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Speculation grows that Sam's Club wants to locate in new shopping center south of SLT


I know we’re all busy wearing 1985 sports memorabilia, urging our mullets to return, and watching baseball on a 25-inch Zenith TV to recreate the environment of the last time the Kansas City Royals went to that big event that rhymes with Hurled Theories. (No true Royals fan should yet utter its real name for fear of a jinx.) But perhaps we all can take a brief break for a juicy piece of speculation: Sam’s Club is interested in building a store in Lawrence.

Talk of Sam’s Club — the wholesale shopping club run by Wal-Mart — certainly has been the quiet talk in certain real estate circles around town. I’ve been told that the development group that is proposing a major new retail area southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange has told city officials that Sam’s Club has expressed a very serious interest in locating at the proposed shopping center.

Now, take that for whatever you think it is worth. The point man for the North Carolina-based development group hasn’t yet talked to me about Sam’s Club. But I’m confident information about Sam’s Club’s interest has been relayed to city officials. So, what’s next? I’m not sure, but there are several questions that arise:

— Would a Sam’s Club ease some City Hall opposition to the proposed retail area south of the trafficway? If you remember, the planning commission narrowly recommended denial of the proposed retail project, and city commissioners have not yet formally acted on the planning commission’s recommendation. That appears to be because there have not been three votes on the City Commission to approve the development. I’m not sure whether a Sam’s Club would change their thinking. Sam’s Club certainly would be a new retailer to Lawrence, and a new category of retailer as well. The city doesn’t have a wholesale club, and there are Lawrence residents who leave town to go shop at wholesale clubs. It also seems to be the type of retailer that would attract out-of town shoppers. No, folks from Topeka or Kansas City aren’t going to come to Lawrence to shop at Sam’s. But it seems to me that has never been the goal of this proposed shopping center. When it talks about drawing out-of-town shoppers, I think it means shoppers from smaller, secondary markets, not Topeka and Kansas City. If this development causes people in Ottawa to shop in Lawrence instead of Overland Park, then that’s a win for Lawrence.

— Can the development group deliver on bringing a Sam’s Club to the site? Sam’s Club obviously hasn’t signed any lease to come to the shopping center. The shopping center doesn’t exist, so neither do leases for it. But retailers have been known to put in writing their intentions to come to a site. I don’t know if Sam’s has done that yet. Have other retailers? Previously, the development group publicly announced that Academy Sports, Ulta Beauty, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Marshalls/Home Goods all had said they want to come to the shopping center. But I think city officials were leery of whether all those deals really would come to fruition. We’ll see if the development group has come up with a way to convince city officials that the interest is real.

— What about northwest Lawrence? If you remember, a good portion of the opposition from City Hall on this project has been based on concerns that this southern shopping center would make it difficult for an already-approved shopping district near Rock Chalk Park to develop. The area around Rock Chalk Park has been approved for several years, but hasn’t yet attracted retailers. City commissioners have indicated they wanted to give that project more time. Is Sam’s Club also interested in northwest Lawrence? The people I’ve talked to said they haven’t heard that Sam’s Club is interested in northwest Lawrence. Maybe Sam’s is interested, and that word just hasn’t begun to spread yet. I don’t know. What is clear is that several retailers have chosen South Iowa Street over the northwest area. Think Menards, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Petsmart, to name three. Thus far, retailers really have wanted to be close to the other retailers on South Iowa Street rather than doing the hard work to be a pioneer in a new northwest Lawrence shopping district. If Sam’s Club comes out and says it only is interested in the South Lawrence site, will that change the city’s thinking on waiting for the northwest to develop?

— What about politics? This south-of-the-trafficway development is heating up just weeks before the Nov. 4 sales tax election for the police headquarters issue. Those two issues certainly can be linked, if politicos want to link them. The city is betting heavily on increased sales tax revenues to pay for a future police headquarters facility. To fund the headquarters under the city’s current plan, it needs voters to not only approve the new 0.2 percent sales tax, but it also needs retail sales in the city to grow by about 2 percent a year for about the next decade. If the sales tax gets approved and the retail sales don’t grow by that amount, the most likely outcome is that commissioners will either have to cut the city’s budget elsewhere or increase property taxes to make up the difference. A 2 percent growth rate isn’t unreasonable, with or without the south-of-the-trafficway development. But the development group previously has produced estimates that show the development could provide a nice boost to to the city’s sales tax collections. These numbers come from the developer and need further vetting, but the group is estimating a $1.1 million increase in city sales tax collections in 2016-2017 and $2.1 million a year by 2020. Again, the numbers need more vetting, but if true, that development alone would pay for more than half of the police headquarters project. It will be interesting to see whether developers try to get a hearing on this project with the City Commission prior to the Nov. 4 elections. It will be interesting to see if the City Commission will allow it to be scheduled before the election.

There are more questions than answers right now, but the project basically has been in limbo since July. Based on the e-mails and questions I’m getting, the public is ready for some answers.


Andrew Dufour 3 years, 6 months ago

god I couldn't agree more. There isn't a Costco west of KC till you hit Denver CO. I'm so sick of driving 45 minutes to go to Costco on weekends (though it gives me an excuse to hit Oklahoma Joes.)

Joe Blackford II 3 years, 6 months ago

Sedgwick County approves Costco land request 09/03/2014


FYI: All those Kansans going to Denver are NOT shopping @ Costco.

Martha Oldham 3 years, 6 months ago

I love Costco. If Sam's club comes to Lawrence, I will still drive to KC to shop at Costco's

David Gregory 3 years, 6 months ago

I will be happy to vote for the new police station when the city commissioners and planning stop trying to exercise so much control over where the new retail goes. This is another opportunity to rake in sales tax revenue from sales that are already leaving the city. My family now makes a monthly Sam's Club run to Legends or Topeka and we don't hesitate to drop $400 per trip.

Made my first visit to the Sports Pavilion this week. Nice piece of real estate and amenities. Sloppy construction.

All this speculation tells me that the majority of the retail center in Lawrence is going to land out South. We have two opportunities for retail growth. South Iowa AND West 6th. Let the development on west 6th service the sports center. Let the South Iowa retail happen like other cities have done.

City Hall...Let. It. Happen. We are are going to have to pay for the Sports Park anyway, let sales tax revenue pay for the police station.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 6 months ago

But not Sam's. Have you tried Costco? Much nicer. At Sam's I could never find anyone to help. At Costco, you can easily find someone to help you, and they just don't point. They actually walk over there with you. We don't need lots of groceries, so we don't buy much in bulk, and will continue to do most of grocery shopping at the existing stores in Lawrence, but we buy storage and paper products at Costco. Please someone, go ask Costco to come here. They also pay their employees better, so we wouldn't just have minimum wage jobs created. We already have to WalMarts. There is also a Sam's in Topeka, Kansas City and at the Legends. Those people west of us would probably appreciate something different.

David Gregory 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't mind Costco but I spend way more there! LOL. Either way. I think am of the opinion that if retailers are looking at building in Lawrence, let them come.

Jake Davis 3 years, 6 months ago

I agree David...I don't care which store comes as long as we get a wholesaler. I have shopped at both and I am currently a SAMs Club member. I could be swayed either way...it would save me a trip to KC and keep my tax dollars local..

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

I do care, since the prices are about the same, but Costco treats their employees better.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 6 months ago

But if it was a Costco, we would bring in people from Shawnee and Jefferson county. Why would they come to Lawrence, if they can shop at the one in Topeka. Think beyond your shopping.

Scott Quenette 3 years, 6 months ago

Wouldn't any development near the sports pavilion benefit Perry anyway? I thought that was the kerfuffle about building housing out there and the school district.

Deb Stavin 3 years, 6 months ago

Costco pays and treats its employees much better than Walmart/Sam's Club. Costco employees would thus be in a better position to add to Lawrence's tax revenue, and would be less likely to need to rely on public assistance just to get by. I hope the planning commission and city commission will keep this in front-of-mind when considering whether to approve this development.

Amanda Woodward Davis 3 years, 6 months ago

Please let it be Costco! Costco pays their employees a decent wage. This means higher quality jobs than Sam's Club (and higher quality products)!

Cille King 3 years, 6 months ago

I echo the "Let it be Costco" sentiments. We dropped our Sam's Club membership a few years ago and joined Costco. Better pay for employees.

But, as I've said before, any store that is put on south Iowa Street, will be a scaled down version for the scaled down market. I don't see anyone coming here for shopping that has a choice of 20 minutes to Lawrence or 25 - 30 to Topeka or KC.

Rick Masters 3 years, 6 months ago

Put in an Arby's! The people demand more Arby's! And a Putt-Putt! And a Red Lobster. MAKE THEM PUT IN RED LOBSTER OR WE WILL ALL MOVE!

And get rid of that Hibachi Grill. NOW!

Greg DiVilbiss 3 years, 6 months ago

Costco it is... I shop there fairly often.

Curtis Lange 3 years, 6 months ago

LOL @ all the Costco love/Sam's hate. They're the same freaking store. This is the same, sad argument from people that hate Walmart but love Target.

Saying that, we're currently Costco members and have been for a number of years. However, we're considering switching to Sam's. There really is NOT a big difference between the two. Our reasoning is because Pamper's seem to work better for our son and Sam's carries them. Costco only carries Huggies. Then again, we may say screw 'em both and just order off Amazon since we're Prime members as well.

Curtis Lange 3 years, 6 months ago

Any warehouse job is going to make their employees go through security. Kmart (edit: and Hallmark) works the same way there in Lawrence.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

The issue is making employees go through security without paying them for their time. The complaint says that some people are waiting up to 30 unpaid minutes to leave work. Did that happen at Hallmark? If so, they should sue, too.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

The prices are pretty much the same, but the employee pay is different. I'd rather spend my money where I know more of it will go to the employees.

Brad Hightower 3 years, 6 months ago

Think Menards, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Petsmart, to name three. Thus far, retailers really have wanted to be close to the other retailers on South Iowa Street rather than doing the hard work to be a pioneer in a new northwest Lawrence shopping district.

These retailers did not wait or want to pioneer south across the SLT.

Lauren Reinhold 3 years, 6 months ago

They are NOT the same. Costco has much better benefits and wages than any Wal-Mart owned stores. You can see it in the employees' demeanor. Costco and Trader Joe' employees just look- well, not miserable. City commission- can you hear this loud and clear? If Costco expressed interest, we want them, not Sam's. A Costco will also draw Topeka/Manhattan customers. We really need a retail draw of some sort.

Curtis Lange 3 years, 6 months ago

They ARE the same. No normal person walks into a store and thinks, "Man, these employees' 401(k) option is pretty sweet. That dental coverage too!" Whoooo cares? People go in to stores because they offer what we want to buy at a price we want to pay. Sam's and Costco both do that on the same level.

Rebecca Woolfolk 3 years, 6 months ago

I make a monthly run to Costco, and I do actually think about the fact that the employees are better paid and have better benefits. I'm conscious of that at least once each time I visit the store. I would never have a Sam's Club membership.

It's sad that being aware of how one's fellow man is treated and wishing the best for others and consciously patronizing businesses that treat their employees better isn't considered "normal."

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 6 months ago

And when the workers are happy, they treat the customers better. All I ever got in Sam's club, were surly checkers. At Costco, the workers are helpful and cheerful.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 6 months ago

No they don't. Customer service is important to me. Sam's Club - bad customer service Costco - good customer service. Probably because Costco workers are treated better, so it's passed on to the customer.

John Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

All that state they refuse to shop at Sam's because of wage and benefits, good for you. You are taking a stand against injustice. But be sure not to make any purchases at most fast food joints, coffee shops, gas stations, restaurants, and most Mom-and-Pop stores of any kind since they are probably not paying any better than Sam's/WalMart or providing any better benefits. Don't be a hypocrite, if you want to take a stand against injustice you must be consistent.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

Ridiculous argument. Making a small change that supports something you believe in is still taking a positive step. You don't have to change the whole world overnight.

John Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

Nothing ridiculous about it James. I bet those same posters that state they won't shop at Sam's because of pay and benefits are shopping at many stores that pay the same as Sam's without a second thought. If one is going to boycott one then they should boycott all. But it is the cause of the day to complain about Sam's/WalMart or McDonald's while ignoring the same issues at other businesses they frequent. That way those boycotting can feel all smug about how they are changing the world while not upsetting their daily lives. Nice and hypocritical.

James Howlette 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes. Ridiculous. It's a tu quoque fallacy, and it's a silly argument.

If someone wants to choose to purchase membership in one bulk discount store over another because they like that the other store offers their employees higher wages and all other factors appear to be equal, it doesn't make them a hypocrite if they don't do extensive research on the wages of every store in which they shop.

John Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

According to recent WSJ article, avg pay for WalMart cashier $8.48 per hour, Starbucks barista $8.80. Some people want to boycott WalMart over what they pay employees. Wonder how many of those same people stop by Starbucks for a latte without a second thought?

James Howlette 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't see the appeal of Starbucks, but I'm sure there are liberals who better fit your "some people" stereotype. I will point out that Starbucks does offer even part time employees medical, dental, 401k, free college tuition, paid tuition, stock equity, etc. They've got a reputation for offering amazing benefits.

John Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

Also those employees being mistreated at Sam's/WalMart do not have to work there if they don't like the pay or benefits. They are free to go somewhere else to work. In a free market system an employer will pay more and/or provide better benefits if they can't get the employees they need. Also Sam's/WalMart advances from within so that an entry level employee that has shown a desire and willingness to work will often be promoted to a higher level position. This is something most Mom-and-Pops can't offer due to their small size. But being one of the largest employers in the world, providing items at a lower cost to consumers than other businesses selling the exact same items making it cheaper for the masses to purchase needed items doesn't mean anything when someone wants to take a stand against what they perceive as injustice.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

That would be a great argument in a world where there were more available jobs than there were workers.

When I look on Glassdoor.com to see what actual employees think of the two companies, I see that Sam's Club has a 3 star rating and Costco a 4 star rating. When you look into the details, Sam's says that yes, it's easier to get a promotion - because everyone is always quitting. It's also easier to keep your job, because everyone is always quitting. To be fair, they also say that the pay is better than a Walmart. Just not as good as a Costco.

John Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

There are many jobs available every day for those truly wanting to work. There is more than one company in Lawrence that routinely advertises entry level jobs paying above minimum wage. Same in KC. I haven't checked every city in the US but I doubt it is limited to Lawrence and KC only.

James Howlette 3 years, 5 months ago

And yet, I'm willing to bet they won't hire just anyone who walks in and says they're "truly" willing to work.

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