Town Talk: Penny Annie’s Sweet Shop to close; sales tax collections up by nearly 4 percent in city; supporter of guns on campus bill thinks 2012 may be the year

News and notes from around town:

• Well, there is nothing sweet about this. A downtown institution is closing later this month. An owner of Penny Annie’s Sweet Shop confirmed to me that the store plans to shut down during the last weekend of June. It will bring to a close a business that has been operating in Lawrence for 32 years, with the last 25 of them at its location at 845 Mass. Owner Monica Bowers-Istas said sales have been struggling for the past four years. Some of it, she said, is related to the overall economy. But she also believes the business’ troubles can be traced to the trend of fewer traditional retailers in downtown.

“We just don’t have the foot traffic anymore,” she said.

She said when downtown had a larger mix of eclectic shops and stores, her business was more likely to get walk-in traffic from shoppers who decided they needed to treat their sweet tooth.

She also said the fact the store doesn’t own the building it is in at 845 Mass. made it more difficult to keep the business open.

“If we owned the building, we probably could hang in there a little longer, but rents in downtown are difficult,” she said.

No word yet on what may go into the location.

Bowers-Istas, though, is betting that it won’t be anything more fun than what she has done for the last 23 years.

“It is hard to leave because my kids have grown up here,” she said. “And when you are selling candy, you are always making people happy.”

• Other businesses, though, may have reason to take heart. There are signs that spending in Lawrence is starting to pick up. Through the first five months of the year, the city’s sales tax collections are up 3.7 percent — or about $410,000 from the same time period a year ago. That’s a big number for Lawrence, given that the last two years have produced declines in sales tax collections. But city budget makers are still urging caution in evaluating the numbers. The threat of a setback is still possible with rising energy costs and relatively high unemployment still major parts of the overall economy. The city’s finance office projects that, despite the good news for the first five months of the year, sales tax collections may still be about $90,000 short of the city’s budget at year end.

• As I told you I would, I checked in with the Kansas Attorney General’s office related to some concealed carry legislation that we discussed in Town Talk last week. Here’s that article. The A.G. is awful mum on the subject of what he thinks the state’s concealed carry laws ought to be. But I also talked to State Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who is not mum about his plans to get a concealed carry bill passed that would make it easier to carry a weapon at KU and other public facilities. Knox has legislation waiting for the 2012 session that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their weapons into any public facility, unless the facility provides adequate security measures like electronic scanners that would search everyone for weapons. If passed, that would mean buildings at KU, City Halls, Parks and Recreation centers and lots of other places would be areas where concealed carry permit holders could bring their weapons. Currently, all those places can put up a no guns sign that stops permit holders from bringing their weapons. Knox thinks next session is his best chance to get the bill passed. It previously has won approval in the House, but has not gotten very far in the Senate. But the 2012 session will be an election year session for the Senate. Knox said his bill is popular with people across the state, and senators are smart enough to know that.

“Some of the Senate leaders didn’t speak very kindly of it this year, but I have found the Senate seems to act a little differently in election years,” Knox said.

• We previously reported that a Lawrence law office was moving into office space in the Hobbs Taylor Lofts building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. But we didn’t know which law firm. Now we do. The local firm of Fagan, Emert & Davis will move from its offices in the US Bank Tower to the Hobbs Taylor building in September, state Rep. Paul Davis, who is a partner in the firm, told me.