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Kief's Audio/Video plans to downsize as longtime owner retires; city's bus service tops 1 million riders for year
Look for some changes at one of Lawrence's longer running retail operations. John Kiefer, the owner/operator of Kief's Audio/Video on south Iowa Street, is in the process of retiring after 54 years in the business.
Both Kiefer and his son, Rob Kiefer, tell me that they expect Kief's to downsize in the process.
"I don't know all the changes that will take place yet, but we'll definitely be downsizing," said Rob, who will take over management of the business. "We need to adapt not only to the current economy but just the buying habits of the public when it comes to buying electronics."
Rob said he is considering focusing the business on designing and installing custom entertainment systems, rather than having a large showroom floor for walk-in retail customers. But he said he is still in discussions with several of the business' dealers before he makes any final decisions.
The store, 2429 Iowa St., is beginning an inventory reduction sale to prepare for the eventual downsizing, Rob said.
As for John, he said that at 82 years old it is simply time to retire. Kiefer has seen everything from eight-track tapes to 3-D televisions come on the market during his 54 years in the business. The store spent its first 18 years in business at The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Then it moved to 25th and Iowa Streets and finally to its current location, about a block south of the busy 23rd and Iowa intersection.
John has seen a lot of changes in the Lawrence retail world over the last half century and has met a few interesting people too. I'm hoping to feature him in a Lawhorn's Lawrence column here in the near future.
I also plan to keep an eye on the future of the Kief's property. The store plans to maintain some sort of presence on the site, but the downsizing will open up some space for redevelopment. The business has about 11,000 square feet of retail space that John owns.
"I've had people look at it for a restaurant site because we have fantastic visibility from the street and are pretty close to the campus," Kiefer said. "I'm at the point that if someone wants to put in X, Y, or Z business, I will customize the space for them. I'm just hoping for a good quality tenant that likes to pay its bills."
It also will be interesting to see if even larger redevelopment plans get talked about for the area. Kiefer, along with a business partner, also owns the retail/restaurant space directly south of Kief's. Plus, the partnership owns a significant amount of the parking lot that serves the area.
South Iowa Street has become a hot real estate play of late. As we've reported, the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center, which at 25th and Iowa streets is adjacent to the property that Kiefer and his partner own, has recently sold. So too has the Tower Plaza Shopping Center, which has First Watch and a host of other businesses. It is basically just a block from the Kief's location. Plans also have been filed for a new restaurant (documents indicate a Buffalo Wild Wings) and retail development on the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa Street.
The redevelopment of the former Sears building at the southwest corner of 27th and Iowa is spurring a lot of the interest in the south Iowa Street corridor. The construction of a Menards home improvement center just east of 31st and Iowa also has helped.
But there also may be one other potential development that could affect the area greatly. People certainly are beginning to wonder what KU has planned for the northwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. It largely is a series of outdoor soccer and recreation fields. A little farther to the west, it houses the university's relatively new park and ride lot.
But, as we've reported, KU is in the process of developing a new master plan for its campus. Most folks are betting that the master plan process won't end up calling for one of the busier intersections in the city to house a series of soccer fields. There's been talk of a convention/conference center at the site. There's been talk of the corner housing a new public-private research park. There's probably been lots of other talk that I haven't heard about. A KU official told me recently that a new draft of the master plan should be released soon.
If KU sends a signal that it plans to do something significant at the northwest corner of 23rd and Iowa, the private development community may decide to do a significant redevelopment of the southwest corner of the intersection. There have been concept plans in the past that have shown a redevelopment of the entire area from 23rd Street to 25th Street. I haven't heard anything that indicates such a deal is imminent, but I suspect it is at least getting some consideration in certain circles.
UPDATE: I got word today that KU has scheduled a public forum to discuss the campus master plan. It is set for 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on March 14 at Spooner Hall on KU's main campus.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you were too busy listening to old eight-track from Kief's Audio/Video to notice, but a city department reached a milestone in 2013. The city's public transit service had annual ridership above the 1 million passenger mark for the first time in its history.
The T, the name for the city's fixed-route bus service, had ridership of 1,063,128 passengers in 2013. That's quite a turnaround from just a few years ago. From 2006 to 2008, ridership declined on the T, hitting a low of 437,671 passengers in 2008. Since then, ridership has increased by 142 percent. The reason: It was about that time that the city and KU created a policy where KU students could ride the city's bus service simply by showing their KU ID card. The city has been readjusting routes since that time to make more stops at apartment complexes and other locations heavy with students.
The new transit report also provides a glimpse at numbers for the city's new NightLine bus service. The city in June began testing the idea of specialized, on-demand service that runs from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The service is geared toward nightshift workers who need public transportation to get to and from their jobs.
According to the report, the service attracted about 600 riders per month when it began in June. Ridership grew steadily and peaked at about 1,250 riders in October. Ridership fell to about 900 riders in December. Transit leaders said public transit ridership typically does fall during the holiday season.
The NightLine service was set up to be a one-year pilot project. No word yet on whether these numbers wlll cause the city to continue the service for the long term.