Archive for Thursday, February 2, 2012

Town Talk: April 8 target date for Sears closing, but company interested in opening Hometown Sears store; Dick’s Sporting Goods in the mix for Sears space; a new ag land real estate firm

February 2, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• As we’ve reported several times, Sears is on the way out in Lawrence. But what we haven’t known is a closing date for the store at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, store employees now are telling customers that April 8 is the date that Sears officials have tentatively set as a closing date.

But that may not be the end of Sears in Lawrence. Sears ran an ad in Sunday’s Journal-World seeking individuals interested in owning their own Sears Hometown store. I caught up with the Sears representative who oversees Sears’ Hometown store program, and found out a bit more.

Gerald Huston said a Sears Hometown store is a smaller version of a Sears full-line store. The store carries lawn and garden equipment, major appliances, and Craftsmen tools. Mainly what the store does not carry is clothing and some of the smaller appliances. The other big difference is that the store is privately owned instead of owned by Sears. But it is clearly a partnership type of operation. Sears handles all the cost of providing inventory and advertising for the store, Huston said. The owner takes care of employee costs and rent.

As for a location, Huston said he was in town earlier this week scouting out possible locations, but he also wants to hear if potential owners have specific locations in mind. If all goes well, Huston said he hopes to have a store open by May.

There are about 900 of the Sears Hometown stores across the country. The closest such stores to Lawrence are in Ottawa and Atchison, Huston said. People interested in becoming an owner of a Sears Hometown store, should have about $25,000 in cash that they are prepared to invest upfront, and also have a personal net worth of $100,000 or more, according to the advertisement. People interested in expressing interest to Huston should contact him directly at gerald.huston(at) (Replace the at with the @ sign. Just trying to prevent some spam.)

• One location I’ll be keeping an eye on is the Sears building itself at 2727 Iowa. I believe there is a lot of activity going on behind the scenes at that 85,000-square-foot building, and I’m fairly confident that Dick’s Sporting Goods is involved in much of it.

I heard recently from an investor who had a strong interest in purchasing the building from the Sears/Kmart conglomerate that owns the building. But what I’ve heard is that Sears has had so much interest from potential tenants for the building that it has decided to keep the property and simply serve as a landlord. Whether they’ll try to put their Sears Hometown store in there, I don’t know. But what the investor told me is that Dick’s Sporting Goods is a name he was told that was interested in the location. Dick’s normally has stores about 50,000 square feet or less, so that likely would leave room for another retailer or two. I still haven’t heard anybody who has said they have direct knowledge of Old Navy looking for a new space in town, but the commercial real estate agents I talk to said they would be surprised if Old Navy doesn’t want to be in this college market.

As for other names, there are some out there. The one I’ll pass along today is Big Lots. Again, I don’t have anyone who says they have direct knowledge of Big Lots trying to swing a deal for the Sears building, but I do have people who have confirmed Big Lots has had an interest in the Lawrence market in the past.

• If buying a Sears building isn’t exactly your style, maybe buying a piece of Kaw Valley bottomground is. It is certainly becoming more fashionable. As I’ve reported previously, the agricultural land sale market is becoming more active in the area. As a result, there is a new real estate company in town that is looking to focus on rural land sales. Kelvin Heck, a longtime commercial real estate broker with Colliers International, has started Heck Land Company. Heck will continue in his current position with Colliers, but he told me wanted to start his own company in order to provide a little different focus for land sales involving farm, ranch and recreational properties.

Heck said the idea also appealed to him because he has a pretty strong connection with the Kaw Valley. Heck grew up on a farm northeast of Lawrence on a farm homesteaded by his great-grandfather, and Heck was in the farming business before he got into the real estate business about 25 years ago.

The land market should be an interesting one to watch. A few months ago, Heck told me that Kaw bottomground was averaging about $4,500 an acre in many of the sales he had seen. That’s a nice bump from a few years ago, but it is nothing compared to what is going on north of here. Here’s a very interesting article from the Reuters news service that talks about how the tiny county of Sioux County, Iowa, is “ground zero” for the agricultural land boom. Auction prices for land have been steadily rising, and recently an auction brought more than $20,000 an acre for crop land. The article also notes that land prices in Nebraska have seen significant increases. The article states that land prices in eastern Nebraska jumped by 40 percent in the third quarter of 2011, and have risen another 3 percent to 5 percent since then.

It brings up the question how far south will this trend spread? Originally, I had thought the Iowa effect wouldn’t have much impact in Kansas. I figured the land that was booming in Iowa was the super prime ground along the Mississippi River. But that’s not the case. Sioux County is on the western edge of Iowa. Its prime farmground is located along the Big Sioux River. Is there a tremendous difference in soil quality between the Big Sioux and the Kansas River? I don’t know. The article also notes that the county seems to be benefiting from what is considered a dirty phrase by some “climate change.” The weather data over the last 30 years indicates the county is going through a period of cooler summers and wetter weather, which has been good for corn.

Of course, the article also notes that there are plenty of people worried about a major land bubble, and the mess that would be created if such a bubble burst. There is some hope that it wouldn’t be as messy as the 1980s because it seems more land purchases are being made with cash instead of debt.

But still, a land bubble could be a huge one. According to an article by Drovers Cattle Network, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released this statistic: Of the 2.3 billion acres in the United States, about 45 percent of it is classified as cropland or pastureland. The two categories accounted for 1.02 billion acres. Urban land, in case you’re wondering, accounted for just 61 million acres.


ktbob1954 6 years, 4 months ago

Re the closing of the Lawrence Sears store....IF someone opens up a hometown version of Sears, I certainly hope they give their employees better "customer service" training cuz this store totally SUCKS in that department !!! And I've been a customer of Sears for over 30 years.

iron_outlaw 6 years, 4 months ago

I've had bad service in there as well. There was a time when the tool department employee couldn't answer my question so he offered to get his manager. The manager was paged to the department. Instead of coming out there he called on the phone. Eventually I was put on the phone after the employee got tired of being the middleman in the conversation. That is hands down the worst customers service I've ever had. With no respect for his customer to even come out and talk face to face. The tool department is in the back of the store as are the offices and storeroom. I am sure it wouldn't have been more then a couple of feet for him to come see me.

EarthaKitt 6 years, 4 months ago

I went in for a timing light and the kid who helped me couldn't figure out that I didn't want a light that was on a timer. Sheesh.

K_dub 6 years, 4 months ago

Would be GREAT to have a Dick's Sporting Goods in Lawrence.

I think the current Sears store building would be a good size for the sporting good store.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago


It's "back to the future". I hope the owner(s) of the old Sears Catalog Store (now renamed as above), that was closed to make way for the big Sears store, has the first shot, if he or she is interested. They ran that store well.

It is pleasing to hear of the interest in the Sears building. Big Lots sounds most interesting to me, especially in this economy. How many square feet do they need for a small market like Lawrence?

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 4 months ago

Chad Lawton, thank you for this very interesting article. You have expanded to put some real commentary into the article and it is very interesting for myself, for example, who doesn't have a strong background in economics and land sales.

I wish Gerald Huston good fortune if he decides to open a Sears Home Store in Lawrence. In Ottawa it would do very well, and there is one, but Lawrence has so many large stores already that he would have to look at the market very carefully and the location.

I, too, am a long-time Sears customer and I personally have found them to be very good, overall.

irvan moore 6 years, 4 months ago

remember when dick ran the old sears appliance store where napa is? that was as good a service as you could get.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

Know his last name and if he's still in the area?

I do remember them in the Napa building, briefly I think. Was that after being in (or next to) what's now the sewing store or Sherwin-Williams north, across the street, from the current Sears?

irvan moore 6 years, 4 months ago

Dick Bassinger, he was a great guy and went on to become an insurance agent and later retired and he and his wife hit the road in a motorhome

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

The ag land bubble is a very troubling development. The phenomenon here is likely somewhat different from what's going on in the undeveloped world, where Saudi Arabia and China and other countries with limited amounts of agricultural lands are buying up huge tracts, and pushing off the indigenous subsistence farmers, but the end result could be the same-- the best agricultural land in the world will be owned by a very small but wealthy elite who use it to remain that way, and not to feed the world.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

Can you say "R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N"? When it gets that bad, they and land redistribution always happen. Hopefully peacefully.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

If they buy the land, does that not imply that they may develop it, or not, in a way of their choosing?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

With 7 billion people (and counting) on the planet, with rapidly changing climatic patterns, that could never have negative implications, could it?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

With 7 billion people on the planet, almost anything humans do will have a negative impact.
The problem is that I have no confidence that your solutions are any better than simply allowing land owners to decide what is in their own best interests. You, and me, sitting here in Lawrence, Kansas, sitting in front of our computer screens telling people in foreign lands how they should conduct their affairs is not likely to produce a result either of us would deem as more favorable than whatever they decide without our input. We may as well tell them to lower their population to say one billion but that's nothing but wishful thinking. Six billion won't volunteer to commit suicide anymore than landowners refusing to sell their land to whomever pays the best price for it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

"The problem is that I have no confidence that your solutions are any better than simply allowing land owners to decide what is in their own best interests. "

As ownership of arable land is concentrated into ever fewer lands as the population continues to expand, I see no reason to trust a "greed is good" mentality with the future of the human race.

LadyJ 6 years, 4 months ago

Someone help me out here. I'm sure I remember a sporting goods store being at the corner of 23rd and Iowa where CiCi's Pizza is now. Does anyone else remember that and what was the name of it?

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

And it was in the western one-third of Hastings, not CiCi's -- that was an office supply store, and maybe a bookstore (Patch's?).

MarcoPogo 6 years, 4 months ago

Hatch's. Part of the current Cork and Barrel was a hot dog/video game joint called W.C. Frank's.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

Those other places only carry the very basic Craftsman tools that weekend warriors buy. The bigger competitor, by far, is Sear's own website for the serious tools, cabinets, etc.

Would a Sears Hometown have free ship-to-store from the Sear's website?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Most interested parties are likely being advised by the real estate industry that tax dollar incentives are readily available and Lawrence taxpayers are easy prey.

Lawrence cannot support a Dick's Sporting Goods on the long term. Not enough money in town. Too many empty residential and not enough people. Not only that this retail market is over built.

If one looks hard enough anything that Dick's has can probably be purchased in Lawrence,Kansas as we speak.

"David Cay Johnston then boggled the crowd with a blunt assertion: "We pay billions of dollars in taxes that never get to the government." Much of the sales tax we pay at big box stores and shopping centers is diverted to the large companies that own the stores. It's just one of the many swindles these chains have learned to perpetrate against city and county governments. This is so effective that the Cabela family, which owns a chain of big-box sporting goods stores, receives 137% of its profits from taxpayer subsidies. If they couldn't work this scam, they wouldn't be in business at all."

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

Disagree -- even one of the smaller Dick's will have better selection than other retail choices in Lawrence.

Jonathan Fox 6 years, 4 months ago

I'm sorry I must have missed the hunting/fishing retail option in lawrence? Also, Dick's offers a much wider sports equipment selection such as less common sports like Lacrosse and Rugby that require a trip to KC.

Windemere 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, gimme Dick's!!! I was told by an employee at Hobby Lobby a couple weeks ago that they are very interested in the Sears building since it would give them more space.

MarcoPogo 6 years, 4 months ago

That's a pretty big building to keep closed on Sundays.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

Moving up from a Montgomery Ward's building to a Sears? They are somebody now!

GardenMomma 6 years, 4 months ago

Big Lots? Ick. Dollar Store galore. I hope no Big Lots here.

Now, a Dick's Sporting Goods would be nice. It would save me a trip to KC if/when I can't find what I need/want at Francis.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Hobby Lobby and the religious right wing = one big mess of nut cases.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 4 months ago

Boo! The Ghost of Sam Walton (dem) is under your bed merrill.

chootspa 6 years, 4 months ago

If you want to open something that could attract shoppers from nearby metros, open an IKEA.

LadyJ 6 years, 4 months ago

Ok, someone else remembers the sporting goods store in that area (23rd and Iowa) and he thinks it was a Dick's,which is what I thought it was too.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 4 months ago

It's not the size of the Dicks anyway oneeye, always the location. I agree nothing is happening in Larrytown, by next year merrill will be wearing a cheerleaders outfit at the ribbon cutting for Big Lots in the former Sears Big Box....Well, as soon as he understands taxes........doesn't this sound silly now we have nothing, big box store. Almost like we are afraid of a store. Watch out Larrytown the Big Box will get you Boo!

Heading to the Legends this weekend for a little shopping.

George_Braziller 6 years, 4 months ago

They could lock the doors on the Sears store tomorrow and I doubt anyone would notice. I went there in early January because I was shopping for a new camera.

Only two of the cameras on display were even working. I spent 20 minutes walking around the store trying to find a sales clerk. I never did find one and finally just walked out the door.

GardenMomma 6 years, 4 months ago

Turn the Sears store into a roller skating rink.

LogicMan 6 years, 4 months ago

A Rollerball rink would be more entertaining.

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