Discount tool retailer plans to open store on 23rd Street
I frequently speculate about tools. (Surely these wire cutters are insulated against electrical shocks.) Well, I actually can report on some tool speculation that has turned out better. Over the past couple of months, I’ve speculated that the tool retailer Harbor Freight was coming to Lawrence, based on some job listings, and I’ve speculated it would be going into a portion of the old Hobby Lobby building.
No need to speculate any longer. Work has begun on the old Hobby Lobby building at 23rd and Ousdahl, and indeed crews have hung a sign saying it is the future home of Harbor Freight. It looks like the retailer is going to occupy about the western third of the large building.
If you are aren’t familiar with Harbor Freight, you’ve probably never uttered the sentence: “I’ll bet this jack can support this ceiling beam.” Shortly after that sentence, you normally need a new jack and a new insurance agent. Harbor Freight can set you up with one of those two things.
The company is a discount tool retailer with locations across the country. It has about 850 stores, with the closest in Topeka and the Kansas City metro area. It sells power tools, hand tools, woodworking tools, mechanic tools, lawn and garden tools, safety gear and quite a bit more.
The store definitely is in the discount market with lots of coupons and discount brands. In some ways, it is a more tool-centric version of the old Bargain Depot that used to operate near 23rd and Harper. Speaking of empty buildings along 23rd Street, that is one. Once the discount tile store moved out, there hasn’t been a new tenant in the space.
It will be interesting to watch whether Harbor Freight is the first of several new retailers to occupy the old Hobby Lobby space. Lawrence has had some luck in converting large, old-line retail store buildings into newer spaces that house smaller retailers. Most recently, the old JC Penney building on south Iowa Street was converted to house the new Hobby Lobby, a Home Goods store, and Five Below discount retailer. The former Sears store at 27th and Iowa streets has turned into a Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty, Pet Smart, Boot Barn and Chick-fil-A location.
Wichita-based Walter Morris Companies, which does a fair amount of retail development, is marketing the rest of the Hobby Lobby property. I’ve got a call into the firm for any more information about what they hope to do at the site.
It would be a boon for the retail market if that building attracts two to three more stores to town. We’ll see what the prospects are for that. The other centers that have successfully redeveloped have been on busy south Iowa Street. There has been a little more of a question of what will happen to 23rd Street properties. The former Hastings property at 23rd and Iowa streets has been sitting empty since late 2016, except for an occasional pop up store. But that property may not be the best indicator of the market. As I’ve reported, the whole shopping center was bought by a group led by billionaire Columbia, Mo., investor Stan Kroenke. It is not clear what Kroenke — who owns the L.A. Rams, the Denver Nuggets and a whole lot else — really wants to do with the property.
I’ll let you know if I hear more.