Dale Willey Automotive strikes deal to expand on south Iowa Street; the case of the missing recycling carts; Sprouts update; new nonprofit launches seafood fundraiser

On a day so cold that my wife actually has consented to turn the thermostat up to 59 degrees and will allow me to shear an extra sheep for the kids, I do know of one place that is hot. South Iowa Street continues to be the hot spot for big commercial real estate deals. The latest is a deal by Dale Willey Automotive to accommodate a significant expansion of the Chevrolet/GMC dealership.

The dealership has completed a deal to purchase the Pay-Less furniture and mattress store at 2800 Iowa St., which is just up the street from the dealership’s current location at 2840 Iowa St. The dealership for several years has owned the large car wash that is between the furniture store and the dealership. Jeff Hornbeck, general manager of the dealership, told me the purchase will allow an expansion of the dealership. Those plans are still in development, but Hornbeck said the furniture store location likely will become the headquarters for a larger used car division of the dealership.

“It really will just give us more lot space for everything,” Hornbeck said.

That’s right. Now that you have finished chipping through the ice in your cereal bowl, you have started to comprehend what this article really means. No more buying a bargain mattress from the most brightly painted store on South Iowa Street. No more back-up plan of becoming a ninja-like, sign-spinning marketer of incredibly low-priced mattresses, sofas, love seats and other such furniture pieces that have frequently been advertised at many a street corner by Pay-Less sign holders over the years.

Hornbeck said current plans call for the furniture store to remain in business at the location for the next several months. Technically, our plans to become sign spinners may still be alive. I haven’t yet gotten in touch with the owner of the Pay-Less business to determine whether he plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence or if this marks the end for the company. I’ll let you know when I get an update on that.

As for the dealership, this latest deal continues a trend of strong growth for Dale Willey. The company became the Chevrolet dealer in town in 2010 and undertook a major renovation of its property. Hornbeck said the Chevrolet deal definitely has increased business, and he said car dealers now are benefiting from significant pent-up demand in the marketplace.

“People need cars for the first time in 10 years or so,” Hornbeck said. “In the early 2000s, people were trading cars because they wanted something different. Now there are a lot of people who really need a new car because of the age of the vehicle. The average age of a vehicle on the road is the oldest it has been in a long time.”

The deal also continues a trend of big real estate transactions happening on south Iowa Street. They include: the Menards store just east of 31st and Iowa streets is under construction; the former Sears site at 27th and Iowa has been redeveloped into a Dick’s Sporting Goods and future home of PetSmart and Chick-fil-A; the shopping center that houses Discovery Furniture and Office Depot has been purchased by a local development group and I believe new retailers are looking at the spot that will be vacated by Discovery Furniture when it moves to the Kansas City area; and several other commercial pieces of property along south Iowa have changed hands. The biggest deal still may be yet to come. It has been moving slowly, but the idea of a major retail development near the southeast corner of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange is still alive. As we’ve previously reported, developers on that deal are working to bring forward a plan that would include Sam’s Club as an anchor tenant for the site.

Hornbeck said all the activity has left the dealership feeling very positive about the future of south Iowa Street.

“Five or six years ago it looked like south Iowa Street was dying a little bit,” Hornbeck said. “But it is sure not now. It is the place to be, we think.”

In other news and notes from around town:

• Perhaps some of you have a plan for staying warm that involves the use of a recycling cart. Or perhaps there has just been an administrative mix-up. Whatever the case, some Lawrence residents have been getting invoices from Kansas City-based Deffenbaugh Industries for carts they used to have when Deffenbaugh operated a curbside recycling service in Lawrence.

Deffenbaugh ended service late last year when the city began offering its own curbside recycling program. As part of the wind-down of the business, Deffenbaugh instructed customers to leave their company-owned carts on the curb for pick-up. Tom Coffman, a vice president for the company, said the process went pretty well, but about 300 of the approximately 4,400 carts were not accounted for through the pick-up process. In those cases, customers were sent an invoice for $75 to replace the missing cart.

Coffman said most of those cases have been resolved, as customers have called in and the company has matched up containers with the right addresses. But he said about 165 carts are still unaccounted for. I’ve had several people call me asking about the situation and how to get it resolved. Coffman said people who are still receiving an invoice from Deffenbaugh should call the number on the invoice — even if you are confident Deffenbaugh picked up your cart — to clear up the issue.

Coffman said they have found several people who still have a cart.

“But it is not a big crime wave up there in Lawrence,” Coffman said with a laugh. “We understand how it happens. You meant to set it out or you weren’t around when we were doing the pick-ups. We just want to get it resolved.”

• As we have reported several times, Sprouts is the new grocery store that will open near Wakarusa and Overland drives in northwest Lawrence. But the farmers’ market-style grocery chain that does a lot of fresh produce and organic products hasn’t yet announced an opening date for its store. But we do have a little bit of new information to pass along. The company sent out a press release saying the Lawrence store will open in the second quarter of 2015. The release said the store is expected to employ about 100 people. The release also gave a little bit more information about what the store will include. It says it will offer fresh baked goods, an “eclectic” selection of beers, thousands of natural, organic and gluten-free groceries, a fully staffed butcher case that will offer a variety of meats, seafoods and sausages and a large vitamin department, among other things. The Lawrence store is one of 10 nationwide that the company plans to open in the second quarter. I’ll keep an ear out for a more specific opening date.

• Speaking of seafood, I’ve gotten word about a new nonprofit organization that has a new fundraiser, and seafood is at the heart of the idea. The new organization is Community Village Lawrence, and its mission involves helping people age in their homes, rather than having to leave to go to an assisted living type of arrangement.

“A lot of times, assisted living can cost $3,000 to $6,000 a month, and many people just can’t afford that,” said Judy Bellome, who is a former leader of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Assocaition and an organizer of this new group.

Bellome told me that the concept, which is being used in several communities across the country, is that people needing assistance become a member of the community village and then have access to several service providers for either free or reduced rates.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Bellome said. “We’ll use existing organizations like Douglas County Senior Services or Independence Inc. to provide services, or it could be something like volunteers coming to a home to take the person out grocery shopping.”

The group’s advisory council had its first meeting in October and is going through the grant-writing and fundraising stage of its startup. It will have its first big fundraiser on Jan. 15. The group will host a Taste of San Francisco event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Arterra Event Gallery at 2161 Quail Creek Drive.

The event will feature seafood flown in from A. LaRocca Seafood, one of San Francisco’s premier boutique seafood providers. The event also will feature guest speaker Sheahon Zenger, the athletic director at Kansas University, and a silent auction that will include memorabilia, and a specially created piece of art from American artist John Bukaty.

Tickets are $150 apiece, and that includes the seafood dinner, specialty wines, drinks and entertainment. They can be purchased at communityvillagelawrence.org or by calling 785-505-0187.