Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Larger than expected growth causes East Hills firm to sign new warehouse deal; manufacturer to undertake minor expansion
Coffee after beer has been a strategy for a few things in life, but I’m not sure it often has been used to grow a company. But that is the way it is working, in part, for Lawrence-based Grandstand Glassware and Apparel. The company is adding space and employees.
Grandstand recently completed a deal to lease more than 70,000 square feet of warehouse space in southeast Lawrence, and the company now has 203 employees. That’s up from 104 employees when I profiled the company in 2013.
In case you have forgotten, Grandstand is the company founded and operated by former KU basketball and Lawrence High standout Chris Piper. The company for years was in the T-shirt printing business, but took off when it began producing branded glassware — mugs and growlers with logos and such — for the micro brewing industry. The brewery industry then started ordering branded T-shirts, koozies and other such items from Grandstand too.
The brewery business is still strong, Piper said, but Grandstand has received a boost by taking that same concept to the coffeehouse industry, which is now ordering mugs, T-shirts and other promotional materials.
The result has been Grandstand’s 155,000 square-foot facility in the East Hills Business Park has filled up much more quickly than expected. Piper recently completed a deal to lease 71,300 square feet of warehouse space in the former E&E Display building along Haskell Avenue.
“We just ran out of space a lot quicker than we thought we would,” Piper said. “We are so far ahead of where we thought we would be at this point.”
Grandstand in 2011 received a tax abatement and a $25,000 forgivable loan as part of an incentive package to help the company expand into the East Hills Business Park building. As part of that incentive application, Piper estimated the company would add 84 jobs over a 10-year period. Instead, the company has added about 160 jobs since 2011.
Getting into the coffeehouse business has only been a part of the company’s growth, Piper said. A large contributor has been the e-commerce trend. Grandstand operates e-commerce sites for several customers, doing the order fulfillment for them from the Lawrence facility. That has increased the warehouse space needs and also has created the need for more employees to pack and ship the orders.
The company, though, doesn’t just employ warehouse workers. Piper said the firm now has 28 graphic artists on staff, and that department continues to grow as the company’s apparel business surges. The apparel business now is the company's top growth area by percentage, Piper said. Grandstand has started its own e-commerce site allowing companies and individuals to buy directly from Grandstand. Piper said the company does apparel sales across the country, but is particularly focusing on grabbing more local business as people learn that Grandstand has the ability to fill small orders in addition to big jobs.
“There are still a lot of people in Lawrence who don’t even know we exist,” Piper said. “But we can do apparel work for about anybody, high schools, PTOs, companies.”
The company will be one to keep an eye on in future years. Piper said there is enough room at the company’s East Hills Business location to easily accommodate a 150,000 square-foot expansion of the building. He said that is a real possibility in the near future.
“I think we will fill the warehouse we just leased in about three years,” Piper said. “And then we will need to do something.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for some work to happen across the street from Grandstand’s facility. Amarr has filed plans with the city to build a new parking lot at its garage door manufacturing facility in the East Hills Business Park.
Plans call for approximately 90 additional parking spaces to be added to the company’s parking lot. That is not the most exciting of projects by itself, but it may well be a sign that the company has more employees than it used to. The company is one of the largest manufacturers of garage doors in the country. As the national housing economy improves, that usually creates real jobs in Lawrence.
I’ve got a call into the company to get an update on its operations.
A bevy of high-tech car washes set to come to Lawrence; businessman confirms he’s looking at commercial, industrial options for site along SLT
Lawrence gets on its binges. One not long ago was fried chicken. For awhile, the only thing more frequent than a new fried chicken restaurant in Lawrence was another sharp pain in my chest. Well, now it appears to be tunnel car washes. Three plans have been filed with the city to build 150-foot tunnel car washes in the city.
Perhaps the chicken restaurants and the car washes are related. (It would be more environmentally friendly to push me through a car wash than to provide me two pallets of wet wipes.) Regardless, you soon should have no excuses for a dirty car.
The owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco convenience store chain is set to begin construction on a new car wash along Iowa Street, and has filed plans at City Hall to build another one on 23rd Street. Meanwhile, an Illinois-based company has filed plans to build a similar tunnel car wash just down the street from Zarco’s 23rd Street location.
First, the Zarco plans: Lawrence businessman and Zarco leader Scott Zaremba said construction is expected to begin in the next 30 days on a new tunnel car wash that will be located on his property near Ninth and Iowa streets.
As we have reported, plans call for the old Phillips 66 station and the old Amoco station — more recently it was a brightly colored Sandbar Subs shop — to be torn down to make way for the high-tech car wash. Zaremba said the new car wash will be about four times as large as the small automatic car wash that is on the property today.
“And it will be a tunnel car wash,” Zaremba said. “We will be able to wash cars much quicker. That’s the big thing so that people don’t have to spend their time waiting.”
The car wash also will be connected to the fuel pumps at Zaremba’s adjacent American Fuels station, meaning that customers can pay for a car wash at the pump.
The Ninth and Iowa project will be good practice for Zaremba’s 23rd Street project. Zaremba said plans call for the same type of car wash to be installed at his convenience store/fueling station at 1500 E. 23rd St.
The existing store at the 23rd Street location will remain unchanged, but some diesel fuel pumps behind the building will be moved. The plans, however, do call for some changes on 23rd Street. The plan proposes a new right-turn lane for motorists using the eastern driveway of the property.
Look for more changes just down the road. Illinois-based Peak Inc. has a deal to buy a portion of the long-vacant lot just east of the QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell. Plans filed at City Hall call for an approximately 5,000 square-foot automated tunnel car wash, plus 32 stalls equipped with vacuum cleaners for your vehicle.
The project will be on the eastern half of the vacant lot, near the River Rock Family Dental building. The project, however, is not proposing another new curb cut for busy 23rd Street. Instead, car wash customers will use the 23rd Street curb cut that leads to the QuikTrip property. The project will still leave a little less than an acre of vacant property near the QuikTrip that could be developed in the future.
As for the car wash, Brian Sturm with Lawrence’s Landplan Engineering, said the project hopes to begin construction this fall and open in early 2017.
Zaremba, who is using Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects to design his project, said he also hopes to have the car washes open in early spring.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Car washes aren’t the only thing on the mind of Zaremba. He confirmed to me that he is in the process of preparing a concept plan for development for what will be the new intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Haskell Avenue.
An entity led by Zaremba owns the approximately 18 acres at the northwest corner of 31st and Haskell. Some of you may remember the site as the location of the old LRM asphalt — or perhaps it was a concrete — plant The site now stores some vehicles, mulch and other items. But the property is zoned for heavy industrial use. Zaremba said that could still be a possibility, but more commercial or retail uses also may be a possibility. Of course, a gas station — perhaps a pretty large one — also may make some sense there.
The property is well situated. That portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway has only three interchanges, and Haskell is one of them.
“I feel like it is going to be a prime entrance into the city,” Zaremba said.
He said he doesn’t have any firm plans about what type of development he will propose to the city for the location. He has been adding fill dirt to the location to raise the elevation of the property, which is near the Haskell and Baker Wetlands.
“I want to see what we can bring to the site,” he said. “Right now it is zoned heavy industrial. It is kind of wide open for what could happen there.”
It will be one of several locations to keep an eye on as that leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway opens for traffic. As traffic patterns in the city change significantly, there will be new development pressures emerge along the trafficway. One of the greater questions at City Hall will be how this city commission responds to those pressures.
Gyro is among a fairly sizable list of words that I neither know how to spell or pronounce but do know how to eat. Well, one of the city’s largest producers of gyros has new owners and is looking to expand.
Downtown Lawrence’s Pita Pit restaurant has been bought by longtime commercial real estate executive Pat Peery and his son Sam. The duo has begun a small scale remodeling of the location at 1011 Massachusetts St., including a new rear entry, new signs, a new large screen television and the installation of free Wi-Fi for guests. Plans also call for a new sidewalk dining area to be built along Massachusetts Street.
The menu also has expanded some. The restaurant has begun serving fruit smoothies, with a variety of mango, berry and banana flavors.
But the bigger changes to the restaurant may be yet to come. Pat Peery used to direct the real estate activities of Wal-Mart Stores and Kohl’s Department Stores before coming back to Lawrence in 2012. Peery said he and Sam bought the Lawrence Pita Pit with the idea of expanding the chain’s presence in the region.
“We intend to grow the business,” Pat said. “We aren’t doing this to just own one Pita Pit. A west Lawrence location at some point would make a lot of sense for us.”
The Lawrence store also has launched a catering division and has bought a delivery van. Sam Peery, who runs the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, said the Lawrence store had seen a bit of a downturn under previous ownership, but he thinks the idea of pita can still be a hit with Lawrence diners. I guess I shouldn’t assume you are all familiar with a pita. It is a type of unleavened bread with a pocket that can hold a variety of meats, cheeses and veggies.
“I was a customer of a Pita Pit back when I was in college,” Sam said. “I like that it is a healthier alternative. It is less bread than a sub sandwich.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve learned the hard way, don’t get your gyro and your Yugos confused, although a used Yugo will cost you less than most gyros. Either way, skip the Yugo, one of the worst cars of all-time, and get a good bike.
All this is to say that Lawrence has one of the top-rated bike shops in the country, according to a new ranking.
Downtown Lawrence’s Sunflower Outdoor & Bike has been named to the America’s Best Bike Shops list by the National Bicycle Dealer’s Association. The association looks at about 4,000 bike shops across the country, and fewer than 300 bike shops were included on the list. The program involves an application process and mystery shoppers visiting the store to evaluate a host of product and customer service issues.
This is the fourth straight year Sunflower has been named to the list.
• Here’s the name of a restaurant chain to keep an eye on: Buffalo Wings & Rings. The restaurant recently announced that it has signed a deal to build three restaurants in Wichita, with construction set to begin this year. But the chain also took the unusual step of announcing that Lawrence is the next city in the state where it plans to locate, although the timeline might still be another three years.
The chain is a sports bar concept that serves chicken wings and onion rings but also has a large menu of hamburgers, quesadillas, tacos and other items.
Update on Spin pizza coming to Lawrence; keep eyes open for another hotel project; more updates on northwest development
Fall — it began Thursday, as evidenced by my perspiration having a certain pumpkin spice latte hue to it — makes me think of flannel. Flannel makes me think of lumberjacks. Lumberjacks make me think of the Northwest. So, let’s provide an update on some northwest Lawrence development. Yes, I really should think less.
• Trump vs. Clinton. Pepperoni vs. sausage. They are all choices you may have to make in November. I’m getting word that Kansas City’s Spin Neapolitan Pizza will open its Lawrence location sometime in November.
As we have reported, Spin is going into the new retail building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa. As you can see below, that building is looking fairly complete from the outside. A representative with Spin alerted me to the likely November opening, but didn’t have an exact date to share yet.
If you have forgotten about Spin, it touts itself as an artisan-style pizzeria, with Neapolitan crusts. That means hand-spun, thin crusts that are cooked in a stone oven. The artisan part also means a variety of toppings. Cheeses range from the traditional mozzarella to Asiago, feta and something called taleggio. Meats include staples like Italian sausage and pepperoni but also Italian bacon, Scimeca’s meatballs, and salami. In addition there are things like arugula, pine nuts, crushed glazed pecans, fig onion marmalade and sun-dried tomato relish that you can put on your pizza and whatever tie you happen to be wearing that day.
The restaurant has been popular in Kansas City since it opened its first restaurant in 2005. We also have reported that Blue Moose Bar & Grill also will occupy a portion of the new Lawrence building. I haven’t heard an opening date yet for that facility, which is a Kansas City-based restaurant that serves a mix of sports bar dishes and more upscale dinner entrees. I would think November would be a good bet.
• Keep your eyes open for a new hotel project near Sixth and Wakarusa. Nothing is finalized, but a representative with the Bauer Farm development group near Sixth and Wakarusa did confirm that a group has signed a letter of intent to locate a hotel in the development.
As we have reported, the lot at the corner of Wakarusa Drive and Overland Drive — it is right behind the car wash — has been reserved for a hotel property. Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney with the development group that owns the lot, declined to identify the group or other details about the potential project, but said a letter of intent has been signed to build a hotel on the property. The deal is not yet done, however. More due diligence and city approvals will be required. We previously have noted that the lot could accommodate about an 80- to 100-unit hotel property. Fleming said interest from hotel properties had been strong.
“I think it is another example of where Rock Chalk Park has helped the community,” Fleming said.
The Rock Chalk Park Sports Complex, of course, is just down the road at Sixth Street and George Williams Way. This is the second hotel proposal in the last couple of months. As we have reported, an extended stay hotel is planned for the old Don’s Steakhouse property on the eastern edge of Lawrence along 23rd Street. I know many folks thought a hotel quickly would develop on the vacant, commercially zoned property near Rock Chalk Park, but that hasn’t been the case. Developers would welcome it, I’m sure, but I think most of the efforts continue to focus on bringing in a big box retailer for the site. I believe the thought process is that it will take a destination type of retailer to get some momentum going for commercial development in that area, which is still considered very much on the edge of town.
• A pizza, a moose, a hotel room to sleep off both of them: Absolutely I’m going to need the assistance of a financial institution. As we have reported, MidAmerican Credit Union is slated to build a new facility right behind the CVS near Sixth and Wakarusa. Well, the project came together quickly and is now completed. The building has a bit of a distinctive look to it, as you can see below.
Another unusual feature is that it is a bank — well, credit union — without teller windows. The credit union is testing a new design in banks that uses a pod system. A customer representative meets you at the door and walks you over to a computer station where the representative and the customer complete the transaction together.
• You may have noticed dirt work beginning on another piece of property along Sixth Street between Wakarusa and Folks. It is just west of the new apartment complex under construction, and just east of Starbucks. I can’t believe you already have forgotten what that will be: as we have reported, a Zaxby’s fried chicken restaurant. It is a chain that focuses on chicken fingers and chicken wings, with lots of sauce options. I’ll admit, I forgot what was going there too. There are so many new chicken places in town that I think the cholesterol is starting to clog my brain.
• You also may have noticed dirt work just east of Sixth and Folks Road next to Central Bank of the Midwest. As we have reported, that will be a new dentist office. The city has approved plans for a $2.5 million building that will house Growing Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, plus have space for two other medical tenants. Smart. Nothing is tougher on teeth than a moose, although maybe the blue variety is more tender.
• And finally, if you have a golf game like mine, it pays to know where all the window stores are located. The Pella Products store has located in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. It is kind of next door to Eileen’s Colossal Cookies. The window store previously was located a bit east of Sixth and Kasold.
Longtime area restaurant owner opens new eastside diner; an update on 19th and Haskell Dollar General; Arts Center raises big money
There are stylish 1980s photos out there that prove I was in some conversations for posting a triple-double on a basketball stat sheet. These days when I talk about a triple-double it most often is to describe the desired strength of my elastic waistband. That change is because of new restaurants like the one recently opened in eastern Lawrence.
Yes, there is a new restaurant venture at 19th and Haskell, and it plans to do what nearly every other restaurant that has opened in the old shopping center has strived to do: make good, old-fashioned food.
“Basically, it is good comfort food, farm breakfasts and food like mom and grandma did,” said Jim Morey, owner of the new Cosmic Cafe. “There is no froo-froo here.”
One of the least froo-froo dishes is a breakfast dish called the Triple-Double. It is a full order of biscuits and gravy, two sausage patties, and two eggs.
Many restaurants have opened and closed in the spot that Cosmic Cafe now occupies in the shopping center at the southeast corner of 19th and Haskell, but Morey brings a lot of local restaurant experience to the venture.
Morey owns the Cosmic Ale House & Grill in Eudora, and was part of the once popular North Lawrence restaurant Fat Man’s. His family also operated the downtown bar Club Hideaway, the Laughing Dog Saloon at 19th and Haskell, and for several years in the early 2000s he operated a restaurant called P.J.’s Eastside Cafe in the spot that Cosmic Cafe now occupies.
“I grew up in east Lawrence over on Maple Lane, and I know a lot of people in the neighborhood,” Morey said of his decision to expand outside of Eudora. “I had some instant business because people still remember me.”
Morey said the Lawrence project required him buying all new kitchen equipment for the restaurant space and doing a deep cleaning of the facility.
“It took us a month just to repaint the place,” Morey said.
As for the menu, breakfast is a big part of it from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.. There are all your traditional bacon, eggs and sausage combinations, plus omelettes. But there also are some unique dishes, like Kaw Valley Eggs, which are scrambled eggs, herbs, sour cream and cheese. The lunch menu includes a variety of hamburgers, patty melts and other sandwiches. But the restaurant’s specialties are a chicken fried chicken dinner and a pork tenderloin dinner that both come with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy.
“We sell the snot out of them over in Eudora,” Morey said.
The 19th and Haskell shopping center is always one worth keeping an eye on. There’s always speculation, or perhaps just hope, that the old center will be redeveloped or undergo a significant makeover. Morey said he thinks the center is poised for an upswing, although he said he believes the problems associated with the location have been overblown at times.
“I think everything is up and coming over here,” Morey said, noting that the area will receive an even larger boost when the city in future years follows through on its plan to connect 19th Street with the new LawrenceVenture Park business park.
The biggest change for the area, though, is the pending opening of a newly constructed Dollar General store in the shopping center. I don’t have an opening date for the store, but as you can see below, it looks nearly complete. I think an opening will happen soon, given that lots of boxes were being unpacked in the store this morning, although it still appears quite a bit of shelving and fixtures need installed.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence showed its love of the arts once again. The Lawrence Arts Center hosted a major fundraising event on Saturday: Shaken & Stirred, a James Bond themed event. (The fundraiser accepted cash, checks and credit cards, but I believe drew the line at Goldfingers.)
Well, I have word on the success of that event. The event raised $61,000 from more than 200 guests who came to the Arts Center for dinner, dancing and drinks. The event welcomed new CEO Kimberly Williams and thanked outgoing CEO Susan Tate.
The money raised will be used to support the Arts Center’s financial aid fund, which provides arts education to a variety of children, including some in Head Start, the Boys & Girls Club, CASA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and several other organizations.
An announcement also was made at the event that the Arts Center was attaching Susan Tate's name to the Visiting & Resident Artists Fund to honor the outgoing director. During her six-year tenure at the Arts Center, Tate raised more than $700,000 for the artists fund, which has helped bring the work of more than 400 artists from around the world to the center.
If I thought we wouldn’t get an eye poked out by obnoxious football fans wearing those pointy Cornhusker hats, I would suggest we all take a trip to Grand Island, Neb. There’s a new report out that suggests Lawrence and Grand Island may be more alike than we think.
Federal officials have released a new report that measures the economy of every metro area in the country. Lawrence’s economy is the 342nd largest economy in the U.S. — one spot and a few dollars ahead of Grand Island, Neb. Unless trends change, Lawrence likely won’t be moving up the list anytime soon. The report found the Lawrence economy was stagnant in 2015.
The report is the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ annual look at the gross domestic product of metro areas. Gross Domestic Product — or GDP — is kind of the big enchilada in the world of economic statistics. It is the broadest measure of the economy. It attempts to measure all the economic activity in a community. In Lawrence that means everything from what Hallmark spends to produce greeting cards at its local production plant to what students spend to keep themselves properly hydrated and full of ramen noodles.
Let’s take a look at some of the findings of the report.
• Small scale: The report always serves as a good reminder that Lawrence isn’t as large as we sometimes think. The Lawrence economy checked in at $4.06 billion dollars, which is quite a lot of hydration, if you know what I mean. But Lawrence has a smaller economy than many communities, including some you may not guess. For instance, would you have thought that Joplin, Mo., has an economy that is almost $3 billion larger than Lawrence’s? It does. Here’s a look at some regional communities and their national rankings:
— Kansas City, Mo.-Kan: $125.6 billion (No. 29)
— Wichita: $31.4 billion (No. 81)
— Boulder, Colo.: $23.4 billion (No. 105)
— Topeka: $9.8 billion (No. 200)
— Iowa City: $9.4 billion (No. 204)
— Columbia, Mo.: $8.3 billion (No. 218)
— Joplin, Mo.: $6.7 billion (No. 247)
— St. Joseph, Mo.: $5.7 billion (No. 283)
— Ames, Iowa: $4.9 billion (No. 311)
— Lawrence: $4.06 billion (No. 342)
— Manhattan: $3.3 billion (No. 367)
Communities grow in lots of different ways, and that brings us back to Grand Island, Neb. Grand Island doesn’t have a major university, isn’t located along one of the larger interstates in the country, and is not right next door to a major metro area. But Lawrence and Grand Island have essentially the same size of economies. The size of Lawrence’s economy is what it is. The question — and one that often doesn’t draw a consensus — is whether it is the size it ought to be? Arguments could be made both ways.
• Holding steady: The report estimated Lawrence’s GDP grew at a rate of 0.0 percent. The report provided details that some areas of Lawrence’s economy grew, but others declined. In the end, they canceled each other out. Lawrence’s growth rate is near the bottom of those posted by regional communities. But there is a familiar refrain we can repeat: At least we are not Topeka. The report shows our neighbor to the west is hurting.
— Boulder: up 3.6 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.4 percent
— Ames, Iowa: up 1.6 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.5 percent
— Wichita: up 1.3 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 1.2 percent
— Iowa City: up 0.3 percent
— Lawrence: 0.0 percent
— St. Joseph: down 0.7 percent
— Joplin: down 0.2 percent
— Topeka: down 3.5 percent
• The longer view: The report provides data back to 2010. Lawrence’s economy has grown some since 2010, which isn’t the case for every community. But Lawrence still is in the bottom half of the list. There’s also a refrain we could say based on these number — although as loyal Jayhawk fans we might need to keep our head in a wastebasket while uttering it: I wish we could be Columbia. Iowa City’s numbers are also noteworthy, given that Lawrence’s current city manager previously led that community. Here’s a look at GDP growth totals — adjusted for inflation — since 2010:
— Iowa City: up 13.8 percent
— Columbia: up 10.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 6.1 percent
— St. Joseph: up 4.3 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.5 percent
— Wichita: up 3.1 percent
— Lawrence: up 2.1 percent
— Boulder: up 1.7 percent
— Joplin: down 0.9 percent
— Topeka: down 2.9 percent
— Ames: down 3.3 percent
One item to note is that Lawrence’s growth trend is heading in the wrong direction. Lawrence’s GDP posted a 1.2 percent gain in 2011, but the growth rate has slowed every year thereafter: 0.7 percent in 2012; 0.2 percent in 2013; 0.1 percent in 2014; 0.0 percent in 2015.
• Winners and losers: The reports shows which areas of the Lawrence economy grew and which ones declined. The biggest loser in Lawrence was the government sector, which is the largest sector of Lawrence’s economy. Losses in the government sector caused Lawrence’s GDP to decline by 0.34 percentage points. The finance and real estate sector also showed a decline, resulting in a 0.22 percentage point decline in GDP. The information sector posted the largest increase, causing GDP to grow by 0.28 percentage points. The wholesale and retail trade industries also caused GDP to grow by 0.24 percentage points.
I wish I was smart enough to know which businesses in Lawrence contributed to each of those industries. But I don’t, so I’m not sure what to make of those numbers. And I don’t have time to figure it out. After this column, I’ll spend all my time answering mail from Topeka, Columbia and Grand Island. All remarks about those communities are made in jest, although the pointy Cornhusker hats do make me nervous.
You can read the full BEA report here.
My weeklong vacation once again has dashed my hopes of becoming a professional fisherman. Even the box of frozen fish sticks managed to get away. Regardless, I do have news about other Kansas jobs.
As we reported last week, unemployment in Kansas rose during August, as the state lost about 7,700 nonfarm jobs compared to August 2015. Well, I’ve now got Lawrence numbers to share with you from that report. Lawrence and Douglas County contributed to the job losses. In fact, in the most recent report, Lawrence had the largest percentage job loss of any metro area in the state. The Lawrence metro area lost 600 jobs over the course of the year, although its unemployment rate remains at a reasonable 4.1 percent.
On a percentage basis, Lawrence’s jobs total shrank by 1.2 percent compared to August 2015. That’s significant because Lawrence’s decline occurred at twice the rate of the state as whole, which saw a 0.6 percent decline. It also was greater than the other metro areas that the state measures. Here’s a look:
— Manhattan: down 300 jobs; 0.7 percent decline
— Topeka: down 1,200 jobs; 1.1 percent decline
— Wichita: up 2,300 jobs; 0.8 percent growth
— Kansas City, Kan.: up 4,700 jobs; 1 percent growth
Lawrence continues to struggle in the area of goods-producing jobs, which primarily are manufacturing and construction jobs. Lawrence lost 200 jobs in that category, or a decline of 3.6 percent. The state as a whole has struggled in that area, but Lawrence’s decline is a bit more pronounced. Statewide, goods-producing jobs are down 2 percent. Manhattan and Lawrence are tied among Kansas metro areas for the largest percentage decrease in goods-producing jobs.
Government jobs also took a notable hit in Lawrence. The sector is down 200 jobs compared to August 2015, a 1.5 percent decline. Statewide they are down 1.8 percent.
There are a few areas where Lawrence is growing jobs, and doing so at a rate faster than the state as a whole. As has been the case the last few months, Lawrence has become the leisure capital of Kansas. The leisure and hospitality industry — which includes hotels, bars and restaurants has added 400 jobs over the last year, a 6 percent increase. That compares to 0.2 percent statewide. Lawrence had the largest growth rate of any metro area in the state, although Kansas City was a close second at 5.3 percent.
Leisure and hospitality jobs now make up 14 percent of Lawrence’s entire workforce. That appears to be tops in the state. In Wichita, leisure and hospitality jobs make up 11 percent of the workforce; Topeka nearly 8 percent; and Kansas City about 9 percent. (The state doesn’t provide numbers for Manhattan.)
Lawrence also saw 1.9 percent growth in the professional and business services category and 1.8 percent in the education and healthcare industry. Statewide, those industries grew by 0.4 and 1.1 percent, respectively.
One other number worth looking at is Lawrence’s unemployment rate. As I mentioned earlier it is 4.1 percent, which is low compared to many places in the country. It also is below the statewide average of 4.6 percent. But like every other metro area in the state, the rate has risen over the last year. In August 2015, Lawrence’s unemployment rate stood at 3.8 percent.
The other trend that is evident is Lawrence’s labor force is shrinking. Over the last 12 months, Lawrence’s labor force — the number of people who are working or looking for work — shrank by about 1,500 people. Every metro area in the state saw a reduction in their labor force, but Lawrence’s was the greatest at 2.4 percent. (Manhattan and Topeka were close behind at 2.3 percent.) This is notable because it means the number of people employed in Douglas County is significantly lower than it used to be.
As noted above the number of jobs in Douglas County is down by 600. But that only tells part of the story. That number measures only the number of jobs actually located in Douglas County. If you live in Lawrence but work in Kansas City, you aren't counted in that particular part of the report. The measurement of the labor force, however, accounts for those commuters. That part of the report shows the number of Douglas County residents who have a job somewhere stands at just more than 59,000. That’s down from about 60,700 in August 2015.
Federal officials also put out a jobs report. It is about a month behind, so it is measuring July numbers. It is useful in showing that Kansas is in a jobs funk. From July 2015 to July 2016, Kansas saw job losses of 0.2 percent. Other states in the region saw job gains:
— Missouri: up 0.7 percent
— Iowa: 1.7 percent
— Nebraska: 1.3 percent
— Colorado: 3.0 percent
— Oklahoma: down 1.0 percent
Details emerge on new East Lawrence bistro; signs of a fish house coming to downtown; news of upcoming street parties
As you may guess from my sophistication, I’m a frequent world traveler. At least a couple of nights per week, I watch reruns of "House Hunters International" on HGTV. So, I’m probably the target audience of a planned East Lawrence bistro that will feature a rotating menu of world cuisine.
As we have reported for some time now, the owners of Lawrence’s popular restaurant The Burger Stand plan to open a bistro in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Well, the couple has now provided me some details about the new venture, which will be at Eighth and Pennsylvania in the refurbished stone building that sits near the corner. The restaurant will be called Bon Bon, and it is promising to have a menu unlike any other in Lawrence.
“We’re doing something different, but we think Lawrence likes different,” said Simon Bates, who owns the business along with his, wife Codi Bates.
How different? Well, one month the restaurant may have a heavy dose of Austrian and German food, while the next month — or maybe even the next week — the restaurant may have a lot of French dishes. (There is a history lesson in there somewhere.)
Or maybe there is a simpler way to illustrate how the restaurant will be different. One of the restaurant’s appetizers is likely to be something called a takoyaki. Think of it as an octopus fritter topped with Japanese mayo, a Japanese barbecue sauce, pickled ginger, and other ingredients that I don’t know how to spell. (I missed the Japanese episode of HGTV because I have no idea how you get an octopus in a fritter.)
Bates said he had a takoyaki out of a street cart in Japan and immediately determined it was one of the five best dishes he had ever had. That’s how much of the menu at Bon Bon is being determined. Bates is making dishes that he really likes to eat, and the menu will change frequently because he wants to make dishes that correspond to the season of their ingredients.
“I have traveled a little bit and learned about food that I like but is not really available in Lawrence,” Bates said.
The restaurant has a garden across the street that has produced a lot of cabbage for sauerkraut, so German food will be among the first features of the menu when the bistro opens this fall. Also look for dishes with homemade pickles, heirloom vegetables, squash and some Korean eggplant that all come from the garden.
The menu will include some standard items that will be available all year. That includes a large selection of salad bowls, including Mediterranean, Thai and Japanese varieties, several grab and go breakfast items, wraps, sandwiches and other dishes good for a quick lunch. Also look for dishes that feature fried chicken with a multitude of sauces and steamed buns.
“We’re really proud of our buns,” Bates said.
The restaurant will have a liquor license and does plan to stay open into the evening with beer, wine and liquor selections.
The vibe of the restaurant will be casual and also small. The old stone building — which until recently was a duplex but historically was a storage facility for gunpowder when the area really was a warehouse district — is so small that it doesn’t have a kitchen. Instead, Bates has installed a complete kitchen in a large truck that will sit permanently on the site and be connected to the building. The remodeling work also has involved building a large patio for the building. It will be equipped with a canopy, fans, heaters and other such devices to make it as much of an all-weather patio as possible. The building itself has room for about 40 diners. Bates said he’s pleased with how the project has gone thus far, although it has taken several months to develop.
“It is such a neat building,” Bates said. “It has taken some time because we’re trying to put as much detailed work into the building as we can.”
Look for the restaurant to open by the end of the month, Bates said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• You know what they say oysters on the half shell lead to: oyster juice on your tie. I’m not sure I want to know what you were thinking. Regardless, Lawrence diners may soon have a chance to learn more about oysters.
I don’t have a lot of details yet, but plans have been filed at City Hall for a restaurant called Mass Street Fish House & Oyster Bar to locate inside the former home of Biggs on Mass at 719 Massachusetts Street.
I’m working on getting in touch with the operator of the new venture to learn more. I’ll let you know when I do.
UPDATE: I have heard from the owners via e-mail today. The restaurant's name actually will be Mass Street Fish House and Raw Bar. Four restaurant professionals that worked for the popular downtown eatery Teller's and then Merchants Pub & Plate are opening the business. Ayrick Madeira will be the operator, Laura Klein the general manager, Ryan Gaines the front of house manager, and Galen Zachritz executive chef. If you are not familiar with the raw bar concept, it is one where fresh shellfish are shucked to order and served. The group told me the the menu will feature a "rotating blend of boutique oysters, fresh fish entrees" and other options. It sounds like the barbecue smoker will remain in the building, and will be used to create some meat dishes, as well. The restaurant also will feature a standard bar that includes barrel-aged cocktails, craft beer and wine.
The building has been empty since July when Bigg's on Mass closed. The Bigg's BBQ on south Iowa and the Bigg's Burgers in west Lawrence remain open. My understanding is the downtown spot — which for years housed a portion Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse — drew heavy interest from a number of restaurant operators.
• Mark your calendars for another downtown street party. The Lawrence Arts Center has filed plans to close the 900 block of New Hampshire Street from 9 a.m. to midnight on Sept. 30 for a party tied to the Final Friday art walk that will be happening in downtown. In addition to the closure, the Arts Center is seeking a permit to have beer and alcohol on the portion of the public street that will be closed.
• There will be a rare street party event that happens outside of downtown. The longtime bar Louise’s West has filed for a permit to close Seventh Street between Michigan and Arkansas streets from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 24. The event is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the bar. The bar has filed for a permit to serve alcohol on the closed portion of the street in conjunction with the celebration.
• A housekeeping item: Town Talk will be off next week. I do not expect to experiment with oysters or close down any streets for a party. But I may work on figuring out how to stuff an octopus into a fritter. I plan to return the following week, assuming the octopus cooperates.
New kitchen, home store set to open in downtown; Lawrence Public Library lands on another ‘best of’ list
When it comes to matters of the kitchen, my hunches are almost always right. (I still contend the issue with the pressure cooker was not a complete mistake since insurance covered the first $50,000 in damages.) And indeed, the speculation I recently reported on regarding a new kitchen store coming to downtown is correct.
Look for Delaney & Loew to open at 732 Massachusetts St. — the former home of Hot Box Cookies — later this fall. The new store hopes to become the go-to location for quality kitchen supplies, such as pots, pans, gadgets, knives, glasses, barware, small appliances like blenders and mixers, and even espresso machines.
“We’re going to have an area of the store where people can actually try out the espresso machine before they buy,” said Katie Moore, who will own the store with her husband, Brad.
The store fits in well with Katie’s passion for cooking, and marks a major change for Brad, who previously farmed in western Kansas. The couple met at KU, and the idea of getting back to Lawrence has never been far away.
“We always said if we won the lottery, we would move, and Lawrence is where we would move to,” Brad said. “We didn’t win the lottery, but we get to move back to Lawrence, so it feels like we won the lottery.”
The pair said that while living in western Kansas they found a speciality kitchen store that was doing well in the small community of McCook, Neb., and felt that a similar model would work well in a food-oriented town like Lawrence.
“We thought Lawrence really didn’t have something like this,” Katie said. “We will try to have at least three brands of everything we carry. We will have something for the high-end chef and we’ll have something for someone just starting out in the kitchen.”
Katie said the store will seek to differentiate itself from the many big box stores that sell kitchenware by carrying hard-to-find brands, being able to offer more accurate advice, and having a much different presentation of the items.
“We want people to feel like they are walking into somebody’s home when they walk into the store,” Katie said.
In addition to the traditional cookware and kitchen supplies, the store also will have a large barbecue section and will sell some home furnishings, textiles, candles and other such items.
Construction work is underway to remodel the space on Massachusetts Street. Katie said she hopes to have the store open by the end of October.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When I want to look hip these days, I put on my Magnum P.I. floral print shirt and head to the Lawrence Public Library. The shirt is self-explanatory, but perhaps you haven’t caught on that the library is quickly becoming one of the more renowned places in Lawrence.
We’ve previously reported how the redesigned and expanded Lawrence Public Library building in downtown has won some nice recognition from design professionals and other groups that highlight libraries. Well, here’s another big-time listing for the library: Wired magazine has included Lawrence in a list of “10 of the most beautiful libraries on earth.” Lawrence is one of only two libraries in America to make the list. The Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library is the other.
To be fair, I think the list only looked at libraries that have been recently constructed or redesigned. Still, there have been a lot of those throughout the U.S., so it is noteworthy that Lawrence’s made the list. Among the items highlighted in the Wired piece are the extensive use of natural light throughout the library, and the photo used in the piece highlights the glass artwork that is suspended from the ceiling.
Click here to see for yourself, and to look at the full list.
You want statistics. I’ve got ‘em. KU’s football team has a better 2016 record than Oklahoma, K-State and Missouri. After 96 hours of college football on a Labor Day weekend, you will go through 192 bags of Doritos, three overheated remote controls and not nearly enough ScotchGard. I even have a couple of new statistical reports on Lawrence’s economy. Retail sales are surging while home sales are slumping.
• First, a look at retail sales. In a trend that has held steady pretty much the entire year, Lawrence continues to lead the state in sales tax growth.
Lawrence officials recently received their August sales tax check from the state, and collections were up 3.8 percent compared with the same one-month period in 2015. (A reminder: Even though the report is for August, due to a lag in reporting, the report actually measures sales activity that happened about 30 to 60 days ago.)
As usual, the more important number is the cumulative total for the year. That’s where Lawrence continues to outshine the other large retail centers in Kansas. Here’s a look:
— Lawrence: up 5.3 percent
— Olathe: up 3.9 percent
— Topeka: up 3.2 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.7 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.2 percent
— Salina: down 2.8 percent
— Lenexa: down 6.1 percent
The numbers are good news for more than just the city’s retailers. If the trend continues, it will be good news for the city’s budget too. The city budgeted sales tax revenues to grow by 3.7 percent for 2016, or in dollar terms, about $940,000. If the city can finish the year with a 5.3 percent increase, it’ll exceed its estimates by about $360,000. Of course, things could change quickly, especially if Lawrence has a lackluster holiday shopping season for some reason.
As for why sales tax collections are on the rise, that’s always a bit of a guessing game. City officials, though, continue to point to a few key areas. The city hasn’t yet analyzed the August sales tax distribution, but in a report on the July distribution, the city noted the sale of building supplies continues to be the biggest driver of the increase. Sales of building materials are up 27 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The biggest change in that sector has been the opening of Menards store near south Iowa Street.
The city also notes the auto industry and the grocery store industry also are doing well. Year to date, motor vehicle and parts sales are up 8 percent, while sales from food and beverage stores (not to be confused with bars and restaurants) are up 7 percent.
There is one area that has declined significantly in 2016, but consumers likely don’t mind. Sales taxes charged on utility services — think water, gas and electricity bills — are down 11 percent year to date. Rates for those services haven’t gone down, but usage evidently has. But that too could change quickly.
• The news isn’t as bright for home sales. The Lawrence Board of Realtors recently released figures for July home sales. It was a rough month.
Home sales in Lawrence fell by about 23 percent in July, compared with the same period a year ago. The weak July pushed year-to-date totals squarely into negative territory. Year to date, home sales are down 5.3 percent, for a total of 756 sales.
The reason for the downturn is beginning to sound like a broken record. (Did somebody mention records? I hear KU’s football team has a better record than K-State’s.) The supply of homes on the market is very tight, according to real estate professionals.
Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the lack of homes for sale is having a “significant impact” on the market. “The drop in July sales is attributable to a shortage of supply and not a drop in demand,” he said. “Segments of this market have buyers in line for just the right listing.”
The tight supply of homes has been a pretty consistent theme for the Lawrence market all year. Really, it has been building for a couple of years. In 2014, the median number of days a home sat on the market before selling was 34. In 2015 that dropped to 24 days. Thus far in 2016 it has dropped to 16 days.
Other statistics of note from the recent report include:
— Despite there being a shortage of homes on the market, the sales of newly constructed homes dipped a bit in July, falling to 11, compared with 13 in July 2015. Year to date, however, sales of new homes are up by nearly 24 percent. Lawrence builders are on pace to post their second straight year of gains.
— The number of active listings on the Lawrence market stands at 288, down from 317 at the same time in 2015 and 417 in July 2014.
— Home prices are starting to rise significantly in Lawrence. Through July, the median selling price of homes is $176,175, which is up 6.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. If July was any indication, those numbers may rise more rapidly during the rest of the year. The median selling price for homes in July rose 13.9 percent compared with July 2015.
Longtime downtown restaurant reopens, plans to add college arcade; several downtown businesses set to close
You have to admit a bread bowl is a fabulous invention, and if a restaurant ever starts serving certain beverages out of a candy cup, we should create a whole new category of awards for it. In the meantime, we can celebrate the reopening of one of the more prominent bread bowl locations in Lawrence.
After a change in ownership and an approximately two-month closure, Quinton’s has reopened in downtown Lawrence. As we reported earlier this summer, the group that owns Jefferson’s restaurant purchased Quinton’s from owner and founder Steve Gaudreau, who is focusing more on his other Lawrence creation, Dempsey’s Burger Pub.
Brandon Graham, leader of the new ownership group, said the plan has been to keep much of the general concept of Quinton’s, which has had a loyal following for years.
“It is the same name, the same concept of a fun college bar with sandwiches and soups,” Graham said.
Yes, soups served in bread bowls are still a part of the menu. But the menu has changed. For one, I didn’t see any chili anymore, but the biggest changes are to how the food is prepared. Graham said all the roasting of meats for the sandwiches is done in house, and all soups and appetizers are now made from scratch.
As for the menu, there's a new section called “blankets,” which are tortilla wrap sandwiches; a new tomato basil soup; and a lot of sandwiches. They include a mix of Quinton originals — like the McQuinton — but a few new ones, including a French dip for those of you who like to occasionally have a juice on your tie instead of a sauce.
Other changes are coming for the business’ upstairs space. That space long has been less restaurant oriented and more dance club, college ball oriented. The space likely will still appeal to the college crowd, but will have less of a club feel to it, Graham said. Instead, the space is being remodeled into a “barcade,” which is a concept of a bar with a lot of games such as foosball, darts and retro video games. Construction work is still underway on that space, but look for it to open in the near future.
Also look for the business to host a large celebration next month. The restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary in business.
“We don’t have the exact plan locked down, but we definitely are going to do some fun things that are customer-appreciation oriented,” Graham said. “We’re going to say a big thank-you and have a good time.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• The signs of change are up in downtown Lawrence. Several downtown businesses have leases that are expiring in the near future, and several are deciding to close shop rather than renew. Here’s a look at some:
— Kieu’s, the women’s clothing retailer at 738 Massachusetts is closing after 14 years in business. Owner Thuy Soldner said the closing will happen sometime this month. She started the business as a 24-year old shortly after college.
“I grew up with business in my blood,” she said. “My parents owned a business. I said I would never do it, but it ended up being in my blood.”
Soldner said business has remained good, but she decided it was time to spend more time with her two children. She pointed out the decision a business owner sometimes has to make: When one lease ends, you generally have to sign another lease that commits you to the space for another five years. Soldner said she got to thinking about how old her children would be at the end of that five-year period.
“I didn’t want to wait that long to begin spending more time with them,” she said. “I just want to focus on being a mom.”
I don’t have an official word on what is going into the space, but I’ve been told interest is strong and that it likely will be another retailer instead of a restaurant.
— Doodlebugs, a store that sells used children’s clothing and merchandise, also is closing. Sept. 17 is scheduled to be the store’s last day in business, an employee there told me. The store, 816 Massachusetts, has been in business about five years.
— If you like a little Fi on your burger, I’m worried you may have missed your chance in Lawrence. The downtown restaurant BurgerFi has a sign on its window that says the restaurant is closed until further notice. People tell me that sign has been up for at least two weeks. There is now another sign on the window from a vendor inquiring how it can pick up equipment that it owns and that is inside the business. So, perhaps BurgerFi will reopen, but that seems uncertain at the moment.
— The baking supply store Sweet! plans to close its downtown location on Sept. 24. The business sells a host of pans, utensils, gadgets and other baking supplies. The company does have a store in Topeka, and that store will remain open, according to an employee at the store.
• Cooks may not have to wait too long to have other retail options in downtown. I’ve heard from multiple people now that a kitchen or gourmet shop is scheduled to open in the space that formerly housed Hot Box Cookies. Construction work is underway on the site. The building permit for the space indeed states the location is being converted from a restaurant space to a retail space, but it doesn’t provide other details. But I’m working to track down the owner to get more information. I’ll let you know if I do.
• Town Talk will be off on Monday to celebrate Labor Day and to work on perfecting the candy cup concept.
I know you have long been thinking it: North Lawrence’s genteel nature makes it the perfect candidate to become Lawrence’s Stained Glass Capital. Well, a local entrepreneur is working to make that happen.
Oz Art Glass has opened at 626 N. Second St. and hopes to begin introducing more Lawrence residents to the art and craft of making stained glass.
“It is a satisfying creative outlet, it is a nice hobby, and the best part is it looks so pretty in the window,” said Dorothy Hoyt-Reed, owner, operator and chief instructor for Oz Art Glass.
Hoyt-Reed is offering a couple of classes for people wanting to learn how to make stained glass creations. One is a single-session introductory course that makes use of a stained glass kit that includes all the pieces cut to size. The other class is a seven-week series that teaches students how to make a piece from scratch.
“Cutting the glass and grinding the glass is probably what takes the longest,” Hoyt-Reed said. “Designing the pattern is a big part of it too.”
Soldering, which is how the glass pieces often are joined together, also can be an art form in itself. (My best known soldering piece of art is called "Drips," and it features many copper water pipes in my basement ceiling.) Hoyt-Reed’s classes teach soldering techniques, in addition to the fancier form of stained glass work known as the Tiffany technique, which involves using copper banding to join glass together.
The store also plans on a large part of its business coming from the sale of stained glass supplies. That includes the colored glass itself, the solder, flux, brushes, polishes and the various chemicals that can be used to give the glass different tints or patinas. Hoyt-Reed said stained glass supplies are something most art supply stores in Lawrence don’t carry.
Hoyt-Reed, a retired middle school teacher who started learning stained glass in retirement, said a lack of places to buy supplies was a driving factor to start the business. Then she decided offering classes would be a way to get more people exposed to the craft.
“A class is a cheap way to find out whether it is something you really want to do and invest in,” she said.
If you are like some people I know who are no longer allowed to be in possession of a soldering iron, the shop does sell some already completed stained glass pieces.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If a new city street is being built or a lot is being leveled to make way for a new business, there is a good chance that Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavating is the company moving the dirt. R.D. Johnson has become one of the largest construction companies in the city, and it now is under new ownership.
An entity owned by Perry-based Hamm Companies — one of the largest construction companies in the state — finalized a deal last week to buy R.D. Johnson Excavating, company founder Roger Johnson confirmed.
But Johnson said the R.D. Johnson brand name will continue on, and the company will continue to operate out of its headquarters along Kansas Highway 10 on the east edge of Lawrence. Johnson also will serve as a consultant for the company for the next couple of years.
Johnson said all 90 employees were kept as part of the sale. He also said the general nature of the work will remain the same. Hamm Companies often works on very large projects — rebuilding the Kansas Turnpike or major interchange projects throughout the state, for example. R.D. Johnson will continue to focus on smaller scale street projects, site preparation work, utility projects and other such contracts.
“They wanted a company to do the smaller stuff in the area while they do the great big stuff,” Johnson said.
As for why Johnson decided to sell the company, he said he is 66 years old and believed it was time to start moving away from the business world. But it won’t be a full-scale retirement for the Lawrence native. Johnson has been active in developing residential neighborhoods around the community, including a new one near 23rd and O’Connell and the Oregon Trail addition near Rock Chalk Park. He said he plans to continue with some real estate development work.
But the sale does close a chapter on a start-from-scratch business story. Johnson started the excavation company in 1981, and it was significantly smaller than the 90-employee, multimillion venture it is today.
“I started out by myself and with no money,” Johnson said. “I had a backhoe and a trencher.”
A look at how much more you could earn by working in Kansas City, and other wage and salary information about Lawrence
Surely there is a condition known as Kansas City Envy. I don’t know what all the symptoms are — perhaps a Royals tattoo in an inappropriate place or maybe barbecue sauce in an even more inappropriate place — but there’s a new report that suggests Lawrence may have reason to suffer from the condition.
The topic is wages — the issue that does a rare thing in Lawrence by producing agreement among a broad cross-section of the community. While we debate many things, there is widespread agreement that one of Lawrence’s real challenges is income levels that lag many other communities.
If you want to magnify the issue, simply look at what some jobs pay in Lawrence and then see what they pay in Kansas City. A recent report by the Kansas Department of Labor makes that comparison and several others. The 2016 Kansas Wage Survey isn’t a perfect instrument, but by surveying thousands of businesses across the state, it provides one of the better ways to compare what one type of job pays in one community versus another.
So, let’s take a look at what it says about Lawrence.
• Lawrence’s 15 percent tax: If you work in Lawrence instead of Kansas City, you generally should expect to make about 15 percent less, according to broad figures from the wage survey. Don’t take that number too literally — the reality is the gap varies widely by profession — but, on average, wages are 15 percent lower in Lawrence than the Kansas City metro. (Note: The metro means both the Kansas and Missouri side of the community.) Here’s a look at the median salary for Lawrence and other communities:
— Lawrence: $31,950
— KC metro: $36,850
— Statewide: $33,700
— Topeka: $34,720
— Manhattan: $30,990
Yes, Manhattan is even a bit lower than Lawrence, so perhaps this is a college community thing. Regardless, it is a thing, and it affects more than just college students in town. Years ago there may have been a belief that college students with part-time jobs and supplemental income from their parents drove down the averages, but if you weren’t one of those college students none of this really affected you. But that belief has fallen by the wayside, and the job-by-job comparisons reconfirm that lots of jobs that aren’t employing part-time college students pay less in Lawrence than elsewhere.
• It’s the managers' fault: If there is a single area that Lawrence really lags, it might be with those people who keep sending us memos and scheduling staff meetings. The survey has one broad category called “management occupations.” It includes jobs such as chief executive officers, marketing managers, sales managers, human resource managers and a host of other similar positions. People in those positions in Lawrence make a lot less in Lawrence than they do in almost every other Kansas community.
— Lawrence median: $74,610
— KC metro: $95,530
— Manhattan: $81,240
— Topeka: $79,520
— Statewide: $84,750
• The laggards: The survey lists wages for hundreds of specific jobs. If you want to see all of them, you can click here. I’ve selected a few to highlight the differences between Lawrence and Kansas City wages.
— Business and finance occupations, which include everything from management analysts to marketing specialists to loan officers: Lawrence median: $55,700 vs. $63,510 in Kansas City. Manhattan and Topeka were slightly lower than Lawrence.
— Computer programmers: Lawrence median $57,970 vs. $76,060 in Kansas City. Topeka also outpaced Lawrence at about $65,000, while Manhattan was only $44,000.
— Art, design, entertainment, sports and media occupations, which include everything from graphic designers, florists, journalists, coaches and public relation specialists: Lawrence median $28,170 vs $44,460 in Kansas City. Lawrence was significantly below Topeka and Manhattan as well. This category is all over the board. Lawrence had a large number of “coaches and scouts” that drew an average wage of only about $18,000 a year. But the gap existed elsewhere too. For example, graphic designers in Lawrence have a median salary of $41,510 vs. $48,670 in Kansas City.
— Legal occupations, which include everybody from lawyers to the people who help lawyers bill by the hour: Lawrence median $55,490 vs $63,990 in Kansas City.
— Office and administrative support positions, which include bookkeepers, secretaries, clerks and a whole host of other positions that actually get things done while the rest of us make paper airplanes out of memos and sleep through staff meetings. Lawrence median $30,530 vs. $33,860 in Kansas City.
— Construction occupations, which include everything from carpenters, laborers and operators of excavation equipment. Lawrence median $39,780 vs. $48,180 in Kansas City. Manhattan and Topeka were more in line with Lawrence, with each at about $38,200.
• Lawrence stars: There are types of jobs where Lawrence pays better than Kansas City. Perhaps the most surprising was the occupational category of architecture and engineering. The Lawrence median salary is $79,690 compared with the Kansas City median of $71,210. Lawrence’s median is about $20,000 more than in Topeka or Manhattan. I’m not exactly sure why Lawrence’s numbers have gone this way, but it would be interesting to find out. It could be something to build upon.
There were other categories that outperformed or at least were pretty close to Kansas City averages. They include:
— Education, training and library occupations. Lawrence is an education town, and wages in that industry stack up well when compared with Kansas City. Lawrence median $45,030 vs, $39,980. Lawrence also was about $2,000 to $3,000 higher than Topeka and Manhattan. But before my email box explodes with comments from teachers, I will note that doesn’t mean that all teachers in Lawrence are getting paid better than those in Kansas City. The median for elementary teachers in Lawrence, for example, is about $44,000, while it is about $47,000 in Kansas City. Topeka’s median is just under $50,000. Lawrence, though, is outpacing Manhattan, which was just below $40,000. But the education category includes other professions, many of them at KU, that likely affect the average.
— Property, real estate and community association manager. Lawrence may be an education town, but don’t fool yourself: a lot of money is made in the rental business. Property managers in Lawrence have a median salary of $55,000 compared with $48,610 in Kansas City.
— Health care occupations, which include everything from doctors and dentists to nurses and technicians. Lawrence median: $58,940 vs. $59,810 in Kansas City.
— Production occupations, which include warehouse workers, machinists, press operators and other employees that make a product. Lawrence median $37,360 vs. $35,840 in Kansas City. But like all these broad categories, the details do matter. For example, an assembly line worker in Lawrence makes a median salary of $33,610 vs. $44,990 in Kansas City.
• May I serve you? The category of food and retail may be worth a separate look. In the category of food preparation and servers, the Lawrence median is $18,640 vs. $19,100 in Kansas City. Lawrence is about $100 higher than Manhattan and about $20 lower than Topeka. The more interesting part of the food category is the number of workers it employs in Lawrence. The survey estimates how many people work in each profession. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I’ll note it in this case because it does show Lawrence has a disproportionate amount of people in the food industry. Lawrence has approximately 6,800 people in that industry, or about 14 percent of the workforce. Kansas City has just under 9 percent, Topeka just under 8 percent and fellow university community Manhattan has 12.5 percent.
Retail jobs show up in a different, broader category. I looked at cashiers because that seems to be the biggest category among retail jobs. Cashiers in Lawrence make a median salary of $18,360 vs. $19,210 in Kansas City. Manhattan and Topeka were both about $100 lower than Lawrence. In case you are wondering, the number of retail/sales jobs are about the same in all three communities, checking in near 10 percent of the workforce.
• Paying the bills. Wages, of course, are not the only factor in determining how your checkbook looks. If so, Lawrence would be doing pretty well. Douglas County does have one of the higher average wages in the state. It checks in at No. 12 out of the 105 counties with a mean wage of $20.11 an hour or about $41,800 for a full year. (Note: This number looks different from the previous average I listed of $31,950 because one is a mean and one is a median. I like median numbers, which show the true midpoint, but the state ranked the counties by mean averages, so that’s what I’m using here.) Here’s a look at the top 10:
— Leavenworth: $24.49 per hour
— Ness: $24.20 per hour
— Johnson: $23.59 per hour
— Lane: $23.09 per hour
— Coffey: $22.80 per hour
— Wyandotte: $22.77 per hour
— Cherokee: $21.01 per hour
— Shawnee: $20.75 per hour
— Sedgwick: $20.62 per hour
— Nemaha: $20.61 per hour
But, wages don’t provide the full picture of your economic health. Expenses also play a role. You might earn a lower wage in one community but also have lower living expenses, and still come out ahead.
That likely isn’t the case, though, in Lawrence. As we’ve documented before, Lawrence’s housing prices are higher than in many of the counties on the list above. That’s a whole other set of numbers for another day.
And then there are quality-of-life factors. There are certainly reasons why you may want to live in Lawrence versus Kansas City, even if the pay isn’t as great. The value of Lawrence’s quality of life is a debate that could go on forever. I won’t go there. Instead, I’ll end with what I think is a statement that produces broad agreement.
Lawrence is a nice place. It would be nicer if more people earned more money.
Breakfast by the river now a new North Lawrence option; bike shop to leave East Lawrence for new location
North Lawrence’s newest diner doesn’t have a stationary bike that lets you work off breakfast as you are eating it, but it does have a large bicycle theme to it.
As we reported earlier this year, plans were in the works for a new diner near the popular Kansas River levee hike and bike trail. Well, The Levee Cafe has now opened, and the bicycle component has gotten even bigger as a popular East Lawrence bicycle shop has announced it is moving next door to the North Lawrence eatery.
The East Lawrence used bicycle and bike repair shop Lawrence Re-Cyclery has confirmed that it is moving into space right next door to the recently opened Levee Cafe near the corner of North Third and Elm streets.
First, some info on the diner: Mary Holt and her husband, Evan, have been working since February to open the restaurant. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, Elm Street is the first street you can turn on once you cross the Kansas River bridge. Turn east on Elm, and it is just a block off of the main drag of North Lawrence. It is even closer to the Kansas River levee, which is just outside the diner’s front door. Mary said the popularity of the trail atop the levee was one of the draws for the location.
“We want to get a lot of the runners and bikers to stop by,” Mary said.
But the main function of the restaurant will be to become a North Lawrence hangout for people who live in the area. The diner is betting that North Lawrence residents like their breakfast. The diner will serve breakfast all day.
The menu will include traditional favorites like eggs with bacon or sausage — the old-fashioned patty type instead of the links — and hash browns. Mary is betting the hash browns will be a hit.
“We bake off the potatoes every night and then shred them each morning for the hash browns,” she said.
Mary said the menu will include many items that people recognize as “good diner food,” but the restaurant also is trying to be a bit healthier. She notes the kitchen doesn’t include a fryer or a freezer. The menu also will have items like a kale salad, and the option exists to substitute tofu for any meat item on the menu. The cafe also will have some international flavor to it. Mary said one of the specialty dishes will be a pupusa, which is a Salvadoran dish made from a flat bread stuffed with beans, vegan cheese, pickled cabbage and other vegetables.
There will be some sweet dishes too. The restaurant has a signature dish called Apple Crisp French Toast, which involves french toast stuffed with apples, cinnamon, streusel and topped with fresh whipped cream.
The restaurant also has a liquor license, so several varieties of beer and wine will be sold.
“Maybe one of those hardworking bikers or runners want to quench their thirst that way,” Mary said.
Don’t look for the space to become a bar, though. Currently plans call for the restaurant to be open only for breakfast and lunch, with hours of 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mary, though, said she’ll monitor demand for dinner hours in the future.
Both Mary and Evan grew up in Lawrence, but moved away for about 20 years while Evan served in the Marine Corps. The couple lived all over the world while in the service, but when Evan retired, Mary said she insisted on coming back to Kansas. She had worked at several restaurants over the years, but this is her first time owning one.
“I’ve worked in enough to know what I don’t want to do,” Mary said. “I want to keep it small so I can do what I want to do. I want it to have a small, quaint, neighborhood vibe, and be very homey and comfortable.”
The restaurant held a soft opening over the weekend, and is expected to open for good on Tuesday.
• As for the news of Lawrence Re-Cyclery moving, owner Brian Shay said the bike shop will be open on Sept. 20 in the new location, which is just one door to the west of the cafe. Shay said the business — which stocks about 100 used bikes for sale and operates a busy repair shop — is moving for a couple of reasons.
Reason No. 1 is the store has lost its lease at its current location of 924 Delaware St. in East Lawrence. The Re-Cyclery is next door to the Decade coffee shop, and Shay said plans are in the works for Decade to take over the bike shop so that the coffeehouse can add a kitchen to its operations. I’ll work to find out more information from the Decade folks about that soon.
Reason No. 2 for the move is that the new location will put the shop along a major bike route. In addition to the levee trail, the shop’s new location is on the way to the popular Kansas River trail area, which attracts a lot of mountain bikers.
Plus, Shay said he likes being next to the cafe because it gives customers something to do while they are waiting for a quick repair to be completed on a bike.
“We think it is really going to be a good location for us,” Shay said.
Holt said she also was excited about the idea. The two businesses already have partnered together to build some unique bike racks in front of the restaurant.
“We definitely have some synergy going on,” Holt said. “I think it is going to change the corner quite a bit.”
No one will ever confuse the The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana with Allen Fieldhouse. (I don’t want to get into all the details, but if you show up with a "K" painted on your bare chest, it is not well received at certain establishments in The Malls.) But soon at The Malls, you will be able to buy the same KU gear that previously was for sale inside Allen Fieldhouse.
A new store called Kansas Sports Outlet is set to open in The Malls any day now. The store is owned by the large sportswear retailer Lids, which also is the company that previously operated the KU Store inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Store manager Doug Newman said Lids is no longer running the merchandise store inside Allen Fieldhouse, and the new outlet store will be seeking to sell its remaining KU merchandise at discount prices.
Newman said he thinks the store will be unique not only because of its prices, but also because it has KU gear for all the KU sports, not just basketball and football. As part of its contract with KU, it stocked merchandise for the volleyball team, women’s basketball, and even a whole section for rowing, for example.
“And everything is going to be at least half off from its original price,” Newman said.
As for the KU merchandise store in Allen Fieldhouse, there continues to be one. It is now on the second floor of Allen Fieldhouse near the north end. It is being run by Rally House, Jim Marchiony, associate athletic director, told me. Newman said Lids became less interested in operating the store after the store moved to its second-floor location.
Clearly, Kansas Sports Outlet is trying to get rid of the KU merchandise it had left when it closed its Allen Fieldhouse operations. Whether the store will remain in business after that inventory is depleted is a little tougher to tell.
Newman said there has been talk of converting the store into a Chiefs superstore during football season and a Royals merchandise store during baseball season, for example. I’m sure the store also would continue to have some KU merchandise as well.
“But right now we are just focusing on selling this KU stuff,” Newman said.
The store carries lots of T-shirts, some hats and also a few novelty items like branded footballs and other items.
The store — which is on the west side of the shopping center — was having new lighting installed when I stopped by. Newman said the store would be open by next week, but is ready to open sooner if the renovations are completed.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I think covert restaurant agents stepped in to put a stop to this: A restaurant that serves both Italian and Mexican food on the same menu would create a dangerous seismic shift in the restaurant world. If you remember, I reported in May that a place called Vecinos was going to have such a menu, and it was going to operate at the former El Mezcal location near 23rd and Iowa streets.
Well, apparently Vecinos did open for a brief time period, but I’m not sure it was long enough to even get a refill of the breadsticks with salsa. The venture is now closed, and a sign out front says El Mezcal will be reopening in the location.
I won’t spend much time on what El Mezcal involves because surely you know. The restaurant had several Lawrence locations at one time and also operated in surrounding communities. The name has been in the news some over the past few years due to immigration issues with some of its employees, although it has always been unclear to me how connected all the El Mezcal restaurants are in terms of ownership and those immigration issues.
Regardless, El Mezcal is just a Mexican restaurant. If you want lasagna with it, you’re going to have to do what my family has long done: Smuggle it in the purse.
In terms of why the change is happening, and so quickly after Vecinos opened, I’m not sure. When I stopped by El Mezcal, the place was empty. The sign, however, does say El Mezcal is “re-opening by people’s choice.” So, maybe there was an election I was unaware of.
No word on when El Mezcal will reopen.
• I’ve reported on this several times before, but I still get asked on a weekly basis what restaurant is going in along 23rd Street where Kwik Shop previously was located. It is a Qdoba. The site, in case you are having a hard time picturing it, is on the north side of 23rd Street between Ousdahl and Iowa.
As for Qdoba, I’m not going to spend much time on that either. It is Mexican wraps and bowls and other such creations. It is a lot like Chipotle, although I’m sure Qdoba’s marketing folks don’t use that line often, especially these days.
It looks like that restaurant could open soon. The parking lot is now complete.
New bargain store opens on 23rd Street; speculation of a gun range plan; Kansas last in new construction report
Among the great business strategies are buy low, sell high, and always bet on the college students ruining the carpet in their apartments. A new Lawrence business is definitely counting on the second one.
In the spot that used to house Bargain Depot at 23rd and Harper, a new business called Factory Surplus has opened. Bargain Depot focused on everything from tools to fishing equipment to a device that sits in my garage with an unknown function but was such a steal that I couldn’t pass it up. Factory Surplus is more focused. It carries tile, laminate flooring, hardwood flooring, carpet squares and other such materials.
The company has locations in Grandview and Gladstone, Mo. Store manager Brick Davis said Lawrence was a natural choice for an expansion. The company was the flooring supplier for Bargain Depot, and sales of discount flooring in Lawrence were always good.
“With the renter market that is here, it makes a lot of sense for us to be here,” Davis said. “Renters are tough on flooring, and I think a lot of landlords are tired of replacing carpet.”
Tiles, laminate and hardwood hold up better, and those are the big sellers for the business. The Lawrence store will have 100 pallets of material on the showroom floor at pretty much all times. All of it will be sold at discount prices, Davis said. The company focuses on buying materials that are factory overruns, factory seconds, damaged box materials, or special bulk buys that drive the prices down.
“The whole key to our business is the price point that we offer,” Davis said. “People in this economy are still looking for a price break.”
In addition to the tile, which is the company’s biggest seller, it also has finished and unfinished hardwood flooring, travertine, natural stone and a few nonflooring items such as chair rails and other such renovation items.
According to the company’s website, the stores in Kansas City also stock televisions that they sell at discount prices. I didn’t see any televisions when I stopped by the Lawrence store (and normally my hand begins to reach for a bag of Doritos anytime I’m in a room with televisions, so I don’t think they were there). Davis said he doesn’t know of any plans for the company to begin selling TVs at the Lawrence store, but I’ll keep an eye out, nonetheless.
• You may want to keep an ear open at the 23rd and Harper location too. Factory Surplus occupies only about half of that building. Davis told me the company has been told that a gun range operator is interested in the other half of the building.
I don’t have additional details, but if you remember, Lawrence businessman Rick Sells has been interested in opening a shooting range and firearms supply store. He unsuccessfully tried to win city approval for a building near 31st and Haskell. He then said he was focusing on a spot in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana, but to date that hasn’t materialized. Perhaps he is looking at this location now, or perhaps there is someone else also looking to get into the business. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Kansas is last in a new report about construction activity. According to figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas has lost more construction jobs from July 2015 to July 2016 than any other state in the country.
The total number of construction workers is down by 4,400 people, according to the figures. That has far outpaced the 2,900 job losses in North Dakota, which has seen a bust in its boom-bust oil economy.
On a percentage basis, Kansas saw a 7.3 percent decline in construction jobs for the year. That ranked 49th out of all the states and the District of Columbia. The numbers didn’t indicate that the situation was improving. Kansas lost 500 construction jobs for the month.
The report also is a little tough to take because it shows many other states in the region are adding construction jobs, some at tremendous paces. In fact, three of the states in our region were in the top 10. Here’s a look:
— Iowa: Rank: No. 1; 90,300 construction jobs, up 16.5 percent
— Colorado: Rank: No. 4; 164,100 construction jobs, up 10.9 percent
— Oklahoma: Rank: No. 8; 83,900 construction jobs, up 7.7 percent
— Nebraska: Rank: No. 32; 50,400 construction jobs, up 1.0 percent
— Missouri: Rank: No. 34; 114,100 construction jobs, up 0.8 percent
— Kansas: Rank: No. 49; 56,000 construction jobs, down 7.3 percent
The Associated General Contractors of America takes the federal statistics and compiles them in a report each month. Leaders with the Kansas Contractors Association have seized on this month’s report and are pointing to it as evidence that Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to take funds from the state highway program to balance the budget is having a negative impact on construction jobs in the state. The construction jobs measured include everything from road builders to home builders.
I’ll leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about what has caused the numbers — political decisions or just a normal downturn in a cyclical industry. It would only be fair to note that these state rankings fluctuate greatly. For instance, I went back and looked at the report that measured construction jobs from July 2014 to July 2015, and Kansas was doing exceedingly well — construction job totals were up 8.1 percent, which was the fifth highest growth rate in the country.
Regardless, it does appear that the construction industry is one that is holding back the overall Kansas economy at the moment. According to state figures, it has seen the largest number of job losses of any industry in the state during the past 12 months.
I’ve long been a proponent of eating more vegetables, which is why you’ll often find me with a bag of candy corn attached to my belt. Some of you, though, prefer veggie burgers, and a Lawrence-based company has now ridden that idea to become one of the fastest growing private companies in the country.
Lawrence-based Hilary’s Eat Well has landed on the Inc. 5000 list, which measures how quickly a business has grown over the past three years. The business magazine ranked Hilary’s at No. 897, and touted its three-year growth rate of 447 percent. The company, which has its manufacturing facility near 23rd and Haskell, now has revenues of about $4.5 million, according to the list.
Lydia Butler, president and chief financial officer for the company, said the company’s growth is easy enough to explain.
“Really, just a large number of grocery stores are carrying our products right now,” she said.
Hilary’s recently signed a deal to be in 1,300 Kroger stores across the country. It also is in Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, and it began offering its products in Canada last year too. Several local stores, such as Checkers and The Merc, also are selling the products.
Butler believes growth prospects are good for the company. Hilary’s has introduced a new meatless breakfast sausage product, and plans to launch another undisclosed product in the second half of this year. The company started out with just veggie burgers but now has multiple products, including veggie bites, salad dressings, and more than a half dozen varieties of veggie or bean burgers.
“We’re just setting our sights on launching more products, getting in more grocery stores, and looking at expansion outside the U.S., where it makes sense,” said Butler.
The expansion has been good for Lawrence operations. The company produces everything but its salad dressings at it facility just north of 23rd and Haskell. The company also leased additional warehouse space along North Iowa Street because the Haskell facility was running out of space, Butler said.
The company now has about 20 employees at its production facility. That’s up from about 10 employees a year ago, Butler said.
We have been following the company since its beginnings. Hilary Brown, the founder of the once popular Lawrence restaurant Local Burger, created the company and its veggie burger recipe. But Brown told me recently that she is no longer involved with day-to-day operations of the company. She continues to have a seat on the board, but my understanding is that when she brought on new investors to help the growth of the company a little more than a year ago, she ended up losing some control of the company as well.
Brown said she is now looking at other restaurant concepts and also looking to do consulting work for companies that are trying to get their products onto grocery story shelves across the country.
As for the new ownership of the company, Butler confirmed that new owners have injected new funding into the company that has helped fuel its growth. She said the new ownership group prefers to keep a low profile. She joined the company in late 2014 after a career in the corporate world in Kansas City.
According to documents on file with the Kansas secretary of state, the new ownership of the company is a limited liability company that includes some venture capital firms and other LLCs. According to the documents, successful Wichita businessman David Murfin is a leader of the ownership group.
Butler said Hilary’s doesn’t have any plans to leave Lawrence in the foreseeable future.
“We don’t have any complaints about Lawrence,” Butler said. “We have had a nice steady workforce here. Our roots are here. We may outgrow this facility before too long, but certainly I don’t have any intention of leaving Lawrence.”
Hillary’s ended being ranked No. 4 of all Kansas companies included in the Inc. 5000 list. West Hills Capital, a Wichita-based seller of precious metals was No. 79 on the list. No other Lawrence company made the list, but Wichita-based Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, which has a location in Lawrence, was ranked the 13th fastest growing Kansas-based company. It now has revenues of more than $267 million, according to the list.
Is Lawrence the biggest part-time city in America? Plus, a look at other recent job statistics for the city
As the students return, it is an important time for numbers in Lawrence. Two of the most important: the PIN for the ATM and the phone number to the parents, which becomes particularly important when the first number no longer works. Here’s a look at a few other numbers important to Lawrence’s economy.
• Is there a citywide siesta hour that I haven’t been informed of? If not, something odd seems to be going on in Lawrence’s workforce.
City auditor Michael Eglinski found some interesting information about our workforce as he was putting together a report measuring how Lawrence stacks up financially to other similar communities. What he found is the number of hours we work in a week is less than almost any other community in the nation.
Federal statistics show that private-sector employment grew from 34,900 in 2013 to 36,400 in 2015 in Lawrence. But during that same period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the average hours worked in a week declined by 2.7 hours.
One possible conclusion is that Lawrence was adding jobs, but lots of them were part-time jobs. What’s more striking is that Lawrence seemed to be doing so at a rate greater than almost any other community. Eglinski looked at the April 2016 report from the BLS and found that Lawrence had the lowest average hours worked per week of all 387 metro areas included in the study.
I looked at the more recent July numbers, and they showed much the same thing for Lawrence. Here’s a look at how Lawrence compares with other Kansas communities and a few other college towns in the region:
— Statewide: 33.8 hours per week
— Lawrence: 28.7 hours per week
— Manhattan: 33.7 hours per week
— Topeka: 32 hours per week
— Wichita: 34 hours per week
— Kansas City: 33.8 hours per week
— Ames, Iowa: 32 hours per week
— Iowa City: 33.2 hours per week
— Columbia, Mo.: 31.2 hours per week
As you can see, Lawrence is low even for a college community, where you would expect to see more part-time jobs. Surely this figure is related to Lawrence’s most troubling economic statistic: income levels that lag the region.
It seems like it is an issue worth studying. Let’s do so right after we get done with this four-hour coffee break.
• As we reported last week, Lawrence’s unemployment rate increased a bit during July, but there’s one industry that definitely is not to blame: the hotel and restaurant industry. Eating, drinking and sleeping are becoming bigger business in Lawrence all the time.
The number of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry increased by 500 — or 7.5 percent — in July 2016 compared with July 2015. The industry was the top-growing industry in the city, according to the most recent report. As for why the growth is occurring, Lawrence has built some new hotels and upgraded others, Rock Chalk Park continues to do well in attracting tournaments, and, perhaps most importantly, the development of south Iowa Street has added several new restaurants that are providing jobs. All those new chicken places may be producing more than just an increase in cholesterol levels.
For whatever reason, the industry also is growing in other Kansas communities. The Wichita area saw growth of 3.1 percent in the leisure and hospitality industry, while the Kansas City metro posted 5.5 percent growth.
While job growth in any category is good news, job gains in the leisure and hospitality industry usually aren’t the type of jobs that help Lawrence with its goal of increasing overall wages. Lawrence, however, did post strong numbers in the professional and business services job category, which involves a variety of higher-paying jobs related to the management of companies. Lawrence added 300 of those jobs in the last year. That was good for a 6 percent increase, which is better than the statewide average of 1.4 percent.
Perhaps the toughest news in the report for Lawrence was that the community continues to struggle with manufacturing jobs and, to some extent, construction jobs. The goods producing category, which includes both construction and manufacturing, is down 5.4 percent. That’s a worse showing than the state as a whole, which saw a decline of 2.7 percent in the category. The Lawrence report doesn’t separate the manufacturing jobs from the construction jobs, but other reports indicate that construction activity is still relatively robust in Lawrence.
Here’s a look at some other Lawrence job numbers (for you data geeks, note these are all nonseasonally adjusted) and how we compare with other metro areas in the state:
— Lawrence: Overall jobs: 49,500, down 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Leisure and hospitality, up 7.5 percent; professional and business services up 6 percent; education and health services, up 1.8 percent. Top losers: goods producing jobs, including manufacturing and construction, down 5.4 percent; trade, transportation and utilities, down 2.5 percent; government jobs, down 2.1 percent.
— Manhattan: Overall jobs: 41,400, down 0.2 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Service providing jobs, up 0.6 percent. Top losers: goods producing jobs, down 5.4 percent; government jobs, down 0.8 percent.
— Topeka: Overall jobs 110,400, down 1.4 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Education and health services, up 1.1 percent; Top losers: trade, transportation and utilities, down 5.6 percent; manufacturing down 4.1 percent; government, down 1.5 percent.
— Wichita: Overall jobs 295,100, up 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: professional and business services, up 3.6 percent; leisure and hospitality, up 3.1 percent; education and health services, up 2.1 percent; manufacturing, up 0.6 percent. Top losers: mining, logging and construction, down 4.8 percent.
— Kansas City, Kan., metro: Overall jobs: 467,700, up 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Leisure and hospitality, up 5.5 percent; mining, logging and construction, up 4.4 percent; financial activities, up 3.7 percent. Top losers: information, down 8.2 percent ; manufacturing, down 2.3 percent; government down, 1.1 percent.
City to land Caribbean-themed bar and grill; Reggae Fest tonight in downtown; a rundown of recently approved street events
Imagine the best part of the Renaissance Festival — turkey legs the size of a VW bus — coming to downtown Lawrence. Now imagine them being Jamaican jerk turkey legs, and that they are available late at night after partaking at a new reggae hangout. What am I talking about? Downtown Lawrence is set to get a new Caribbean-themed restaurant and bar.
Mike Logan, owner of the popular downtown concert venue The Granada, has told me he’s taken over the spot next door that previously housed the bar Fatso’s. Logan closed Fatso’s a couple of weeks ago and is in the process of remaking the facility into Lucia Beer Garden plus Grill.
Before we get too far, I don’t want you sounding like a landlubber: Lucia is pronounced Loo-sha, like the beautiful St. Lucia island in the Caribbean. Logan said he chose the name because he just liked how it sounded. (I’ve been told if you sat through a Bob Marley concert, lots of words started sounding groovy.)
As for the Jamaican menu that will be part of the establishment, Logan said he was looking for something that downtown didn’t already have. Plus, Logan already knew the operators of G’s Jamaican Cuisine, a 22-year old Jamaican restaurant in Kansas City. The folks at G’s will be doing all the training and oversight for the food part of the business.
“People who have been to the Caribbean have a lot of great memories of the Caribbean,” Logan said. “I just wanted to create something that's a fun, casual dining experience in downtown.”
The Fatso’s location, 1016 Massachusetts, long has a food element to it. The business has had a small window that served food to walk-up customers along Massachusetts Street. Pyramid Pizza was there for quite awhile, and a host of other food concepts have come and gone there. The food window will remain, and indeed Logan plans to serve late-night jerk turkey legs.
“I think those will be a big hit,” Logan said. “It will be easy to grab and keep on going.”
Also look for other “Caribbean street food,” such as a cone of dirty rice, beans and chicken, meat and veggie patties and other such dishes. But Logan said Lucia will have much more of a restaurant feel than Fatso’s ever did. Beginning in September, Lucia will offer full table service both inside and on a patio that is at the back of the building. Look for more involved dishes on that menu, including jerk chicken, curried goat, ox tail, a veggie plate, red snapper and other dishes.
At first, the restaurant likely only will serve dinner and late night, but Logan said he wants to soon thereafter begin offering lunch service on the weekends, and perhaps even delivery service to the growing number of downtown residences.
“I want to it to grow beyond just Jamaican food too,” Logan said. “I want it to be a Caribbean menu. We’ll want to pull in some signature dishes from Costa Rica, from Puerto Rico and from other Caribbean or coastal countries.”
Folks can get a bit of a taste of the concept tonight at the Lawrence Reggae Fest, which is organized by Logan. He said a limited menu of Caribbean food will be served out of the old Fatso’s window tonight, plus G’s Jamaican Cuisine is expected to have its food truck at the event. Look for Lucia to fully open in early September.
• If you have forgotten about Reggae Fest, don’t worry, man, be happy. The event is set for 6:30 tonight in the vacant lot next to the Granada at 1020 Massachusetts St. Massachusetts Street will remain open during the event, but a portion of the sidewalk in that block will be closed for use by the event organizers. UPDATE: Organizers have moved the show inside the Granada due to forecasts for inclement weather tonight.
The Wailers, a group that includes some original members of the band for the late Bob Marley is the headline event. The event is free to attend, but Logan asks people to bring either a donation of canned fruit, peanut butter or cereal. All food items collected will be donated to the food bank Just Food.
• While we are talking events, mark your calendars for several events that city commissioners have approved to use city streets. Here’s a look:
— The Lawrence Memorial Hospital Endowment Association will be hosting Rock the Block — Kick Cancer Event on Oct. 7. The street party type of event will involve the closure of West 29th Terrace between Iowa Street and Four Wheel Drive. That’s one of the streets that runs through Lawrence Auto Plaza in south Lawrence, in case you are confused.
— Plan on a food truck festival on Oct. 23 in the 700 block of Vermont Street in front of the Lawrence Public Library. A group called Savor Lawrence will host the event. A good portion of the 700 block of Vermont Street will be closed to traffic in order to accommodate the food trucks and beer garden.
— KU’s Homecoming Parade again will be downtown. The parade is set to begin at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21, and will start at South Park and head north on Massachusetts. The KU Alumni Association also has received a permit to close the 100 block of East Eighth Street for much of the day and evening to host a pep rally, beer garden and other such festivities.
— The Om Tree Yoga Studio has received a permit to use various city streets in the downtown area for something called the Yirah Tri(be) 5K on Oct. 9. The morning race would involve the rolling closure of some streets while race participants run through the area. No word on how yoga will be incorporated in the race. If I run, I plan to skip the Downward Dog position, but almost certainly will end up in the Tired Puppy pose.
New Thai restaurant set to open along 23rd Street; Chinese restaurant coming to once-popular Sixth Street spot
I normally wouldn’t recommend traveling to Thailand via a Topeka connection. But this may be the exception, and, no, it doesn’t involve an 82-hour layover and a crop duster from Forbes Field. A longtime Topeka restaurant duo is opening a new Thai restaurant in Lawrence that they promise will give you a real taste of the Far East cuisine.
Chira and K.C. Piyassaphan are keeping the name of their new Lawrence restaurant simple: Thai Diner. It will be located in the Louisiana Purchase shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana, in the spot that used to house DonDon, the Japanese noodle restaurant.
“It is not a franchise at all,” Chira said. “We’re a husband and wife team. It is not just a way to make money for us. It really is a way of life for us.”
The couple owned and operated Tuptim Thai Restaurant in Topeka for a dozen years, and Chira said she grew up in the restaurant business and has worked actively in it for at least 20 years. The family got out of the Topeka restaurant in May 2015, and began looking for an opportunity to move closer to their daughter, who is a now a med student at KU.
The restaurant likely is still a few weeks away from opening, but the sign for the establishment is up, and construction work is underway to renovate the relatively small space that DonDon occupied for a number of years before the owner of that restaurant retired this summer.
“I want people to feel like this is their little place that they can come to and be comfortable,” Chira said.
As for the food, Chira didn’t have a menu to share with me yet. That’s in part because a large part of the menu will be on a chalkboard that hangs in the dining room. Chira calls it the “Chef’s Selection” board, and it will change often as certain ingredients come in and out of season and as Chira’s creative mood changes.
But there also will be certain dishes that customers can count on seeing on a regular basis. Pad Thai, Panang curry, and pineapple fried rice are a few of the classic dishes that Chira said are expected to be part of the regular menu.
“But I really want to offer several dishes that are little more modern,” Chira said.
She said she hopes the restaurant will change some attitudes about what Thai cuisine is all about. The Americanized version of Thai food often is associated with a lot of spicy dishes.
“That’s really more of a myth,” she said. “Thai food doesn’t have to be spicy. It can be as mild as you want it to be. The real thing with Thai food is lots of fresh herbs and spices. We have a lot of grilled dishes. I tell people Thai food offers a lot more variety than Chinese food.”
• Those may be fighting words for a new Chinese restaurant that is set to open in Lawrence. (For some reason I envision a new Food Network show called Cuisine Cage Matches, and cannons filled with grains of fried rice. To be fair, though, most of my visions involve fried rice.) Regardless, I have a bit of of news to pass along about a new Chinese restaurant.
A restaurant called Szechuan House Chinese Cuisine is preparing to open along Sixth Street in the former home of Panda Garden, which closed after its owners retired earlier this year.
The sign is up for the new restaurant, but it is not yet open. I stopped by the site, 1500 W. Sixth, and talked to a construction worker, but I wasn’t able to connect with the owner or operator. Based on the amount of renovation work that was underway, it looked to me like the restaurant was still at least a couple of weeks away from opening.
As far as what the restaurant will be like, I don’t have much there. I typed “Szechuan House Chinese Restaurant” into Google, and the robots laughed at me and said “Dude, there are a thousand places named Szechuan House Chinese Restaurant.” But I’ll let you know if I hear more.