Town Talk: BBQ supply store opens in West Lawrence; city looking for ways to increase helmet usage at skate parks; governor and Leadership Kansas members to have Lawrence gala on Friday

News and notes from around town:

• Maybe I can finally abandon my plan to grow mesquite trees in my yard. (At least that is why I tell everybody that my lawn looks a lot like West Texas scrub brush territory.)

For those of you who don’t have barbecue sauce running through your veins, mesquite wood when used in a smoker will add a distinctive flavor to your meats. (And no, it is not a good idea to try to grow a mesquite tree in your yard. They’re thorny, suck up groundwater, and generally are harder to get rid of than a live-in mother-in-law.)

All this talk of mesquite is an excuse to tell you a new barbecue supply store has opened in West Lawrence. Grills and Grinders has opened in the former Walker’s Jewelry location at the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. Conveniently, that is in the same shopping center as Famous Dave’s BBQ restaurant.

Michael Fezer, a retired Army flight medic, owns the store. He recently became involved in competition barbecue and joined the Lawrence team of Piglets and Peeps. He said several competition barbecue participants said they were frustrated at often having to drive to Kansas City for many barbecue supplies.

“We just want to supply everybody’s grilling and barbecue needs, and save them some gas money,” Fezer said.

The store carries a variety of smokers, pellet grills, the Big Green Egg and other brands. But the store also has a wall of fresh spices where you can custom blend your own rub mix. They also sell a host of pre-mixed rubs. The wall currently has 62 different spices, and Fezer is open to ordering more if folks request them.

The store has the same type of concept going in its wood room. There you can buy pre-packaged wood chips or chunks of different species. But you can also mix and match different wood types, such as hickory, oak, cherry, mesquite, apple, pecan, peach, and others. Importantly, though, the store goes beyond selling just chips and chunks and also sells logs. That’s important for folks who do the long smokes. (Fourteen hours and a case of beer on a brisket, fellas. The beer of course, isn’t for marinating, but rather for staying hydrated while tending the fire. Don’t tempt dehydration.)

Fezer landed in Lawrence after being stationed at Fort Riley for several years, and he often visited Lawrence and decided it would be a nice place to retire.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to five on Sundays.

• If you do go through a case of beer smoking a brisket, I’ve found a helmet is a good barbecue accessory. I’ve always thought helmets were cool, but apparently young kids who are in the skate scene do not.

Lawrence city commissioners had a brief discussion about that problem at their Tuesday meeting. Commissioners told staff to move ahead with two new skate park projects — a complete rebuilding of the small skate park at Deerfield Park and major renovations to the larger skate park at Centennial Park.

But commissioners also told staff members they want some signs at the new facilities notifying users that there is a city law regarding helmets and biking and skating. The city ordinance makes it illegal for anyone 15 and under to bike or skate without a helmet. But the ordinance does not allow for any fine for those who disobey the helmet law. City Manager David Corliss said that was done intentionally because city leaders at the time (it has been more than 10 years ago) didn’t want a young person’s first interaction with a police officer to be a negative one. Instead, police officers can stop youths, inform them of the law and give them a voucher to go to a Lawrence fire station to receive a free helmet.

Commissioners didn’t have any discussion Tuesday of adding a fine to the law, but they did indicate the city needs to do more than it does currently.

“It is inevitable that there will be more head injuries if we have more people using these facilities without helmets,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter. “We have to do something to make helmets cool.”

What that is hasn’t been determined yet. But the city certainly is doing its part to make helmets free for youth. The city once again will host a free helmet fair. The Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department will be giving out free helmets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, prior to the KU Spring Football game. The helmet fair will be in the parking lot just southeast of KU’s Memorial Stadium.

In addition to the free helmets, which are available to any child 15 or younger, there will be a Kid Zone with inflatable and other play items from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a youth football clinic for kids first through sixth grades from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information on the clinic click here.

UPDATE: This just in from a Eudora Town Talk reader. Eudora will be hosting its own helmet fair and bike rodeo from 10 a.m. to noon on May 5 at the Eudora Elementary School.

• By the way, expect work to begin on the Centennial skate park renovations very soon. The project also will have a significantly different design than first envisioned. The park actually will become about 30 percent smaller. Parks and Recreation leaders decided to go that route after learning that rehabilitating all the concrete pavement at the park would eat up most of their $125,000 budget. The new plan will allow for new pavement in a smaller area, but also will allow for several new tricks, jumps and other features to be installed at the park.

• Hopefully helmets won’t be needed for a major event that will be in Lawrence on Friday. A whole host of Kansas leaders will be in town as part of a two-day event for the Leadership Kansas class.

The Lawrence Arts Center will host the program’s leadership summit at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The summit is not only for the current Leadership Kansas class but also brings back lots of alumni of the program.

Former astronaut turned KU professor Steven Hawley will be the keynote speaker, and Gov. Sam Brownback also will address the group.

The program also will include a grand reception at the Carnegie Building downtown, featuring drinks and “heavy hors d’oeuvres. (That phrase always makes me nervous. Is there lead in the crab rangoon?)

The 2012 Leadership Kansas class then will stay in town and have several sessions on Saturday morning, including an address from Andy Tompkins, the CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents.

In total, the event should attract more than 100 Kansas leaders to the community, which is an opportunity for the city to put its best foot forward for a large group of decision-makers.