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After closing south Iowa store, Payless says it will open new store in west Lawrence

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My 15-year old son constantly reminds me I don’t know anything about shoes. Apparently a quality shoe no longer needs five pounds of cowhide leather, rappers have replaced basketball players as experts in shoe technology, and it is a prudent “investment” to take out a home equity loan to buy a couple pairs from Adidas or Nike. But I do know this about shoes: The struggling retail chain Payless ShoeSource plans to return to the Lawrence market.

No, that probably won't make me any hipper with my son. (Using the word "hipper" also doesn't help.)

In case you have forgotten, Payless quickly closed its lone Lawrence store at 3231 Iowa St. in late December. We have since reported that closure was to make way for a new tenant, the mattress retailer Sleep Number.

At the time, store employees said they believed Payless would reopen in another location, but you couldn’t help but be dubious about that claim. Since 2016, the company — which is based in Topeka — has closed about 900 stores, and is less than a year removed from bankruptcy.

But it does now appear that Payless will open a new store in Lawrence. A company spokeswoman has confirmed the company plans to open a store in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. It hopes to open during the first week of May.

The area of Bob Billings and Wakarusa isn’t exactly the spot you think of for chain retailers to locate in Lawrence. South Iowa or Sixth Street are the more common locations. But I’ve also heard speculation that the new Payless store will be testing a new concept for the retailer. That might be part of the site selection decision. A spokeswoman, though, didn’t give me any information on whether this new store was slated to be a concept store for the company.

“The new location has access to nearly 20,000 cars per day on Wakarusa Drive and provides a convenient shopping experience with easy access to the store,” Sally Burk, vice president of human resources for Payless, told me via email.

The shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive may house a Payless shoe store.

The shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive may house a Payless shoe store. by Chad Lawhorn

She also noted that Payless wasn’t looking to close its south Iowa Street store, but had to do so because the landlord wanted to put a new tenant in the space. She said Payless was eager to get back in the Lawrence market, where it has had a store for decades. The south Iowa store had been open since 1997.

I’m not sure exactly where Payless will locate at the intersection. The main retail shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa is the one on the southeast corner of the intersection. It is the one that houses Jefferson’s West, Pawsh Wash, Keys of Joy and several other businesses. While the shopping center has several restaurants and service providers, it doesn’t really have a true retailer with a store that you shop and browse. So, Payless would be something new for the center.

I drove through the center today and didn’t see any obvious signs of a pending shoe store (such as Kanye West hanging around outside). I’ll let you know if I hear more.

The bigger picture, however, probably involves watching the future of Payless as a company. Because its corporate headquarters is located in eastern Topeka, there are a fair number of corporate employees who live in Lawrence.

Reportedly, the company is seeking to sell its Topeka headquarters, and the company has said it is evaluating its corporate structure. That evaluation involved laying off about 170 employees in November.

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