Bob Schumm campaign finance report ( .PDF )
Knock, knock, knock.
Every 15 minutes a young Bob Schumm would rap on the door of a Kansas University fraternity or sorority house. Evening after evening, he would stand on a stoop with his little food cart. Sandwiches, milk, potato chips, hard-boiled eggs for sale.
“I don’t know that you can make a living selling them now, but you sure could in the late 1960s,” Schumm said.
It seemed to Schumm one of the few ways to earn a paycheck in 1968 when he graduated from KU with a journalism degree.
“It was the height of the Vietnam War, and nobody was going to hire you because they knew it was just a matter of time before you got drafted,” Schumm said.
Schumm didn’t end up getting drafted into the service. He was able to join the Air Force Reserves, but by that time, the idea of being his own boss had stuck.
By 1970, he had opened his first restaurant — the Bull and Boar — in a space behind Weaver’s Department store. Many more would follow. From a Massachusetts Street office decorated with every thing from a stuffed pheasant, a grapefruit candle, and about a half-dozen partially finished glasses of iced tea, Schumm ticks them off from memory. Mass Street Deli, The New Yorker, Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse, The Lemon Tree — “I was 10 years too early for frozen yogurt,” he says. “That ended up being missionary work for the frozen yogurt industry.” — and Arthur Porters.
“I like action, and I can’t think of another business where you have as much action,” Schumm said.
Well, maybe politics is a close second. Schumm has served two stints on the Lawrence City Commission — from 1979 to 1981 and then again from 1987 to 1993.
Knock, knock, knock, Lawrence voters. Schumm is back. He’s one of five candidates vying for three seats on the city commission. Why come back nearly 20 years later, you ask? The simplest answer may be because there are still issues he wants to tackle.
“I’ve found in my past life at City Hall that some issues last a long, long time,” Schumm said.
Hottest since Quantrill
If politician Bob Schumm was standing on doorstoops during his terms, he would have gotten a few doors slammed in his face. Maybe even gotten his fingers caught in a couple of them.
His last go-around on the City Commission was a bit rough-and-tumble at times.
The reason was simple enough, Schumm said: A mall. The community was divided over whether a suburban-style mall should be allowed on South Iowa Street.
“It probably was the hottest of issues since Quantrill’s raid,” Schumm said.
To hear Schumm tell it, everybody took a side. And everybody knew what side Schumm was on. He already had cemented himself as a mall opponent, having fought hard to keep a mall out of downtown.
The politics of the situation led to some “nasty accusations,” Schumm said. The most memorable is an accusation that Schumm got stuffed in the bottom of an area outhouse over some shady dealings. Schumm — who now brings the topic up unsolicited — said it’s not true. He has a stamped passport showing that he was in Spain at the time of the alleged incident.
(Schumm and his wife — a Spanish professor at Baker — are renowned travelers. He’s been to South America 15 times, Europe, Asia, North Africa and others. “I’ve learned as much traveling as any other source of learning I can think of,” Schumm said. “It teaches us how less important we are than we think we are.”)
Today, the mall memories and the bruises that it caused are a sign that he’s willing to make the decisions that he thinks need to be made, Schumm said.
“I’m certain that we made the right decision,” Schumm said. “We have a great downtown. It is much better than it was back then, and it is still growing today.”
Schumm, 64, remembers that a major issue in Downtown Lawrence used to be large numbers of teenagers parking their pickups along Massachusetts Street to drink beer and yell vulgarities.
“Now the evening restaurant business has grown to the point that it is tough to find a place to park to do anything like that,” Schumm said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Schumm has reduced his restaurant holdings down to Buffalo Bob’s and the associated Dynamite Saloon. He said Lawrence’s restaurant market is badly overbuilt, but he said he wouldn’t let that opinion guide any land use decisions that he would make as a commissioner. In other words, he said he won’t vote against future restaurant development just because he thinks the town already has enough restaurants.
But he does want the city to look at ways it can help encourage more retail business in downtown. He said a retail incubator that could offer smaller spaces for retailers to get started could help downtown increase its number of shops.
He also wants city leaders to be open to adding more living units to the downtown area.
“I’m convinced that will create opportunities for new types of retail in downtown,” Schumm said.
Schumm also said he wants the city’s economic development strategy to become focused on making all of Lawrence more attractive for start-up companies or for small firms that want to relocate. He often tells a story about a small publishing company he rents to in his downtown building. It started with just a couple of employees but quickly has grown close to 10.
“Those types of successes can add up,” Schumm said. “And if you can have your first success in Lawrence, you’re probably going to stay in Lawrence because it is a great place.”