Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Let’s talk about money. Kansas and the Great Plains region didn’t make as much of it as most other parts of the country did in 2016, according to a report released today. But the news also isn’t all bad.
The new report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures personal income, which is kind of a foreign concept to me. (I have two kids. The only way I keep income “personal” is to bury it in the yard.) My understanding, though, is personal income means all the wages, rents, dividends and other money that flows into your bank account. So, in the realm of economic statistics, this is one we may care about. Here are some takeaways from the report:
• The Great Plains weren’t so great in 2016. The Plains region — which encompasses Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — saw personal income increase by 2.7 percent in 2016. That’s a good bit below the national growth rate of 3.6 percent. The Plains region had the slowest growth rate of the eight regions that the report measures. The Far West region had the best growth rate at 4.5 percent.
• Kansas is middle of the pack. Kansas saw personal income grow by 2.8 percent in 2016. So, that’s a bit better than the 2.7 percent average for the Plains states in general. Here’s the rundown:
– Missouri: up 3.5 percent
— Minnesota: up 3 percent
— Kansas: up 2.8 percent
— Nebraska: up 2.8 percent
— Iowa: up 2.3 percent
— South Dakota: up 1.2 percent
— North Dakota: down 1.5 percent
• Don’t even think about moving to Missouri. Perhaps you were tempted by Missouri’s 3.5 percent growth rate. But the report also provides another interesting statistic: per capita income figures. In other words, that’s when you take the total amount of personal income entering a state and divide it by its population. Kansas fares OK in that category. Missouri does not. Below is a list of per capita incomes by state, with the national ranking (i.e., where it ranks among the 50 states and the District of Columbia) in parenthesis.
— North Dakota: $55,038 (No. 10)
— Minnesota: $52,117 (No. 13)
— Nebraska: $49,636 (No. 20)
— Kansas: $48,537 (No. 22)
— South Dakota: $48,049 (No. 23)
— Missouri: $43,723 (No. 43)
• We should all move to Minnesota, right? After all, it has the best of both worlds: high per capita personal income and a strong growth rate. As much as I like I like to say “eh” and reminiscence about the good old days at Lake Wobegon, I think I’ll take a pass. Why? Cost of living. The new federal report doesn’t measure cost of living, but I found a fairly recent report that does rank the states based on cost of living. The numbers come from the Council for Community and Economic Research and were released by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
The numbers show Minnesota had a cost of living index of 101.1 in 2016, while Kansas had an index of 90.4. Basically that means that Minnesota has a cost of living that is about 1 percent higher than the national average. It also means that it has a cost of living about 11 percent higher than Kansas. Think about that for a moment: Theoretically the stuff I buy in Minnesota will cost me 11 percent more than it would cost me in Kansas. But my personal income, theoretically, would only be about 7 percent more. Lake Wobegon, my tail. It is more like Lake Moneybegon.
Granted, all this plays out cleaner on paper than in real life, but it is an interesting twist to consider when looking at these sorts of numbers. Kansas does OK in such a comparison. Here’s a look at the per capita income numbers with the cost of living index in parenthesis.
— North Dakota: $55,038 (98.9)
— Minnesota: $52,117 (101.1)
— Nebraska: $49,636 (91.3)
— Kansas: $48,537 (90.4)
— South Dakota: $48,049 (102.8)
— Missouri: $43,723 (90.8)
That analysis does show that you could be a rich man in North Dakota. You, and the approximately five other people who live in the state, could have a grand time. I exaggerate only slightly. The population of North Dakota is about 780,000 people, making it just a little bit larger than Johnson and Wyandotte counties combined. Nebraska also fares slightly better than Kansas, but the cost of living index probably doesn’t factor in the amount of Cornhusker trinkets that you are required to buy as a resident of the state. (Don’t underestimate. Cornhusker toilet bowl seats are expensive.)
• Kansas farmers did OK. We have heard a lot from Gov. Sam Brownback that one of the reasons the state’s tax collections have not fared too well is that the farm economy has been hit hard. Well, these numbers don’t exactly show that. I’m not saying the farm economy has been great, but compared with 2015, this report shows farm earnings grew by $380 million. That actually was the largest dollar amount of growth of any of the state’s in the Plains region. Kansas’ performance was in stark contrast to the situation in Iowa. In Iowa, farm earnings fell by $1.3 billion. They fell by $1 billion in South Dakota and $329 million in Nebraska.
Brownback also has been saying the Kansas economy has suffered from a decline in the oil and gas industry. The report does back up that assertion. Earnings in the mining/oil and gas sector declined by $281 million. That was the second worst decline in the Plains region, trailing only North Dakota, which lost $919 million in oil and gas earnings.
The biggest sector gain, by dollar amount, was the high-tech sector. Earnings in the Kansas high-tech sector increased by $506 million in 2016. That was the third highest in the Plains region. Kansas trailed Minnesota at $2.6 billion in increases, and Missouri at $986 million. The sector that lost the most earnings in Kansas was the “management of companies and enterprises.” Think of that as a fancy phrase for corporate headquarters types of jobs. That sector experienced a loss of $311 million in earnings in 2016. Kansas was the worst performer in the Plains regions in that category.
23rd Street retailer to close after nearly 28 years in business; The Buckle officially closes shop in downtown Lawrence
Some people buy life insurance. I buy used blazers. As long as the world has barbecue sauce, buying a full-priced blazer is the biggest risk I have to mitigate, so I’ve been known to buy a few on the cheap. But soon us second-hand buyers will lose one of Lawrence’s oldest and largest resell shops.
I’ve gotten word that Lasting Impressions is closing after nearly 28 years in business.
Lasting Impressions is the large retailer in The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana that sells used men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, and home furnishings. The business has about a 5,000-square-foot space devoted to the used clothing — both casual and professional — and a separate 2,500-square-foot space for used furniture and home furnishings. Both stores will close sometime next month, said owner Susan Cook.
Cook said the store’s lease expires at the end of April, and business has not been strong enough for her to feel comfortable signing a new lease.
“I hate that it is coming to an end, but the economy and so much competition has made it impossible to keep it going,” Cook said.
On the competition front, chain stores such as Plato’s Closet and Ditto have entered the Lawrence market in recent years, although they are geared a bit more to the teen market than Lasting Impressions ever was. The Salvation Army and Goodwill have upgraded their stores’ presences in Lawrence too over the years.
But the bigger factor may be the changing nature of retail in general. Selling name-brand clothing in a brick-and-mortar store is difficult. JCPenney is closing its Lawrence store, nationally Sears and Kmart appear to be on life support, Macy’s is struggling to redefine itself, and the list goes on.
“I think the landscape of retail is going to change a lot in the next few years,” Cook said. “I just see so much going to online. The millennials will buy anything online. They even buy their groceries online.
“I feel bad for anyone who likes to go into a store, see it, feel it and try it on.”
She is gearing up for more store closings in the future.
“My husband keeps saying that he thinks America is going to right-size itself,” Cook said. “We have so much of the same thing. Look at how many chicken places we have.”
Lasting Impressions' closing may have an impact not just on buyers but on some sellers too. The store operated under a different business model than most of the resellers in town. People sold their items — the store generally only accepted name-brand items — on consignment. Cook said the standard arrangement was the seller would receive 40 percent of the purchase price once an item sold. Most other stores would buy the clothing outright, but generally for pretty low prices, she said.
“A store might buy a J. Crew top for a dollar and maybe sell it for $20,” Cook said. “So maybe I wasn’t too smart in how I did that, but we did it that way because we always want to treat people right.”
Cook said that philosophy paid off in customer loyalty over the years. She said she’s already heard from many customers who are sad about the store’s pending closure. Cook clearly is too.
“I’m just going to miss so many people,” said Cook who said she plans to stay in the Lawrence area and look for work after the store’s closing. “My customers, my staff, I’m going to miss them terribly. I have eight people who are losing their jobs. I’ll miss them all. You make a lot of friends in 27 years.
“I just feel fortunate and grateful that we’ve been able to serve the Lawrence community the way we have.”
As for an exact closing date, Cook said it will be dependent on inventory levels. But she said the store likely will close a bit before the April 30 deadline. The closing creates another large vacancy for The Malls, which recently saw its tenant Radio Shack also close.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are reporting retail closings, I’ll pass along that a major downtown one has taken place. The Buckle completed its last day of business in downtown on Sunday.
We reported in January that The Buckle — a clothing retailer — was closing its store at 805 Massachusetts St. But back then, we didn’t have a closing date to report. A sign on the window says the store’s last day was March 26.
The company has no plans to open a new store Lawrence, but rather is directing customers to its stores in Topeka or Kansas City. The closing marks the end of a more than 25-year presence in downtown Lawrence for The Buckle.
At least Rhonda Gibler won’t have any difficulties in getting stationery with her business’ new address.
“We definitely know how to do that,” said Gibler, co-owner of the Lawrence-based print shop Pro-Print.
Yes, the longtime printer of stationery, business cards, forms and other such items is ending its run in downtown Lawrence.
Pro-Print has announced that it is moving to west Lawrence by late April. The company is moving to the shopping center at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive in a vacant spot between Salty Iguana and Morningstar's Pizza.
The move may be a sign of new things to come for downtown. Gibler said the business is moving because the Grantham family — the former owners of Pro-Print — have decided to sell the downtown building that has long housed the business. Gibler tells me a contract is pending on the building, but she had no word on the buyer. The building, 838 Massachusetts St., is a unique one because of its size. It is large enough that it has two addresses on Massachusetts Street. When you count the basement, it has 7,000 square feet of space, Gibler said.
Whatever happens to the space, it presumably will mark the first time in about 40 years that the building hasn’t been used as a print shop. David Longhurst operated a print shop in the location in the late 1970s, and the building became home to Pro-Print in 1987, Gibler said. She’s been working at the print shop since 1981.
“We’re excited about the move, but it also is kind of bittersweet,” said Gibler, who bought the business with partner Gregg Tolin in 2011. “I’m leaving my 'hood.”
Pro-Print's new location — 4931 W. Sixth St. — will have about half the space of the current spot. The business will continue to offer all of its current services, except contract restrictions won’t allow it to serve as a UPS center.
Gibler said the use of digital presses means the business needs less space these days. One thing it does continue to need is a lot of paper, and an easy way to receive the daily semi-truck delivery of paper. Gibler said that fact made it difficult for the company to find a space to relocate to in downtown.
“We have daily paper deliveries, and we need a spot that is good for those type of deliveries,” Gibler said. “We couldn’t find anything downtown that was the right size and had the right setup.”
Gibler said the store plans to serve downtown businesses as much as ever. The business has long had a delivery service, and she said it will have a particular focus on getting customer orders to downtown quickly.
As far as a timeline for the move, Gibler said Pro-Print has to be out of the space by April 30, but she hopes to make the move a week or so before then.
In terms of other buildings to keep an eye on in downtown, I hear deals either are done or close to being done for retailers to move into 835 Massachusetts, the former home of Ten Thousand Villages, and 816 Massachusetts, the former home of Doodlebugs used children's clothing. My understanding is both sites would house speciality retailers. I’ll report more when I hear more.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know about you, but barbecue duck sounds pretty good this weekend. (If you don’t get that joke, you should be arrested for not having basketball sufficiently on your mind.) Well, duck or not, there is one less place to get your barbecue supplies in Lawrence.
The business known as Grills & Grinders — or at times G&G BBQ Outfitters — has closed. It was in the same shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa where Pro-Print is moving. The business closed earlier this month after a five-year run at the location, according to the company’s Facebook page. The business sold everything from grills to barbecue spices to fireproof covers for your eyebrows. (I may be confused on that last one. That may just be an item on my wish list.) According the Facebook page, the owners decided to move onto other ventures. No word yet what may move into that space at Sixth and Wakarusa.
People of a certain age probably remember Kmart’s Blue Light Specials. “Attention Kmart shoppers,” the store’s PA system would announce. Then a throng of people would stampede to an aisle where an actual blue, flashing light was on a stand to signal great deals. We all would leave shaking our heads in disbelief at how Kmart could afford to sell shag area rugs and lava lamps at such low prices.
For a while now, it has become clear that a flashing red light is probably more appropriate for the Kmart chain. It is in distress, and a new report this week takes the concerns to a new level. Even though Lawrence hasn’t had a Kmart store for years, community leaders should still care greatly about the chain’s future. Kmart operates a distribution center in northern Lawrence and occupies one of the largest industrial buildings in the county.
According to economic development officials, the Kmart Distribution Center just north of the west Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike employs about 320 people. The question is, for how much longer?
Kmart’s parent company — Sears Holdings, which also owns Sears — this week released its annual report. As the business press has picked up on, the company added a key phrase to the report warning investors that there is significant concern about whether the company can continue to operate.
“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” the report stated.
That’s not to say the company is going to close in the immediate future. The company in the annual report discusses a strategy to turn things around. But that strategy may not be overly comforting as it concerns the future of distribution centers. It involves selling some real estate, and shifting from a “store-only based retailer to a more asset light, integrated membership-focused company.” The company, like almost every retailer, is trying to shift to more online sales rather than brick-and-mortar storefronts. Whether that lessens the need for distribution centers in the future is a bit unclear. The Lawrence center is one of six distribution centers that Kmart operates, according to the annual report. The company in February announced plans to cut $1 billion a year in expenses.
Certainly everyone should hope for that strategy to work. It is the best chance of survival for the Sears and Kmart chains. But the company’s recently released annual report may make survival more difficult. The markets have seized upon the statement that there is significant concern about whether the company can continue operating. There’s certainly been many people who have had that fear, but this is the first time the company has officially acknowledged a shutdown may be a likely option. Reuters reported Wednesday that vendors are reducing shipments and asking for better payment terms from Sears before they will deliver more merchandise to the company.
All of this, of course, goes back to the company’s financial performance. The company’s statement that “our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt” comes off sounding a bit like the captain of the Titanic saying “parts of the ship are experiencing some dampness.” The company has lost more than $5 billion over the last three years. It has had to borrow money to cover the losses. The company’s long-term debt is now more than $4 billion, according to the report.
Sales at Kmart stores were down 5.3 percent in 2016, and that followed a decline of 7.3 percent in 2015. If there is anything to make Kmart folks feel better, it is only that Kmart is performing better than its sister retailer, Sears. Sales at Sears stores declined 9.3 percent for the year. Kmart now operates 735 stores, down from about 1,400 in 2008. The statistic that gets me is that about 25 years ago, Kmart was larger than Wal-Mart. Today, I’m not sure my kids have ever been in a Kmart.
So, there are plenty of reasons to keep a close eye on Kmart. The loss of jobs at the distribution center would be the biggest blow to Lawrence if Kmart were to close. But there would be other impacts too. The company pays property taxes on about 1 million square feet of industrial space. Its facility at Kresge Road is huge.
That would be a lot of space for economic development officials to try to fill. But who knows, it may create an opportunity for something more vibrant to take its place. When Sears closed its store at 27th and Iowa several years ago, it opened the door for Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty, PetSmart and the Boot Barn to revamp and enliven the space.
But that’s not always the way it works, especially with industrial space. Look at the large buildings along Haskell Avenue that used to house E and E Display group and Honeywell Aerospace, two manufacturers that no longer operate in the community. Those buildings sat vacant for a number of years, and even today they aren’t home to as many employees as they used to be.
Probably all Lawrence can do is watch and wait — and perhaps rub our lava lamps for good luck.
You know what they say: Baking is a science, which I think is why the hazmat crew is still in my kitchen. Regardless, an actual trained scientist is opening a bakery in Downtown Lawrence that likely will grab the attention of allergy sufferers.
Topeka-based Shana Cake has signed a deal to open at 914 Massachusetts St. Work is underway and owner Kelly Dempewolf hopes to have the store open by mid-April.
Some of you may remember Shana Cake and Dempewolf from the Lawrence Farmers Market. Dempewolf began selling a host of gluten-free bakery goods at the Farmers Market in the summer of 2015. She found there was a strong market for the gluten-free products and soon opened a storefront in Topeka. When the Downtown Lawrence space became available, she jumped at the chance to expand.
“We know that Lawrence is a great market for what we do,” Dempewolf said.
What the store does today goes beyond gluten-free products. The store now makes “allergy-friendly” products, which means everything in the store is free of gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and GMOs. Many of the products also can be made egg-free.
If I limited my ingredient list to that degree, I would have to use even more sawdust than normal for my baking. But, then again, as a court order clearly states, I am not a scientist. Dempewolf, however, is. She was a high school chemistry teacher, wrote a high school textbook on the subject, and ended up getting her doctorate in science education. She said the chemistry background has been a key to producing gluten-free products that actually are good to eat.
“This is edible chemistry,” she said. “When you take ingredients out, you have to know what they do so you can put an appropriate ingredient back in.”
Chemistry is only one of the keys, though. Her kids are another. The store is named after 11-year old daughter, Shana, who has a gluten allergy. The huge number of products the store bakes (more on those in a moment) are attributable to Shana.
“Our menu is basically anything my daughter has asked for,” Dempewolf said.
Dempewolf’s 14-year old son, however, also plays a role. He has no food allergies, and no reservations about telling his mother that she has missed the mark with a recipe.
“I give it to my 14-year old son, and if he likes it, it has passed the test and is ready to go,” Dempewolf said.
Plenty of items have passed the test. The bakery has all the cupcakes, cookies, and muffins that you would expect to see at a bakery. The bakery case usually has eight to 10 flavors of cupcakes and a few speciality treats such as the dairy-free version of a banana split, which includes banana cake with chocolate ganache, strawberries and whipped topping. Donuts also are among the hard to find items for some allergy sufferers.
“Donuts are something people in come and say “I haven’t had a donut forever,’” she said.
But the bakery ventures outside of the realm of sweet treats too. Dempewolf said gluten allergy sufferers long have complained finding good gluten-free bread is a chore. The bakery’s case always includes sandwich bread. The shop also makes pizza crusts, pie crusts, spaghetti noodles, hamburger and hot dog buns, dinner rolls, frozen waffles ready for the toaster oven, and several other items. The store also does a quite a few special orders, she said.
Look for another scientist to be involved in the Lawrence venture once it opens next month. Dempewolf’s mother is a retired biochemist with a Ph.D., and she will be assisting in running the Lawrence store.
If you are still having a hard time picturing where the store will be located, it is in the former home of Billy Vanilly, another Topeka-based bakery that set up shop in Lawrence. Dempewolf, though, said her business has no affiliation with that now shuttered business. It is just coincidence — and the eternal optimism of bakers — that another sweet shop is opening in the space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for a possible new restaurant along Ninth Street. You may remember the old Presto gasoline station near Ninth and Louisiana streets. It was the subject of much news coverage several years ago when a large underground fuel leak was found at the site.
Well, Lawrence businessman Brad Ziegler has bought that property, and is marketing the location as a spot for a future restaurant. I don’t believe Ziegler, who is in the bar and restaurant business with places like 6 Mile Chop House and Eighth Street Taproom, plans to operate a new venture.
A few weeks ago, I briefly talked with Ziegler, who didn’t have much to add on the property, other than he was optimistic he was going to find a restaurant tenant for the site. Word on the street certainly has been that Brad Walters, owner of The Basil Leaf Cafe, was interested in opening a new restaurant in the space. The gas station property is next door to The Basil Leaf Cafe.
I chatted with Walters briefly today, and he said was working on a deal for the property, but had nothing to announce yet. My understanding is the deal doesn’t involve moving Basil Leaf but rather involves a new restaurant concept. But again, that deal is not done yet.
However, renovation work is underway at the site, which caused several of you to ask me what is going on there. So, that’s what I know at the moment, and I’ll pass along additional information as I get it.
A multimillion-dollar deal is brewing between two local health care companies that could someday result in Lawrence being known as the “knee and hip replacement capital of the Midwest.”
No, it is maybe not the best moniker for the convention and visitors bureau, but it could result in big business, and might end up being a key development in Lawrence's changing health care market.
Leaders with Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Lawrence-based OrthoKansas confirmed this morning they are in serious discussions about partnering on a new state-of-the-art orthopedic facility that would be built in Lawrence but designed to serve patients from throughout the state and beyond.
“We want to take the clinical expertise that already exists here, and create a partnership that better leverages that into a regional delivery system,” said Russ Johnson, president and CEO of LMH. “There is every reason to think Lawrence could become a true destination for orthopedic care and sports injury in the next 20 years.”
LMH and OrthoKansas hope to finalize a deal by the end of summer. The deal could involve LMH purchasing OrthoKansas, but Dr. Doug Stull, president of OrthoKansas, said he didn’t think that was likely. Instead, some sort of partnership is more likely. LMH and OrthoKansas are characterizing the talks as an exploration of a possible “affiliation.”
The new facility would be a “regional center of excellence” that would provide services in hand, shoulder, elbow, foot, ankle, hip and knee reconstruction. It would be a one-stop shop for surgery, therapy and imaging services. The center also would likely include a sports performance and and athletic training program that would focus on high school and collegiate athletes.
The two parties haven’t decided on where the facility should be built. But in my conversation with Johnson and Stull, it sounds like they are not necessarily looking to build it near LMH’s main campus at Third and Maine streets.
“It needs to be a place where the region can access us,” Stull said. “If you live in Ottawa or Hays or Atchison or any number of other places, how do you get there easily?”
The potential deal between LMH and OrthoKansas comes at an interesting time. As we reported in December, KU Hospital has reached a deal with Dr. Jeffrey Randall to open a new orthopedic practice in Lawrence. Randall is a sports medicine doctor who previously was with OrthoKansas. The deal is significant because it marks the first time KU Hospital has entered the Lawrence market in such a big way. Importantly, KU Hospital made it known as part of its announcement that is is “working with other health care organizations in Lawrence to identify collaborative practice opportunities.”
That makes this potential deal between LMH and OrthoKansas about more than just knees and hips. Johnson confirmed that if LMH can successfully complete this deal with OrthoKansas, it should send a message to the broader medical community that LMH also is serious about partnerships and knows how to get them done.
“I think Lawrence is a fantastic market and it is very likely that as a community we’ll see other people enter this market,” Johnson said of other health care providers. “I think it is important for them to know they can enter it in a partnership way with us, and we can build a strong alliance as the local community hospital and serve the community in a very good way.
"Or, if that is not their interest, they may just want to come in and compete.”
Johnson said it is not yet clear what type of relationship KU Hospital’s new Lawrence facility — called the Sports Medicine and Performance Center — wants to have with LMH. Johnson said LMH is open to working with the new practice.
In this business of finding partners, the stakes are high for LMH. Think of it this way: The hospital receives some of its business from patients who just come through the door of the emergency room. But it sees a lot of its business from physician offices that refer patients to LMH for a scheduled procedure or service. If several of those physician offices become affiliated with KU Hospital or other hospitals in Kansas City or Topeka, LMH could be at risk of losing some of that referral business.
Johnson didn’t get into that level of detail with me, but did acknowledge that the search for partners is a high priority for the hospital, and that such partnerships will become more critical as the industry changes.
“It is a new era in health care,” he said.
It could be a good one for consumers. If multiple hospitals from Kansas City and elsewhere decide they want to be players in the Lawrence market, that could mean other new facilities, new state-of-the art equipment, and maybe even competitive pricing practices.
Stull said he thinks the potential new orthopedic facility could be a good example of what local providers and LMH can offer to compete with the larger Kansas City companies.
“I know there are some people in Lawrence who think seeing a doctor in Lawrence isn’t good enough, and they think they need to go to the city,” Stull said. “I want those people to stay in Lawrence. I’m confident this alliance will show them that if they had a doubt about where to go, they won’t have a doubt anymore.”
As for the near term, OrthoKansas will continue operating at its facility at Sixth and Maine Streets, which shares a building with the Lawrence Surgery Center. OrthoKansas has about 60 employees and has offices in Lawrence, Leavenworth and Holton.
Forget spring, there were signs of summer at my house on Sunday: Lawn mowers and lawn chairs both made appearances, and the dog started pawing at the thermostat. (The kids and I already have been trained not to touch it.) Soon, we’ll all be craving a snow cone. On that front, I have news. A national snow cone chain is coming to Lawrence.
A pair of area entrepreneurs has signed a deal to bring Kona Ice to Lawrence and Topeka. Matt Douglas and business partner Jay Weber hope to have the business open by mid-April. If you are not familiar with Kona Ice, it doesn’t necessarily operate storefronts but rather uses a food truck model.
Actually, they use a high-tech food truck. If North Korea had half the technology of this truck, we’d never get a good night’s sleep again.
“We can serve up to 400 people an hour at the truck,” Douglas said. “It is very quick. We have something called a Flavorwave station attached to the truck. Customers can put on their own flavors. They can pick whatever flavors they want and they can try all kinds of flavors.”
The truck won’t have a permanent location in Lawrence. The city’s regulations for food trucks make it difficult for a food truck to have a permanent spot. Instead, Douglas said the business plans to operate at events and anywhere there is a large crowd in town. Nationally, the company does a lot of fundraisers for schools, churches, youth sports teams and other types of organizations. The company sells the shaved ice, and the organizations get a portion of each sale. Thus far, the company says it has helped raise about $35 million for organizations across the country.
As for the flavors, there’s all the traditional ones, from “groovy grape,” to “wild watermelon,” and pina colada flavor. In case you are wondering, the truck doesn’t serve frozen alcoholic drinks, but it does serve the nonalcoholic versions of some popular creations like a mai tai and other beachside cocktails. The truck also offers a version that adds Vitamin C and D to the drinks, and a version that cuts back on the sugar by 40 percent. Drinks will range from about $3 to $6, Douglas said.
Douglas said the company is starting with one truck, but plans to soon expand to two to cover both the Lawrence and Topeka markets. Douglas said he never thought he would be in the shaved ice business — he admits the idea drew an odd look from his wife — but he said the idea appealed to him after he realized the business could be used to help organizations raise money. Plus, he said the business creates a fun environment. The truck features tropical music, and one of the business’ goals is to temporarily transport you to a tropical island.
“I’ve talked to other (Kona Ice owners) and they all said that you go to places and Kona puts a smile on people’s faces,” Douglas said. “That is huge in today’s day and age.”
So, look for the shaved ice business to heat up in Lawrence. As a reminder, Lawrence also is home to the longtime stand of Tad’s Shaved Ice, which has a stand at 939 Iowa St. and also has a food truck that it uses for events. Owner Tad Gellender recently closed his other business, Tad’s Pizzeria in west Lawrence, but the shaved ice business is very much still alive. He told me it opened for the season on March 1.
Today may be the quintessential Lawrence day: A day where everybody takes a lunch break, and at least half the population never returns to work — thanks to either a green beverage or an orange ball. It will be a big money day in Lawrence, and a new report shows merchants have had a few of those recently.
While you may be focusing on St. Patrick, the latest sales tax report indicates Lawrence merchants may still be giddy from what St. Nick left behind. A new Kansas Department of Revenue report indicates retail sales during the Christmas shopping season were up significantly in 2016.
The city received its monthly sales tax check from the state, and the totals largely represented sales made from late November to late December. The report found that sales tax collections during that critical time period grew by 7.8 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
It looks like shoppers in several Kansas communities opened up their wallets during the Christmas season. Sales tax collections for that one-month period from essentially Thanksgiving to Christmas were up 10 percent in both Johnson and Shawnee counties. In Wichita, the pace was a bit slower but still positive: 5.8 percent growth in Sedgwick County. The big exception was Wyandotte County, which is home to the mega Legends shopping district near the Kansas Speedway. Sales tax collections were down about 15 percent there.
While this one month period is particularly important to retailers, it is never wise to read too much into any one month’s worth of sales tax data. It is fairly easy to have reporting anomalies in a single month, but the number of communities that posted strong gains is a good indication that there was true improvement in holiday spending in the state.
State budget-makers certainly will welcome that. But city and county budget-makers probably are rooting for strong retail sales more than ever. Sales taxes are going to be more important than ever to local budgets. That’s because of the state-mandated property tax lid that will begin with 2018 city and county budgets.
As a reminder, the lid will require local governments in many instances to have a public election before using property taxes to fund new government spending. Cities and counties build their 2018 budgets this summer, and there is a real possibility that we could see elections — they would be mail-in ballots — in the late summer for both the county and city budgets.
There is discussion currently in the Kansas Legislature to alter the lid or even it repeal. So, we’re watching that and will bring you reports. But, the main point still stands: The current environment suggests sales taxes are going to be more critical than ever to growing communities.
Thus far, the news on that front has been good in Lawrence. Lawrence has now received two of the 12 sales tax checks it will receive in 2017. While that is a small sample size, the results have been encouraging and have continued the trends of strong growth we saw through 2016.
Year-to-date, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 7.3 percent compared to the same two-month period a year ago. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s growth rate compares to some of the other large retail communities in the state.
— Lenexa: up 14.1 percent
— Topeka: up 7.4 percent
— Lawrence: up 7.3 percent
— Olathe: up 6.9 percent
— Johnson County: up 5 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.3 percent
— Overland Park: up 1.9 percent
— Kansas City: down 20 percent
It will be interesting to watch what happens the rest of the year with retail sales and also the attitude local leaders have about retail development. As I was writing this column this morning, I had to stop to report the breaking news that JCPenney has announced it is closing its Lawrence store. (See that article here.) That space, combined with the former Hastings space at 23rd and Iowa, does represent some fairly large vacancies along the city’s prime commercial corridor. How quickly they get tenants will be important to watch.
In the meantime, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy your “lunch break.”
South Iowa Street is about to lose one of its major, longtime retailers: JCPenney has confirmed that its Lawrence store is among the 138 stores it will close as the retailer tries to shore up its finances.
The company released the full list this morning. The press release says most of the stores will begin the process of liquidating inventory on April 17. I suspect an actual closing date will depend on how quickly the inventory is sold.
There are five stores in Kansas that are slated to close: Lawrence, Hutchinson, Great Bend, Chanute and Winfield.
The closing obviously will mean job losses for JCPenney employees locally, although I don’t have a current estimate on how many people that store employs. Nationwide, the company estimates about 5,000 employees will be impacted by the store closings. The company said it is “in the process of identifying relocation opportunities within the company for esteemed leaders.”
Another big impact for Lawrence will be that one of south Iowa Street’s larger buildings will be vacant. As a reminder, JC Penney is located at 3311 Iowa Street, basically between Target and the Regal theaters.
Lawrence has been through this before when Sears closed its full-line department store at 27th and Iowa (there’s still a hometown Sears store in operation in Lawrence.) That closing, however, ended up working out fairly well for Lawrence. The Sears location has remodeled and now houses four stores — Dick’s Sporting Goods, Boot Barn, PetSmart, and Ulta Beauty —that by all appearances are doing significantly more business than Sears did in recent years. Pretty much the same thing happened several years earlier when Kmart closed its Lawrence store, which was in the location that now houses Bed Bath & Beyond, World Market, and Michaels.
We’ll have to see whether the same thing happens with the JCPenney spot, or whether the building will sit vacant for a significant period of time. In addition to the Penney’s building, the former Hastings building at 23rd and Iowa also is available, and there’s still a significant amount of space available in the old Food-4-Less building at 25th and Iowa streets.
It looks like it will be an interesting time to watch for changes along south Iowa Street.
I’m generally anti-candle, unless I can use one to burn my NCAA tournament bracket. So, in that regard I guess it is timely for me to pass along that Lawrence is set to get a new national candle and decor shop.
Construction work is underway in the Pine Ridge Plaza near 33rd and Iowa streets to convert the Bath & Body Works store into a White Barn store. To be clear lotion lovers, the Bath & Body store will continue to exist, but the remodeling work is making space for a White Barn too.
If you aren’t familiar with White Barn, you must be odious because the store touts itself as being all about good fragrances. White Barn is part of the Bath & Body chain. In malls, the two stores usually are side by side. Here, both stores will be in the same location.
Bath & Body has moved to a temporary location just one door down from its normal spot. Once the project is completed, it will move back to the original location, which is in the portion of the shopping center that houses Jason’s Deli and soon will house a Men’s Wearhouse.
As for what White Barn carries, candles of all types are the big item. Among its taglines is “Candles lovingly poured in New Albany, Ohio.” (I don’t know what constitutes “lovingly” pouring a candle, but I suspect there are some factory workers who wish the company would come up with another way to say that.)
In addition to the variety of candles, the store also offers plug-in air fresheners, room sprays, decorative wall hangings, and for the Easter season, something called a “chick magnet.” Calm down, fellows. It is actually a magnet shaped like a furry, baby chicken.
Signs at the store say the project will be completed in May, and a construction worker at the site said it likely would be in mid-May.
In west Lawrence, I thought a sensory deprivation tank was an SUV without heated seats. But a Lawrence business is betting that west siders will take to the wellness trend of sensory deprivation tanks, more commonly called float tanks.
Perhaps you remember a business called Ad Astra Acupuncture near 11th and Massachusetts. Well, the company has changed its name to Ad Astra Wellness, moved to west Lawrence, doubled its space, and added three float tanks to its operations.
If you are not familiar with float tanks, you evidently aren’t a world-class athlete. Tom Brady, Steph Curry and other sports stars are talking about the benefits of floating. The process involves entering a tank that is free from light and free from sound. The tank has saltwater in it, which allows to you to float in a state of near weightlessness. The experience allows the body to experience a different type of relaxation, owner Barry Bornstein said.
“The weightlessness is really powerful,” Bornstein said. “For most people, they’ve never experienced that, and it allows your whole body to exhale and relax.”
The business moved to vacant space in the Orchards Shopping Center at Bob Billings and Kasold Drive to get the additional room needed for the float tanks. Each tank holds about 10 inches of water and about 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, Bornstein said. One of the tanks is a couple’s tank, meaning that two people can enter at once.
“It is a bonding experience,” Bornstein said.
Float tanks aren’t an entirely new concept in Lawrence. I wrote about a downtown business that was installing one in April, and others have entered the market too, like Elevate at 14th and Massachusetts.
Ad Astra charges $50 for a one-hour float, Bornstein said. He said his customer base runs the gamut. Some people use a float tank to relieve anxiety. Others use it to relieve joint pain, and some women use it to relieve discomfort during pregnancy. Others use it to become more centered, free their mind and improve their concentration.
“It can be especially good for someone like a golfer where you have to be calm, and present and focus on your swing,” Bornstein said. (I can attest that my swing is marginally better underwater.)
Ad Astra Wellness is offering services beyond the float tanks. The business has continued its acupuncture practice. The business also has an infrared sauna, which uses a gentler heat source than traditional saunas. Bornstein said an infrared sauna operates at about 150 degrees instead of the 200 degrees of a regular sauna.
“You come out feeling refreshed rather than soggy and drained,” he said.
The business also has a product called the biomat, which is an infrared heat pad system that often is used in conjunction with acupuncture. And there also is something called a “brain tap,” which is a system that uses lighted goggles, headphones, music and guided meditations that can be helpful with stress management and addiction recovery, he said.
The company is located in the far north end of Orchards Corner shopping center in suite A-1.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we're at the Orchards Shopping Center, now is a good time for an update on the longtime commercial area at Bob Billings and Kasold. The center has undergone a bit of a resurgence since it was bought by a company led by local businessman Bill Schulteis.
The shopping center has added about a half-dozen new tenants since Schulteis’ Cherry Hill Properties took over the center in June 2015. Among the new additions: Ad Astra Wellness, Jazzercise, Everest Liquors, the offices for the Manpower employment agency, and Sport and Spine.
Plus, Schulteis confirmed that a new promotional product company — think T-shirts, hats and other logo wear — called Fully Promoted has signed a deal to move into the center soon.
The approximately 40,000-square-foot shopping center now has just three vacant storefronts totaling about 4,500 square feet of space, which represents a decline in the shopping center’s vacancy rate.
Schulteis said the area seems to be drawing more attention from businesses, perhaps because of the recent opening of the Bob Billings interchange on the South Lawrence Trafficway. That interchange is expected to funnel more traffic along Bob Billings and into the western gateway of the KU campus.
“We haven’t seen the full impact of that yet,” Schulteis said.
That’s probably a true statement about the entire SLT project. It will be interesting to watch how traffic patterns change over the next few months, and to see which areas become more commercially active and which ones may suffer from changing traffic flow.
Multimillion-dollar retirement project comes to a close; where Lawrence ranks in the list of best college basketball towns
This thought hit me recently: Retirement homes may become wild and crazy places in the near future. Scary as it may be, the people who are getting ready to retire are those who lived during the 1970s disco and party scene. Well, I don’t know if a disco ball is on the amenity list, but a multimillion-dollar retirement facility is now complete in west Lawrence, and yes, it does include a bar.
The new Pioneer Ridge Independent Living Center near Harvard and Wakarusa officially opened for business last week. Debbie Walker, regional director of independent living for Pioneer Ridge’s parent company, said the project includes 77 apartments for people 55 and older.
“We have tried to design it with a really progressive style,” Walker said.
That includes a large “hub” area that features a fireplace, a pool table and a full bar. In addition, there is a fitness club with equipment geared toward the 55-plus population, a theater with a hearing loop system, an area dedicated to arts and crafts, and a space devoted to restaurant-style dining service.
“We have had a few people comment that they want to move in before they are 55,” Walker said.
The project has been a big one in west Lawrence for more than a year. In 2015, the city issued $12 million worth of permits at the Pioneer Ridge campus. Walker said the project has been an even longer time in the making. The project has been an important one for the company because the addition of assisted living units gives the Pioneer Ridge campus a true continuum of care concept. The campus long has had the skilled nursing unit, and a rehabilitation unit. The assisted living component was lacking until the expansion project.
The assisted living project includes a mix of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments. All units come with a meal plan and transportation options for residents. But residents can choose other levels of service depending on their individual situations.
As for the units themselves, Walker said they were designed with a “full-home concept.” That means units do have kitchens, including granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Walker said interest in the new units, which were built just to the south of the longtime Pioneer Ridge facility, has been strong.
“We are seeing a lot of retirees who want to come back to Lawrence,” Walker said. “They love the KU culture, the vibrancy of Lawrence and they love being close to health care.”
Walker said the apartments, with the meal plans and transportation, are leasing from $2,400 to $4,200 per month, depending on the size of the unit and other factors.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are on the subject of bars, some of you keep asking me for more information about the Blue Moose Bar & Grill near Sixth and Wakarusa Drive. I would say you should look for that project to open soon. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve the drinking establishment license for the bar and restaurant.
• As editor of the newspaper, I sometimes get asked why the Journal-World doesn’t have a religion section. I reply that we do: We cover KU basketball practically every day of the year. (Apologies, and yes, my family does stand far away from me out of fear of lightning bolts.)
But if one new report is to be believed, there are even places crazier than Lawrence for college basketball. The financial website WalletHub recently released its list of Best and Worst Cities for College Basketball fans.
Brace yourself: Lawrence was ranked No. 7.
No. 1 on the list is Chapel Hill, N.C.. Granted, they have a good basketball program there, and will continue to have one — as long as Kansas keeps supplying them coaches.
No. 2 on the list is Los Angeles, which is home to UCLA. You may find this one surprising since I suspect you could go to many a dinner party in L.A. and never have the topic of college basketball come up. But there is an explanation: Bill Walton sent the report’s authors a batch of brownies before they began their work.
No. 3 on the list is Durham, N.C., home to Duke University. This one may be legitimate. They pay their basketball coach $7.3 million, which is roughly equal to the number of points his name is worth in a Scrabble contest.
No. 4. is Bloomington, Ind., home to the University of Indiana. Indeed, it is such a great place for college basketball fans that fans of the University of Indiana get their own special tournament this year called the NIT.
No. 5 is Philadelphia, home to reigning national champion Villanova. Yes, Villanova is in Philadelphia. The Villanova Alumni Association is 95 percent certain of it.
No. 6. is East Lansing, Mich., home to Michigan State. This clearly shouldn’t count. They are measuring only half their community. If Lawrence was only measured by the residents of East Lawrence, we too would be ranked high on all sorts of lists.
So those are the towns that supposedly are better places for college basketball fans than Lawrence. The authors of the report looked at factors such as Division I championships, regular season championships, ticket prices, stadium capacities and other metrics aimed at measuring fan engagement. Evidently no extra points were given for having the gravesite of the founder of basketball, and the original rules of the game. None of it sounds very scientific to me — certainly nothing approaching the science we use to fill out our NCAA tourney brackets.
If for some reason you are interested in seeing the full list, you can do so here.
Perhaps this supposed WikiLeaks about how our smartphones and smart TVs can be turned into spying devices by the CIA isn’t all bad. Now, when I’m sitting on my couch watching reruns of "The Apprentice" and yelling at my TV “where the %@#!! is my delivery pizza?” I expect the courtesy of an answer. Well, I’m not sure that will happen, but it does appear we’ll soon have a new option for delivery pizza.
As I told you yesterday, work is underway to convert vacant space at The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana into a new business. I’ve now been told that Sarpino’s Pizzeria is locating in the space. A building permit has been filed with the city for a carryout and delivery location for the pizza chain, according to the application on file at City Hall.
If you are not familiar with Sarpino’s, ask your phone. It really does know everything. (For what it's worth, this phone stuff doesn’t surprise me. I’ve long suspected my phone is smarter than I am. After all, I’m always getting tangled in its cord and my tie frequently gets caught in its rotary dial.)
As for what I know about Sarpino’s, it appears to focus on delivering gourmet-style pizzas in a fast-food type of way. The company’s online menu lists more than 50 gourmet or specialty pizzas, plus the opportunity to build your own creations. In addition to the classic American-inspired combinations, the menu features some other options such as a Grecian Gyros pizza, a Nacho cheese-lovers pizza, Alfredo shrimp pizza, a Dubai Special that prominently features green and black olives, and something called a German Delight, which includes Italian sausage and sauerkraut.
The menu also offers calzones and more than 20 sandwiches ranging from grilled cheese to Italian meatballs to a tropical Hawaiian creation. Also on the menu are chicken wings, salads, pastas, breadsticks and desserts such as cheesecake and tiramisu.
The company, which is prominent in the Chicago area but has about a half-dozen locations in Kansas City, makes a big deal out of its delivery service. The store is open 365 days a year, and it appears that in K.C. most of its shops are open until 3 a.m. on weekends and 2 a.m. on weeknights. But the bigger issue with delivery is that the restaurant has no minimum order requirement. As the company says on its website, if you are craving a single piece of cheesecake in the middle of the night, they’ll deliver it to you.
That could be dangerous. The CIA may have to get a wider screen to watch me.
As for a timeline for opening, I haven’t heard of one yet. It looks like renovation work is still in its early stages at the location.
Longtime electronics retailer set to close final Lawrence store; proposed law would keep track of political affiliations of faculty members
It is still hard to believe a store with such a forward-looking name like RadioShack is slowly going out of business. I suppose I should brace myself for TelegraphHut to close as well. Indeed, the days of RadioShack in Lawrence are very near the end.
The RadioShack store at The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana is conducting a store closing sale. According to the signs at the location, its last day of business will be Wednesday.
In case you have lost track, that is the last RadioShack store in Lawrence. At one point, RadioShack operated three stores in Lawrence. But the company already has closed its stores near Sixth and Kasold and 31st and Iowa.
For awhile it looked like The Malls store might survive. Not long ago, the store received an updated look and began selling Sprint products. But now it looks like the entire chain is set to close. Bloomberg reported on Friday that its sources say RadioShack’s parent company is preparing to file for bankruptcy. The parent company — General Wireless Operations — bought the RadioShack brand out of a 2015 bankruptcy case. So, many observers are expecting this next bankruptcy will be a straight liquidation.
I’m not sure when RadioShack came to Lawrence, but it has been around for decades. And despite me making fun of the company’s name, the stores were often helpful. I would get 10 minutes of advice, a $2 part, and with such knowledge and supplies I could fix any audio/video device — as long as either of my children were around to help me operate the remote control.
• While we are in The Malls shopping center, I have a few updates there. Family Video is now located in that center, having previously been located across the street at the Louisiana Purchase shopping center. A couple of other businesses, however have closed.
The Kansas Sports Outlet ended up being a short-lived venture at The Malls. We reported in August that the store was opening and would be selling a lot of KU Athletics clothing and merchandise. The company was selling stock that it had left over from the Allen Fieldhouse merchandise store it previously operated. There was talk that the Kansas Sports Outlet would remain in business once it sold that inventory, but apparently the owners decided not to go that route.
There does appear to be one new business going into the center. Renovation work is underway on space next door to the former Bikram Yoga location, which closed this summer. I’ve got a couple of calls in to see what is going into the space. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
In other news from around town:
• The old Bikram Yoga sign at The Malls actually touts the former business as the “Yoga College of India.” That reminded me of a recent news story that I thought was appropriate to share in a college town.
Did you hear about the Iowa state legislator who had some confusion over the definition of a degree? The Washington Post and several other outlets ran an article about Iowa State Sen. Mark Chelgren. One of his online biographies indicated he had a degree in business management from the Forbco Management school.
Well, a television station in Iowa started looking into that and found that the “degree” actually was a certificate from a Sizzler steakhouse that he once worked at. He had to do some in-house training to be eligible for a promotion. The state senator said he didn’t see much difference between the terminology of “degree” versus a “certificate.” The online bio has since been changed, and Chelgren indicated he did not want to argue over “semantics.”
Although it is kind of amusing, I probably wouldn’t have pointed this out had it not been for the other part of the article. Chelgren has been in the headlines in Iowa for a higher education bill he has proposed. It is one that I’m guessing faculty members across Lawrence would at least find interesting.
The Washington Post reported that Chelgren last month filed a bill that would require Regents universities in Iowa to consider the political affiliation of people applying to become faculty members at the university.
The Post reports that the bill would restrict universities from hiring a candidate based on his or her political affiliation, in some cases. The bill seeks to ensure that the percentage of faculty belonging to one political party not exceed by 10 percentage points the faculty belonging to the other political party, The Post reports. Yes, I’m aware there are actually more than two political parties, so I’m not sure exactly how that works.
It makes sense to the Iowa lawmaker, though.
“I’m under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity,” Chelgren told the Des Moines Register. “They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are.”
I haven’t heard of any proposal like that for Kansas, but you don’t have to stretch your imagination too much to think of some Kansas lawmakers who might support such a plan.
After years of stagnation, county appraiser says home values are on the rise; property tax bills may follow suit; 2017 home sales off to strong start
Odds are — if you haven’t already — you will be getting an envelope from Douglas County saying the value of your home has increased. Yes, that means your property taxes may go up, too. It also is the surest sign yet that Lawrence’s real estate market is returning to the levels it once enjoyed before the Great Recession.
Nonetheless, get ready to see a bigger number.
“The past few years, the average had been pretty stagnant,” Douglas County Appraiser Steve Miles said of home prices. “This year, we’ve seen quite a healthy increase.”
Miles’ office sent out change of value notices to every property owner in the county on Feb. 28. He said 76 percent of property owners will see an increase in their value. A significant number of residential properties will see values spike by 5 percent or more. Here’s a look at the breakdown:
— 28 percent of residents will see the tax value on their homes increase by 5 percent or more.
— 34 percent of residents will see the tax value increase by 2.01 percent to 4.99 percent.
— 20 percent of residents will see the tax values increase by .01 percent to 2 percent.
— 8 percent of residents will see no change in value
— A little less than 10 percent of homeowners will see a decline in value.
Even homeowners who don’t intend to sell their homes should care about the values. Why? Property taxes. The home values set by Miles’ office are used in determining the amount of property taxes you will pay in 2017.
If your home increases by 5 percent in value, that doesn’t automatically mean that you will see your property tax bill increase by 5 percent. But it might. It all depends on the tax rates — known as mill levies — that local governments set. Those tax rates will be set this summer as governments such as the county, cities and school districts make their budgets for 2018. If governments hold their mill levies steady, and your home increased in value by 5 percent, then you would see a 5 percent increase in your tax bill. If governments decrease their mill levies, your increase would be less than 5 percent. If governments increase their mill levies, you tax bill would jump by more than 5 percent.
Stay tuned on that front. There will be much teeth-gnashing about the county and city budgets this summer.
In terms of who may see the largest increases, rural residents should be on the lookout. Miles said his office did a thorough study of rural property values, and it showed that quite a few rural residences had tax values that were below the price the home would likely fetch if it were put on the market.
The largest increases, though, aren’t coming from homes, but rather from farmland. Miles said the average value for farmland has increased 11 percent in the county. Miles understands the increase comes at a bad time for farmers. Commodity prices are relatively low at the moment. But several years ago, commodity prices were near record highs. Those high prices of previous years are having an impact on tax bills this year.
“We have gotten quite a few questions already about why rural land values are going up so much,” Miles said. “It is the formula. It is still pulling in those high values from past years.”
In simple terms, the state’s formula looks at rolling eight-year averages of commodity prices to help determine the tax value of agricultural property.
For those of you who just own residential property, your value is figured in a more straightforward manner, although not a foolproof one. The county appraiser is tasked with estimating how much your home would sell for on the open market. The office uses a system of looking at what other similar homes have sold for in the past two years.
Tax values are going up, Miles said, because what buyers are willing to pay for homes is also increasing. If you have followed the real estate figures that Town Talk reports on each month, it shouldn’t be a surprise that home values are rising.
Real estate agents for much of 2016 talked about how fewer homes were on the market. A low supply of homes combined with a rising demand equals higher prices.
“Primarily, the lack of inventory is the reason that I hear for the rising prices,” Miles said. “That middle-range home where people want to buy, there aren’t as many people moving around like they did in the past. They are maybe putting some money in a remodel and staying where they are.”
In past years when home inventory has dipped, that’s when Lawrence builders have kicked into high gear to build more new homes. There has been a bit of an uptick in new home construction, but nothing like a boom. Miles is hearing the same thing I’ve heard on that front: Since the Great Recession, the number of Lawrence homebuilders to create that boom doesn’t exist.
“I think a lot of the builders we used to have either moved to another community or gone out of business,” Miles said.
It will be interesting to see whether new builders start to set up shop in Lawrence and whether we see a more aggressive approach to new home construction in 2017.
As for what to do about the envelope you are getting from Douglas County, every property owner has a right to appeal the tax value set by the appraiser’s office. You have to request an informal hearing with the appraiser’s office by 5 p.m. on March 30.
Miles, though, asks property owners to take a little time to study the value. Look around at the prices other homes in your neighborhood are being listed for sale.
“I would like people to think about whether they really could sell their house for what the county has it valued at,” Miles said. “I’m not a crystal ball reader. I can’t tell exactly what your sale price would be, but within reason, are we close? If we are, my recommendation would be to not pursue an appeal, but everyone has a right to appeal.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are talking about real estate, here is the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. 2017 got off to a pretty hot start.
The board reports that Lawrence homes sales for January were up 24 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Real estate agents sold 51 homes in January compared with 41 in January 2016.
Probably the most important number in the report is the number of active listings on the market stood at 197 homes. That’s down from 260 homes in January 2016 and 286 homes in January 2015. If that trend continues, it would seem home prices are destined to rise.
The good news is that 110 homes did come on the market in January. That’s a higher number of new listings than what we’ve seen in past months. So, perhaps a few more homeowners are deciding to take advantage of the rising prices and cash out of their existing properties.
Real estate professionals are predicting it is going to be a seller's market in 2017.
“This again will be a good year for sellers and a very competitive year for buyers,” said Mark Hess, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Report shows Kansas has one of the highest vehicle tax rates in the country; see how our property taxes compare with other states
I have been accused by some in my family of having a problem because I never sell a vehicle after I’m done using it. So, yes, I do own six vehicles at the moment, but in my defense, not all of them run. But now there is a new report out that suggests I’m not a problem but rather a Kansas patriot trying to solve the state’s revenue woes. Kansas once again has been found to have one of the highest vehicle tax rates in the country.
For good measure, the report also found that Kansas is near the top quartile for real estate taxes too.
First, a look at vehicle taxes. The financial website WalletHub looked at the personal property tax rates charged on vehicles in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There are 24 states that don’t charge any annual tax on vehicles. Of the ones that do, Kansas had the 10th highest rate in the country.
A few caveats: Vehicle taxes can vary from one county to the next because there is both a state and a local tax rate involved. WalletHub, though, looked at both state and local rates in its analysis; however, it would be difficult to look at every local rate in the country. Instead, it used sampling in each state to create a statewide average vehicle tax rate. It then applied that tax rate to a 2016 Toyota Camry four-door sedan because that was the highest-selling car in the country last year.
Undoubtedly the amount of taxes you pay on your vehicle will be different from what the study found, but I still think it is a pretty good way to see how Kansas’ vehicle taxes stack up to other states. Here’s a look at what states in our region charge for a brand new Toyota Camry.
— Missouri: $443
— Kansas: $416
— Colorado: $412
— Nebraska: $331
— Iowa: $231
— Oklahoma: $0
As you can see, Kansas’ taxes aren’t out of line with everybody’s in the region. In fact, they are a good deal lower than Missouri’s. Imagine how expensive it would be in Missouri if the state started charging a tax on the cement blocks that hold the cars up. (Apologies, the rivalry is not entirely dead, I guess.) On the other side of the equation, the tax differences in Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma are noticeable.
In case you are wondering, Rhode Island has the highest vehicle property tax rate. It charges a whopping $1,100 in vehicle property taxes on that new Camry.
Now a look at real estate taxes. The bottom line is WalletHub determined that Kansas has the 15th highest real estate property tax rate in the country. To determine the tax rate, WalletHub used Census data. Each year the Census Bureau provides an estimate of the median home value for each state and also provides an estimate for the median real estate tax payment for each state. With those two numbers, WalletHub calculated an effective tax rate for each state. In Kansas, that rate came out to 1.4 percent, meaning that average Kansans pay about 1.8 percent of their home’s value in taxes each year.
Here’s a look at the tax rates for states in the region.
— Nebraska: 1.85 percent
— Iowa: 1.48 percent
— Kansas: 1.40 percent
— Missouri: 1.0 percent
— Oklahoma: 0.88 percent
— Colorado: 0.60 percent
Comparing real estate taxes, though, is a bit trickier than comparing vehicle taxes. That’s because there can be large differences in the average home price from one state to the next. A $150,000 home in Kansas looks pretty good. In California, it looks suspiciously like cardboard. Californians also may laugh at some of our paychecks too, so some of this equals out. Regardless, here is a look at what people in the region pay, based upon the assumption they own the average-priced home in their state.
— Nebraska: $133,300 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $2,467
— Iowa: $129,200 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $1,916
— Kansas: $132,000 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $1,849
— Missouri: $138,400 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $1,387
— Oklahoma: $117,900 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $1,036
— Colorado: $247,800 median home price. Annual taxes paid: $1,489
My takeaway from those numbers is that Colorado uses the medical bills of Kansas skiers to subsidize their property taxes. Property taxes are pretty low in Colorado.
In case you are wondering, Hawaii has the lowest property tax rate at 0.27 percent, but its home values are the highest in the country, so you still pay about $1,400 in property taxes on the average $515,000 home. The state that appears to have the best combination of a low tax rate and a low median home value is Alabama. Folks there pay $543 in property taxes on the average $125,500 home. New Jersey tops the list with a 2.35 percent tax rate. Residents there pay $7,410 on the average $315,900 home.
WalletHub did not do this, but since we have the information handy, I decided to combine the total property tax bill for real estate and vehicle taxes to see what that looks like for states in our region. In other words, this is what you would pay if you owned the average price home in that state and owned a 2016 Toyota Camry.
— Nebraska: $2,798
— Kansas: $2,265
— Iowa: $2,147
— Colorado: $1,901
— Missouri: $1,830
— Oklahoma: $1,036
One thing to keep in mind is that these are just two of the types of taxes people pay, so this is not a complete look at the tax environment of a state. To be more comprehensive, you would need to look at least at sales and income taxes too. Kansas may not do great on sales taxes, as Kansas still taxes groceries where many other states do not. But Kansas may do pretty well in income taxes, since lawmakers have adopted a strategy of a “march to zero” on state income tax rates.
If that strategy holds, there is only one logical argument for me to make in my home: The patriotic thing to to do is to continue my “march to a 7th vehicle.”
Sometimes just to make my doctor mad and my life insurance agent sweat, I get in the mood for both fried chicken and pizza. Well, downtown Lawrence soon will have a restaurant that has both on the menu. The place also will have a dash of Lawrence restaurant history.
I’ve gotten word that Stonewall Restaurant and Pizzeria is opening in the space near 10th and Massachusetts that previously housed Jerusalem Cafe and KC Smoke Burger. A few of you may even recognize the owner of the establishment. Joe Kieltyka and business partner Joel Cundiff are opening the business. Kieltyka was in the Lawrence restaurant business about 35 years ago.
More accurately, Kieltyka was in the private club business. Back in those days, private clubs were the places that could serve liquor, so there were several scattered around town. Kieltyka’s was the Carriage Lamp, a steakhouse and meat-and-potatoes joint that operated in The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana.
No, Stonewall Restaurant and Pizzeria won’t be a private club. But its menu looks like something you would expect to see only inside a king’s chamber: fried chicken and pizza on the same menu; a pan-seared pork chop and pizza at the same sitting; mashed potatoes and pizza. (For some reason, my life insurance premium just increased.)
The combination may seem a bit odd, but Kieltyka had success with it in Lenexa. For about 35 years Kieltyka and his family ran the Stonewall Inn off of Pflumm Road. It was in an old farmhouse and it was split into two restaurants. One was the traditional sit-down, homestyle food establishment. The second one was a smaller pizza parlor and coffee shop.
The Lawrence location isn’t large enough to allow for two separate restaurants, so they’ll be together. But you don’t have to eat the pizza and the fried chicken together, (I can do it because I have a prescription for cholesterol medicine and a large supply of elastic.) Kieltyka likes the menu concept because it ensures there is a little something for everyone.
The pizza will be New York style pizza, meaning thin crust and large. Kieltyka said the restaurant will sell pizza by the slice.
The other part of the menu is what Kieltyka calls meat-and-potatoes food. He didn’t provide me a ton of specifics, but he did mention pan-fried chicken, pork chops, a weekly seafood special, mashed potatoes, green beans, and maybe a lunch steak special to appeal to downtown employees who have time to take a full lunch.
An old website for the Stonewall Inn in Lenexa, though, gave a few more clues as to what may be on the menu. That site listed catfish, liver and onions, meatloaf, pork tenderloin, some open-faced sandwiches, made-to-order hamburgers, patty melts, plus hand-cut french fries or fried potatoes.
We’ll see how much of that ends up on the Lawrence menu. I know my insurance agent will be watching.
Renovation work is underway at the location, 1008 Massachusetts. Kieltyka hopes to have the restaurant open by April.
Longtime Lawrence retailer to open bicycle shop on south Mass Street; keep eyes open for new Asian market
Forget Dennis Hopper. Maybe there is a new image of an Easy Rider: A bicycle with big fenders and maybe even a bell, with a pair of Birkenstocks providing the pedal power. A Lawrence business is set to find out. Footprints, the longtime Lawrence retailer of Birkenstock sandals and shoes, is adding a bike shop to its business.
Actually, it may be more accurate to say that the business once again will be selling bicycles. Perhaps you remember about 35 years ago when Footprints owner Mick Ranney opened his business. Back then it was called Mick’s Bikes. Shortly thereafter he also started selling Birkenstocks. He was selling a lot more sandals than bikes, so he sold the bike business after about five years.
Now, he’s ready to get back to it. Footprints, 1339 Massachusetts St., will continue to sell Birkenstocks, but the shop will be rearranged to carry about a dozen styles of bicycles too. In time, the store also will start stocking bicycle accessories such as helmets, bike racks, whistles, lights and other such gear.
“We won’t sacrifice any of the Birkenstock business, though,” Ranney said. “That is our bread and butter.”
In terms of the bikes, no, Birkenstock has not created a bike brand. Instead, the shop will carry the Electra brand.
“They’re basically city bikes,” Ranney said. “They are bikes that you would use for local transportation.”
That means wide tires, high handlebars, fenders and lights. Some have a rack to strap down a small sack or such.
Ranney said he thought the bike market was well covered in Lawrence when it comes to mountain bikes or racing bikes, but he thinks there are plenty of residents looking for bikes to use to get around town.
Ranney said his desire to start riding around town again is what caused him to restart the bike venture. For years, Ranney said he had to drive his truck to work every day because he frequently had to pick up shoes at Footprints’ off-site warehouse. But Ranney recently sold the off-site warehouse. Now he can ride his bike to work.
“I realized I had gotten sick of driving my truck and missed riding my bike,” Ranney said.
Ranney also found a good partner to help with the venture, he said. Mike Combest, who used to own TerraPlane bike shop in Lawrence, will be part of the Footprints business, Ranney said. Combest had been out of the bike business for a few years but “got sick of the corporate world and wanted to get back into bikes,” Ranney said.
“We will have two former bike store owners operating it,” Ranney said. “We do have a few decades of experience.”
In terms of timeline, Ranney said the shop’s first bikes had arrived and were being assembled now. He said he hopes to have the bike side of the business fully operating in the next couple of weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In talking with Ranney, I did get word about another building to keep an eye on. As I mentioned, Ranney sold Footprints’ warehouse near Sixth and Colorado streets. He said his understanding is the building is being renovated to serve as an Asian food market. The folks who previously operated an Asian food market on Ninth Street are set to open up a market at the Sixth and Colorado location, he said. So, keep an eye out for that.
Ranney, though, said local Birkenstock fans shouldn’t be worried that Footprints is selling its warehouse. He said the company plans to be selling shoes and sandals in Lawrence for years to come.
The warehouse was critical when Footprints was a major mail order retailer of Birkenstock shoes. At one point, Footprints was sending about 1 million catalogs to customers across the country. Then Amazon and Zappos and other online retailers became part of the marketplace.
But Footprints has mainly gotten out of the mail-order business and is focusing more on the Lawrence retail store. That means a warehouse isn’t required. Revenues have gone down, but profits have gone up for the business, he said.
“Last year was our best year in terms of profitability,” Ranney said. “It was fun to be in business again.”
Trio of educators opens new furniture business that focuses on items your mother probably threw away
Lawrence residents know if you want to see old hippies, take a Sunday stroll on Massachusetts Street. (ESPN executives evidently do not know that, or else they wouldn’t have shown us soooo much of broadcaster Bill Walton during Saturday’s KU-Texas game.) If Lawrence residents, though, want to see old furniture, they’re quickly learning to go to North Lawrence. Indeed, there is news of another vintage furniture store opening on the north side of the river.
A trio of paraeducators who worked together at Langston Hughes Elementary School have opened The Art House, a vintage home decor store that focuses on mid-century furniture, along with farmhouse and rustic-style pieces.
“We found that when other people were going to happy hours, we were going to estate sales,” Tracy Ford Stacey, one of the three owners said of the decision to start the business.
The shop is located at 700 Locust Street, which is part of the small commercial area that has gained the name North Lawrence Marketplace. Several other home-oriented stores are located in the district, including Amy’s Attic, Tooter & Tillaye’s, and the Topiary Tree, which previously was in the 700 Locust space but recently moved into larger space across the street.
Stacey said The Art House sells dining tables, dressers, kitchen islands, and pretty much every other type of furniture except beds and mattresses.
“If it is something we would want for our homes, we buy it for the store,” Stacey said.
Many of the store’s pieces come from auctions, estate sales or word of mouth. Most of them require Stacey and her partners to do some work to get the pieces back in top shape. But she said the store’s philosophy is to keep the pieces true to their original design and look.
“I think elbow grease is our biggest ally,” Stacey said.
The store has found a particularly strong following from people who like mid-century furniture, which generally comes from the 1940s, '50, and '60s.
“A lot of people describe mid-century as the things your grandparents bought, your mom threw away, and now you want it,” Stacey said.
The store focuses on a lot of items that have straight, clean lines and that appeal to the trend toward minimalism.
In addition to the mid-century pieces, the store carries several pieces that fit into what people call a farmhouse style. If you have ever seen the popular HGTV series "Fixer Upper," farmhouse style is often what designer Joanna Gaines uses on that show. Indeed, Stacey said the store gets a fair number of people who have seen something on the show and want to buy something similar. To help accommodate that trend, the store has recently created a partnership with an area craftsman who will build custom farmhouse furniture for people who come into the shop.
The store also sells a few other items that aren’t furniture-related. Older jewelry is a popular seller, and some of the pieces can get pretty unique. The store carries one line of earrings that are made out of vintage plates. To be clear, they are made from a portion of the dish, not the entire plate. (I was interested until I learned that. The all-you-can-eat buffets I go to always seem to run out of plates.)
Like most of the stores in the North Lawrence Marketplace, The Art House is open only on Fridays and Saturdays. But business is good nonetheless, Stacey said. She has quit her job as a paraeducator while her business partners Leslie Goertzen and Julie Buller continue to work at Langston Hughes Elementary.
“It has been a really fun adventure so far,” Stacey said. “Lawrence is so supportive of these types of businesses.”
District’s failure to release information about school board applicants is a disservice to the public
The way governments operate these days can be confusing. I sometimes think the scenes from Washington, D.C., are a how-to-video from Twitter on how to rule the world in 140 characters or less.
But hopefully local government isn’t that confusing. I’m less certain of that, though, when it comes to the Lawrence school district. The Journal-World is trying to report on what seems to be a fairly basic story: the process to fill Kristie Adair’s vacant seat on the school board.
As part of that process, we want residents of the district to know who has applied, a bit about their backgrounds and what they could offer the board. We also want as much of this information as possible before the March 6 filing deadline.
The reason for having the information before the deadline, we believed, was obvious: People need to know who has applied for the position so they can decide whether they too want to apply.
A secondary reason is the sooner the public can get the information, the better — especially in this instance. The deadline to file is March 6, and the school board has indicated it may fill the position by March 13. If members of the public want to provide some reasoned and thoughtful advice to the school board on the appointment choice, it would be helpful that they have the information as soon as possible.
A final reason falls under the category of common sense. Newspapers for generations have reported on candidates when they file for office. It is nonsensical to wait until after the filing deadline is passed and then publicly reveal who has filed.
But when we asked the school district for the names of applicants, that is what the J-W reporter was told would happen: They wouldn’t be released until after the deadline — sometime before the March 13 meeting, though.
Upon hearing this, I called Superintendent Kyle Hayden and told him I thought such a plan was a bad idea for all the reasons articulated above. He ultimately agreed to give us the names. We did get a list of names, but we initially received no contact information and no background information about the candidates.
We realized that all the applicants were asked to fill out an application form that had background information, contact information, and that even asked pertinent questions related to the applicant’s motives and qualifications to serve.
We thought this would be good information for the public to have, and we also thought it would be easy to obtain. Boy, were we wrong on that last point. The district has refused to give us the applications, although it did eventually release some contact information conditioned on the “permission” of the applicants.
I tell you, the Lawrence school district ought to offer a doctorate in stubbornness.
District officials reiterated that they would release the applications at some point after the filing deadline but before the March 13 meeting. I’m unsure of the rationale behind that decision. I put two calls into Hayden to discuss that decision but never got a call back. I did chat with Marcel Harmon, president of the school board. He said he wasn’t sure of the rationale either. He said the issue had never been discussed with the board. If he had to guess, he said, it was because the board didn’t want applicants seeing what other applicants had filled out on their applications. He thought it wouldn’t be fair to those who turned theirs in early.
That’s a weak argument. If that is a concern, applicants could have chosen to turn their forms in right before the deadline. The district’s decision to withhold the applications theoretically helps a handful of applicants but hurts many more members of the public by denying them timely access to information.
We’ve filed an open records request, and we’ll see how that turns out. In the meantime, we’re using Google and other sources to find contact information to reach out to applicants so we can provide the basic service of letting people know something about the people who want to represent them.
We will get our job done one way or another, with or without the applications. But I believe that the constituents of USD 497 need to understand the silliness that is going on here. Don’t get me wrong, the school district is a sympathetic bunch. It does incredibly important work. It faces funding challenges that are beyond the control of local officials. The women and men who do the hard work in the classrooms often are under appreciated.
But this silliness doesn’t have anything to do with that. It has to do with a public government upholding the contract it has with the public. I’ve long viewed it this way: A public government, like the school district, gets to tax the residents of the district. (The district’s budget is about $155 million.) The residents have to pay that tax regardless of whether they agree with how the district spends the money. There is no recourse. You pay your taxes regardless of your opinion, or else the system would fall apart. That is an awesome authority that the government has.
The other part of the contract — the part that people have died to defend — is that government takes on an equally awesome responsibility. Government must be as open as it possibly can be with the public. Now, I’m not an absolutist. I understand there is a balancing act that must occur at times. But even in those instances, every government should have the attitude of trying to figure out how it can release the information the public needs to see.
That attitude does not exist in the Lawrence public school district. If it did, we would have the applications. Unfortunately, that can-do attitude of openness is lacking in many governments. Like I said, we’ll overcome this silly application issue. That’s not what this is about. Instead, I believe we are living in a time where it is very dangerous to give government an inch on the issue of openness and transparency. Based on the letters to the editor I see about affairs in Washington, D.C., many of you seem to agree.