Here we go again.
Menards, a large home improvement company, wants to build a 190,000-square-foot store on West 31st Street, just east of the Home Depot store.
As soon as Menards officials announced their plans to enter the Lawrence market, the usual debate opened up about what stores should be allowed to build in Lawrence, where they should be located, whether the city was prepared to accommodate the store, whether the store would pose too much competition for other retailers, whether the salaries of employees would meet Lawrence’s requirements, whether a store (particularly one located on the south edge, or any edge, of town) would have a negative impact on the almost-sacred downtown Lawrence area and many other questions that raised concerns about allowing a new large business to enter the Lawrence market.
It’s happened time and time again in recent years, and Menards officials are likely to get the same cold shoulder other retailers have experienced.
The Menards situation comes at a time when sales and sales tax figures indicate Lawrence is not setting the retail world on fire. There also is a concern about the number of retail dollars being lost to the nearby Legends shopping area and stores in Johnson County and Topeka.
It’s interesting that various Lawrence officials claim to know far more about retailing than officials associated with highly successful national companies. Our local experts, with no cash on the line, seem to know more about the feasibility of a store in Lawrence than those who are making the costly investments. It would seem those staking their own money and careers on a project would have far more concern about the success of a store than Lawrence’s Monday morning quarterbacks, who base their rejections and analysis on their own negative reasoning.
Maybe one way to generate more retail sales and make Lawrence an even more attractive place to work, live, play and retire would be to have a wider selection of stores offering a wider variety of products at competitive prices.
In past years, the major argument used to refuse a Menards, or similar store, in the South Iowa Street area would have been to say it would hurt downtown Lawrence. Now, however, there are city commissioners, city officials and, apparently, planning officials who once fought hard to oppose such efforts but now are encouraging retailers and others to locate their businesses near the Rock Chalk Park development at the far northwest corner of the city.
Retail developments surrounding Rock Chalk Park are sure to drain sales from downtown Lawrence.
Some time, some way, Lawrence needs to get its act together on how the city is to expand its retail environment. Will city officials acknowledge that currently there isn’t the space “downtown” to handle current and future retail demands? Or maybe it would be wise to figure out a way to make downtown Lawrence more accommodating to some large retail operations.
The area currently is dominated by restaurants and bars, and it is unlikely the downtown “footprint” — bordered by the Kansas River on the north, South Park on the south and the Old West Lawrence and East Lawrence neighborhoods on the west and east — ever will be allowed to expand unless there is new thinking in City Hall.
There is no simple answer, but the city’s policies in recent years have been guided by questionable vision, questionable expertise, selfish business interests or political motives and have not presented a welcoming, enticing or favorable climate to encourage new industry, new retail and new residents.
Complacency or an attitude of “we don’t need to be cooperative with developers or competitive with other cities” has handicapped and stunted Lawrence’s growth.
Maybe the current Menards situation will open some eyes at City Hall and on the City Commission.