never stay open beyond 5:30 p.m., while others are open until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. most nights. Some stores are open later on weekends, and some follow the long-standing Lawrence tradition of staying open until 8 or 8:30 only on Thursday nights.

All of the stores surely have a rationale for the hours they keep. They at least think they know when customers will and won’t patronize their businesses. They’ve looked at the costs of keeping their stores open and created what seems like a reasonable plan for their individual business.

What hasn’t been tried in a long time, however, is a coordinated, prolonged effort to establish what Riekhof called a “critical mass” of downtown stores that are open during standardized evening hours. At one time, downtown Lawrence businesses at least coordinated and advertised extended hours during the Christmas shopping season, but that effort also has fallen by the wayside.

The only way to see whether evening hours would have a significant benefit for downtown retail businesses is for most stores to commit to extended hours for an extended period — maybe a year — to allow downtown visitors to become familiar with the new hours and make their plans accordingly. It’s easy to imagine that people who come downtown to eat or participate in other entertainment events might also take a few minutes to browse or buy in a retail store. It might even work the other way around if people knew that most downtown stores would be open during evening hours.

Coordination also is an issue in other areas that affect downtown. Downtown Lawrence Inc. is in a good position to help coordinate a variety of marketing and entertainment efforts but it can only do that if its membership represents a broad spectrum — that “critical mass” — of downtown businesses who are willing to work together to promote the district as a whole.

The individuality of the locally owned businesses in downtown Lawrence certainly is part of their charm, but the survival of some of those businesses, and the downtown retail scene, might depend on their ability to work together on hours, events, marketing and other issues.


davidsmom 6 years, 10 months ago

Except weekends, I can never shop before 6pm, since I don't get home from work until about 5:45pm.

Keith 6 years, 10 months ago

They could start by staying open late on Final Fridays, that seems to draw large crowds downtown. I don't know if that would translate into sales, but you'd have some traffic.

KU_cynic 6 years, 10 months ago

I agree with this idea of coordinated lengthening of downtown business hours. How vibrant can the downtown area be if on weekdays stores target mostly consumers who shop during the workday? Such consumers are presumably people without day jobs or people who already work in downtown Lawrence. That seems to be a recipe for disaster for high-end clothing stores, for example. It's less of an issue for jewelers and such, I presume.

Kookamooka 6 years, 10 months ago

Maybe the retailer could make it worth their while to stay open later by ensuring bodies in teh businesses. For example, offer classes in the evening or book clubs, sewing circles, lectures, kids story time....have a volunteer run the class. Some groups are just happy to have a space to meet on a regular basis. This is the type of brick and morter community building that can't be done on-line.

oldbaldguy 6 years, 10 months ago

Keep the sidewalks clean. Get rid of the dog crap and the cigarette butts. Put the "homeless" on a bus to Topeka. These would be big steps.

kseagle 6 years, 10 months ago

Downtown business owners might find it appealing to stay open and do more business in their location if the street rats and walking trash was removed from the area. That way people with real money might be interested to visit the area after hours.

Darrell Lea 6 years, 10 months ago

"street rats and walking trash", huh? What a negative view of your fellow human you have. You must be a barrel of fun at charity mixers.

Aside from your judgmental cynicism, your comment seems to ignore some basic tenets of capitalism and retailing. A business owner wants to have his business open during whatever hours there is a reasonable expectation of drawing customer traffic. The downtown merchants lack of unity regarding having businesses open during evening hours leads to a self fulfilling prophecy. Without any marketing campaign to raise awareness of expanded hours, the average person will assume things are the same as they have always been and take their evening business elsewhere. I imagine the vast majority of downtown business owners don't have the luxury of choosing "banker's hours" because of their vast cash reserves, or because they already make enough money between 10 and 5.

Just today I took a walk from 7th to 11th and back on Massachusetts Street, and was taken aback at how many street level store fronts are vacant. It reminds me of how funky and weird downtown was when I moved here thirty years ago, during the first years of the Reagan recession and before gentrification. It would be a shame to have our downtown wither away and die, but it sure appears to be happening.

Bob Forer 6 years, 10 months ago

Dolph got one right for once. The Downtown Lawrence Associatoin (or whatever their official name is), which receives grants from the city, is an absolute joke. Some of those funds are used to pay for an administrator, and they've never had one worth a damn. There is an utter lack of unity or cohesiveness. I know, I used to own a downtown business.

Time for some leadership to step forward. The retailers need to stop acting like Junior Babbits worried about one store attracting more business than theirs, and start acting in collective self-interest.

illinijones 6 years, 10 months ago

Maybe downtown stores should start adding evening hours a few days a week in addition to the later hours Thursday? They could try staying open until 8 or 9 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That's when the restaurant crowd is in full force. When we have family visit we always lament that we can't check out a few of the great local stores when we walk around after dinner.

somebodynew 6 years, 10 months ago

Heck, I remember last Christmas Season, I went downtown to walk on that Friday after Thanksgiving and there weren't ANY stores open early (well mayber there was one). Biggest shopping day of the year with "box stores" (ooohhhh - evil) opening at 4-5 AM.

Not downtown, 10 am just like always. I know they can't complete with the big dogs, but at least have some sales or start at like 7 to catch the people going home from being up all night waiting for the other places to open.

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