Longtime Lawrence businessman remembered as defender of downtown

Longtime downtown Lawrence merchant Ralph Win Campbell, who helped lead more than decade-long fight against a suburban mall, died last week at the age of 75.

Family members and friends remember longtime Lawrence business owner Ralph Winfield “Win” Campbell as someone who fought to make downtown the vibrant district it is today.

Campbell died Wednesday at the age of 75. He was the owner of the former Campbell’s Clothing store and original owner of Winfield House in downtown Lawrence.

Former Lawrence mayor and restaurateur Bob Schumm said he, Campbell and Jack Arensberg led the 13-year resistance to the “cornfield mall” that developers first proposed in 1978. The resistance fought off state and federal court challenges to the city’s land-use policy. Schumm said. Had that been overturned, the developers could have moved forward with their proposed mall, which would have provided as much retail space as the 400,000 square feet available downtown, he said.

“Win was a great inspiration and fought the good fight,” Schumm said. “He put a lot of effort into it and talked to a lot of people. I know he took a lot of time away from his business for that work.”

Preventing the mall’s opening allowed small, owner-occupied businesses to continue to thrive downtown, said Mike Amyx, another former Lawrence mayor whose barbershop is across Massachusetts Street from where Campbell’s Clothing used to be.

“One of the things that makes downtown so special is that there are a lot of owner-occupants who believe in customer service,” he said. “Win was one of the keys to that. When you walked into Campbell’s Clothing, Win, his father or his son were there. It was a fun place to go, but they made sure you had a good suit of clothes when you left.”

Ken Campbell, Win Campbell’s son, said Win enjoyed the personal side of retail.

“That’s exactly what Win Campbell brought to all his businesses,” he said. “He was never too busy not to stop and talk with anyone.”

Ken Campbell said his father decided to get into the retail clothing business in 1964 while still a student at the University of Kansas. With his father, Ralph Golden Winfield, Win Campbell bought Diebolts, keeping that name for a few years before changing the name of the store at 841 Massachusetts St. to Campbell’s Clothing. The store added women’s clothing in the 1980s and closed in 2000.

That wasn’t the end of the family’s downtown retail presence. Win Campbell also opened in 1995 the home furnishing store Winfield House, Ken Campbell said. It was a family business, Ken Campbell said, with his father providing the business acumen and his mother, Linda, selecting the merchandise.

“He saw there was a market for Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn and thought he could step in and offer the same quality as a hometown business,” Ken Campbell said.

His parents continued to help at the store, now at 647 Massachusetts St., after retiring and selling the business to him, Ken Campbell said.