News and notes from around town:
• A longtime Lawrence tire dealer has moved out of the city to make way for a national franchise. The Gregg Tire Co. location at 4661 W. Sixth St. has sold and is now a Big O’s Tires. The changeover took place last week. Cory Mitchell is a co-owner of the franchise and said he’s excited about getting into the market. He said he attended KU about 12 years ago and has been looking for a business opportunity that would bring him back to the city. The Big O’s store kept the Gregg Tire work force, Mitchell said, and is looking to add three to four other employees to allow it to expand some of its service offerings. Mitchell said Big O’s will continue to be a Goodyear tire dealer, but also will sell 18 other brands of tires. Gregg Tire Co. kept its stores in Topeka and Kansas City. Gregg has been one of the longtime tire dealers in Northeast Kansas. It was founded in 1917, according to the company’s website.
• Here is something to keep an ear out for as leaders design the expanded Lawrence Public Library: Closing down parts of Vermont Street to accommodate the Lawrence Farmers' Market. I’ve heard that idea from a couple of people now who have been sitting in on design meetings related to the library. One of them was Bruce Flanders, director of the library. Flanders said he wasn’t sure how much traction the idea ultimately would get but said “that’s the latest thinking I’ve heard.” The concept is that the Farmers' Market could move from its current downtown locations and be held in a plaza area outside the library. That plaza area could include some restrooms and access to utilities, both of which are limited at the current spots. But whether there would be enough space to accommodate all the booths has been a question. That has led to the idea of closing down Vermont Street in front of the library to give the market more space. Several logistical details will have to be worked out, but it will be interesting to see how much talk the idea receives.
• The health of the city’s retail industry has gotten some attention over the past year with the city appointing a task force on the subject, and City Commission candidates bringing up the need for Lawrence residents to do a better job of shopping local. One of the key numbers that gets looked at is the city’s retail pull factor. That’s just a fancy way of measuring how the city’s per capita retail spending stacks up to the statewide average per capita retail spending.
Lawrence’s hasn’t stacked up too well lately. The latest pull factor for Lawrence was 0.99, meaning our per capita retail spending is about 1 percent below the statewide average. That number has been seen as bad news because back in 2006 the city’s per capita retail spending was 12 percent above the statewide average. A big question has been why Lawrence hasn’t been keeping pace.
Recently released census numbers may hold a clue. As we’ve reported, the census says Lawrence’s population is quite a bit less than what City Hall officials have been assuming. (Also below what the Census Bureau had been projecting.) Well, those numbers play a big role in determining the city’s pull factor, since it is a per capita number. The state’s department of revenue was using the larger population estimates to determine the city’s pull factor. So, I decided to see what the pull factor would look like if the smaller population totals from the Census were used. The result was that Lawrence’s pull factor jumped from 0.99 to 1.09. In other words, those numbers show Lawrence still has per capita retail spending that is 9 percent above the statewide average. That’s still a decline from 2006, but it is a decline that can be more easily explained. It will be interesting to see what the state’s next round of pull factors show for Lawrence. Those numbers probably will be released in August.