Archive for Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Town Talk: Natural Grocers set to open Nov. 11; a laundromat set for The Malls; a recreation center at Sixth and the SLT?

October 26, 2011


Subscribe to the Town Talk email edition

Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.

News and notes from around town:

• All right people, listen: Natural Grocers, Natural Grocers, Natural Grocers. That is what is going into the space that used to be the Burger King at 23rd and Naismith. I tell you this with such conviction because, even though we have reported on the store quite a bit, it has been the question I’ve received the most over the last several months. (Well, actually, my wife asks me about my life insurance a lot, but that doesn’t count.) Soon, you won’t need to ask anymore. On Nov. 11, the Lawrence store, 1301 W. 23rd, will open for business. The Colorado-based regional grocery chain — its full name is Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage — has released several details about the store, which will be its 50th overall and its first in Kansas. Among some of the highlights:

  1. The store will be competition for the locally owned The Merc at Ninth and Iowa, but company officials said they are convinced the Lawrence market is “under-served” in the natural and organic food category. Natural Grocers will stock: USDA-certified organic produce; meats without additives, antibiotics or hormones; a large supplement section; a Gluten-free department, and several other products. The store says it also will stock produce and products from local farmers and vendors whenever possible. The company has a section on its Web site — — that allows local vendors to apply to have their products sold in the Lawrence store.
  2. The store will start with 20 employees but plans to expand to 50 employees.
  3. The store will employ a “credentialed nutritional health coach” to offer free meal planning and other counseling to shoppers.
  4. The location will feature a community room where shoppers can get a free cup of coffee or tea and also use free Wi-Fi access.
  5. The store will have a no paper or plastic bag policy. In other words, it won’t offer you either one. It does offer cardboard boxes that the store accumulates, and it sells reusable canvas bags. It also will donate 5 cents to a local food bank each time a customer checks out with their own bags.

Hours of the store will be — and I don’t have an explanation for this — from 8:56 a.m. to 8:04 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9:56 a.m. to 6:06 p.m. on Sundays.

• I don’t know if it is organic, but this next business definitely is a throwback — a new laundromat in Lawrence. Lawrence Laundromat is slated to open in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana around Nov. 1, said owner Ross Razak. The laundromat will feature 20 (each) new, high-efficiency washers and dryers. The facility also will have a modern twist to it — many of the machines will accept credit cards. (Holy lint balls. My wife has just found a new way to break me.) The business also will include vending machines, a couple of flat panel TVs, and eventually the owner hopes to start a laundry drop-off service. The hours of the laundromat will be 6 a.m. to midnight.

• Speaking of twists, keep your ears open for one when it comes to the location of a new recreation center in northwest Lawrence. For quite awhile now, it has been assumed that if the city moves ahead with a new rec center project that it would be on city-owned ground just north of Sixth and Wakarusa. But now I’m hearing talk of an idea that would place the center at Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway. There is certainly no done deal on any of this, but City Commissioner Mike Dever during a study session on Tuesday made a point to mention that he didn’t want to commit to a specific location for the center yet. That comment caused me to poke around a little. What I hear is that there may be interest in placing the center at the Sixth and SLT intersection in hopes that it would spur additional development out there. The intersection is planned to be one of the larger retail nodes in the city. But right now it has lots of new roads and utilities but no tenants. Lowe’s officials rejected the site because they said there wasn’t enough activity in the area. A recreation center/fieldhouse could help change that. I think some in City Hall also like the idea of having this recreation center/fieldhouse at the entrance to the community, and there might be more room for it to grow at that intersection than at the 40-acre site the city owns at Sixth and Wakarusa. I’m pretty certain the city only would be interested in the idea if the ground were donated. It will be interesting to see if this idea has any legs. I did note that Steve Schwada, who is part of a group that owns ground at the intersection, was in the crowd Tuesday afternoon listening to the recreation center discussion.

• Of course, it is not clear whether there are three votes on the commission willing to commit to the $15 million or so that would be needed to build a recreation center anywhere. Commissioners did not tip their hands too much on that subject Tuesday. The conventional thinking has been that Mayor Aron Cromwell and Dever are the two strongest votes in favor of moving forward with a recreation center.

But Commissioner Hugh Carter said a couple interesting things on the subject. First, he said he wanted to know whether building this recreation center would hamper the city’s financial ability to build a new law enforcement center in the future. Carter has been a strong voice for considering space issues related to the Police Department. But Carter also talked about the offer from Bill Self’s Assists Foundation to donate $1 million to the project. He said that while that offer was very generous, he wasn’t sure whether it would justify the city speeding up its timeline for the project. But then he said he understands that Coach Self wants to help raise additional private dollars beyond the $1 million his foundation would provide. Carter wondered aloud what would happen if private fundraising efforts could raise $3 million, for example.

“Three million dollars could make a huge difference,” Carter said. “That might cause us to say we really have to act now.”

I think this whole Sixth and the SLT deal could be a game-changer as well. Again, I don’t know if it has any legs, but if the city feels like it can build a recreation center that also would spur development in an area of town that it wants to develop, that could change the dynamics of the debate.

This project certainly has some hurdles, but all in all, I think it was a pretty decent day for folks who support a new west Lawrence recreation center.


blindrabbit 6 years, 6 months ago

The reason the store picked those odd opening and closing times is that people tend to remember something that is unusual. I used to attend long meetings with breaks every couple of hours; the host would always pick some strange time to re-convene; people showed up on time rather that drift back to a normal time which they interpreted as "approximately"..

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Actually, he's right.

Using an existing structure is much more environmentally friendly than tearing it down and building a new one - all of the materials to build the new one, and the energy to do it, have environmental impacts.

And, smaller buildings use less energy to heat/cool as well (all other things being equal).

But, other factors exist as well - newer structures may be more energy efficient, as may be newer HVAC systems. And, if the new tenant is more mindful about their energy use/consumption, that may tip the scales a bit.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 6 months ago

yea man, cool, like cool to use the old ummm old ummmm you know man the old, ahhhh building that's it, cuz you don't have to chop down new trees which never grow back.

blindrabbit 6 years, 6 months ago

Maybe they will bring a "Trader Joe's " atmosphere to the store!

Keith 6 years, 6 months ago

By all means, lets give more money to the Schwada's, we haven't given them enough already for the SRS rent.

somebodynew 6 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, I was going to say - I Schwada is involved with that land, don't hold your breath for them to donate anything to the City. Take, take, take is all I have seen.

Even though I think they owe the City for all that annexation and re-zoning they managed to get through for their land further north.

denali 6 years, 6 months ago

So... This new laundry is not part of the chain that is currently in Lawrence? Am I reading that correctly?

Chad Lawhorn 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't believe it is part of a chain. The owner said this was his first location. Thanks, Chad

Windemere 6 years, 6 months ago

Spur development near 6th and SLT. Fine idea. Biggest need is a Dick's Sproting Goods -- Please! Rec Center & a Dick's nearby. Love it.

Rusty Thomas 6 years, 6 months ago

Chad - keep it will be using the new laundromat lots!!! Wife jokes...LOL

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

I'd like to vote on that, if it's ok with you.

Just as we got to vote on the library expansion.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

I voted against the library expansion, and I'd vote against this project.

Right now is a bad time for large new expenditures, in my view.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

That's correct.

Everybody has their own situation, and their own priorities.

Many people who use the library a lot, and wanted to expand the children's section, had their point of view.

That's the beauty of voting on these things - if everybody votes, then we get the joint decision of a diverse community.

d_prowess 6 years, 6 months ago

I will guarantee that this thing passes if it's on a ballot.

woodscolt 6 years, 6 months ago

Hopefully, this new natural foods grocery will be a plausible alternative to the merc. Unfortunately, it seems a bit to small to offer up much of an alternative.

Trader Joe's where are you?????

kernal 6 years, 6 months ago

In Johnson County and KCMO. Just down the road!

CreatureComforts 6 years, 6 months ago

In locations with a higher population and higher income bases

Frank A Janzen 6 years, 6 months ago

For the 3-paragraph article from the Merc's October Newsletter about the new Natural Grocers store, see below. A representative from Natural Grocers visited The Merc last July.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

Can Lawrence afford to be like Shawnee? Where's the money? Why build it on the west side?

Why not build it at the fairgrounds? Why build it at all? This is another tax increase. This kind of planning is draining our wallets and increasing our taxes.

I believe western Lawrence should become its own municipality then fund itself. From about Folks Road .......

CreatureComforts 6 years, 6 months ago

Why build it near the fairgrounds? What the heck is over there that makes it so special?!?!

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 6 months ago

Some posters tend to prefer projects that are built in their neighborhoods. It's an interesting form of hypocrisy in that these posters aren't against the project itself. Instead, they are against a project that may not maximize benefits for them.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

This area is anything but under served.

Dillons has expanded their natural grocery sections in all of their stores. The new Mass Street Dllions will do the same.

The HyVee stores have done the same. The new remodel at Clinton Pkwy and Kasold bringing not only an expanded section but more to the view of the entering customers as a new partner with the produce section.

Checkers has stepped up their natural and organic sections as well.

I'd say on this issue the LJW has been asleep at the wheel.

KansasPerson 6 years, 6 months ago

"Company officials said they are convinced the Lawrence market is “under-served” in the natural and organic food category."

So it isn't the J-W that is claiming this, but the new store owners. (Not surprising that they would make this claim.)

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 6 months ago

How exactly has the LJW been asleep at the wheel? Are you simply trying to be a contrarian because this post makes absolutely no sense. Sometimes your "against everything" attitude is counterproductive for your goals. Would you prefer an empty lot or a shiny new Burger King?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

The Merc has one of the most outstanding organic produce departments in the Mo-Kan area.

They likely have the most local selections in the city across the board...... let's say the MoKan area.

kernal 6 years, 6 months ago

Depends on the time of year and what you're buying. There have been times when I've found produce there that was fresher and cheaper than at the mainstream grocery stores and times when I've found the same to be true at a mainstream store. But, there are only about ten produce items I will only buy organic and only if they are fresh.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

I have never seen any produce at the Merc that costs the same or less than comparable produce at Dillon's, regardless of time of year.

And, everything else in the store is expensive as well.

It's a great store with a great selection, but most people can't afford to shop there on a regular basis.

Rae Hudspeth 6 years, 5 months ago

They do.. but Checkers also has a fabulous produce selection for a local grocery. Still, I admit to being a bit excited to see a new grocery option in town.. if only they could have put it downtown. How come there's no "tax abatement" or rent help from the city for something like this; needed and wanted by the downtown supporters?

irvan moore 6 years, 6 months ago

i can't wait to try the free coffee and maybe if we're lucky they will sell birdland bread

Frank A Janzen 6 years, 6 months ago

Here's what the October Merc Newsletter had to say about Natural Grocers: Natural Grocers Coming to Lawrence by Brian Phillips, Store Operations Manager This past July, The Merc was visited by a very professionally dressed gentleman named John Huddleston. Mr. Huddleston drove all the way from Lakewood, Colorado, almost 600 miles, just to come to The Merc. He complimented us on the “wonderful smells” and “friendly staff ” in the store and then he proceeded to give us his business card, which identified him as a New Store Recruiter from the corporate office of Natural Grocers. Natural Grocers is a large chain of stores with locations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas with new stores coming soon to Missouri and right here in Lawrence, Kansas. Their 23rd street location will be their 50th store, nearly double the number of locations operated by Natural Grocers in the past three years. With the growth in sales of natural and organic foods over the past decade and a half, it should be no surprise that a corporate chain like Natural Grocers would be interested in coming to a vibrant community like Lawrence. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, it was nearly impossible to buy basics such as organic produce, grass-finished beef, or soy milk at any grocery store other than The Merc. Even though Natural Grocers will sell many of the same products as The Merc, there are major differences between us. Natural Grocers is owned and operated by the children and grandchildren of Margaret and Philip Isely, the founders of the business, while The Merc is cooperatively owned by over 5,600 individuals in our community who shop here. Through our Education & Outreach Department, we have made a long-term commitment to providing education to our community. More than 3,000 people will take a class here this year, we donate over $30,000 to local non-profits annually and our partnership with CMEF (Community Mercantile Education Foundation) has helped the “Growing Food, Growing Health” school garden project expand by leaps and bounds. Any corporate chain would have a hard time replicating The Merc’s efforts in strengthening our local economy; in 2010 we purchased over $1,000,000 in local food and products from small-scale producers, with more than $5,300,000 of our total revenue retained in our local economy. With the support of our loyal Owners, we will continue to build upon our successes in the community and thrive as a cooperative grocery store for many years to come. s

woodscolt 6 years, 5 months ago

Three paragraphs about the flip side of the merc could be easily drafted as well.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.