Once popular restaurant chain closes west Lawrence location; more reasons to keep an eye on Lawrence’s Kmart distribution center

America’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill is now in one less Lawrence neighborhood. Applebee’s has closed one of its two Lawrence locations.

The Applebee’s at Sixth and Monterey Way — in the shopping center that houses Hy-Vee — closed on Wednesday, and crews were taking the signs down on Thursday. A sign in the window said the store indeed was closed for good rather than just remodeling or such. The Applebee’s on south Iowa Street remains open.

As for why the west Lawrence Applebee’s closed, I’m not sure (much like I was confused about what a Riblet actually was, other than a darn good excuse for a wet wipe.) Applebee’s corporate made no announcement about the closing. However, it is easy to speculate that business simply wasn’t stellar at the location. There have been lots of reports about underperforming Applebee’s locations closing across the country.

The restaurant industry publication FSR Magazine reported in May that Applebee’s may close about 3 percent of all its stores in 2017. It had already closed 19 stores in the first quarter of 2017 and was scheduled to close another 20 to 40 before the end of the year, the magazine reported.

Applebee’s relatively new president told investors earlier this year that the restaurant chain had made some “missteps” by trying to become too much of a modern bar and grill. Instead, the restaurant needs to get back to its roots of “middle America, middle income.”

I first heard a rumor of the pending closing on Tuesday. When I chatted with other restaurant executives, they seemed a bit surprised by the closing and said they hadn’t heard of any rumors of another restaurant to take its place. I’ll keep my ears open for that.

In other news and notes from around town:

• While we are talking about chains to keep an eye on, local leaders very much should still be watching Kmart. While Lawrence no longer has a Kmart store, it is home to one of the retailer’s larger distribution centers. Located just north of the West Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, the distribution center employs about 320 people, according to figures kept by economic development officials.

But the retailer is clearly fighting to survive. As we reported in March, the annual report for the company — which also owns Sears — included language warning investors that the company may not be able to continue as a going concern.

The latest news is the company has had to increase the number of store closings. The company announced earlier this month that it was closing another 35 Kmart stores and eight Sears stores. That is in addition to about 250 locations it already had closed in 2017.

Thus far, though, the company hasn’t announced any changes to its distribution centers. Based on information I’ve seen from the company, Lawrence is one of six distribution centers for Kmart.

In a recent blog post from Eddie Lampert, president and CEO of Sears Holdings, which is Kmart’s parent company, said the company was on track to achieve its goal of $1.25 billion in cost savings. However, he also noted that “we have reached the point in the past 12 months where some of our vendors have reduced their support thereby placing additional pressure on our business.”

The stock of Sears Holdings, however, did receive a boost on Thursday, as the company announced a deal to begin selling its Kenmore appliance brand on Amazon. Maybe that will be the beginning of a streak of good things to come for the company. Or maybe it is a sign the company is about to surrender to the new retail king.

Either way, the stakes are big for Lawrence. In addition to the jobs, the distribution center along Kresge Road is one of the largest industrial buildings in the county, with about 1 million square feet of space.