New downtown store opens with focus on selling locally produced goods; Warehouse Arts District hires promoter, moving ahead with second loft apartment project
Even if you are like me and know more about pizzas than Picassos and understand mimosas better than Monet, it is still hard to miss that there is a significant art trend underway in downtown Lawrence.
There’s the Warehouse Arts District that continues to form around the old Poehler grocery warehouse building in East Lawrence, the Final Fridays events seem to be growing larger downtown, the Lawrence Arts Center is in competition for some major grants, and the city recently formed a new “cultural district” to encompass downtown and the surrounding area in an effort to create a more comprehensive effort to showcase the arts. What folks may not be picking up on as much is that the private sector is getting in on the act, too. The latest example is Essential Goods, a new arts and crafts based stored at 15 E. Seventh St.
The store, which is in space above the Java Break, carries the work of local artists and craftsmen, said Molly Crook, an owner of the new shop. The work includes handmade sweaters, purses, local photography, a variety of jewelry, cards and prints, locally made candles and a line of natural body care products. About a third of the space is devoted to a studio that produces the body care products and candles.
The bulk of the store’s inventory, though, comes from other area artists — about 20 at this point — who sell their work on consignment. Crook said that is becoming a real trend in downtown, following on the success of the Massachusetts Street-based store Made, which also sells locally produced products.
“It has been neat,” Crook said. “Stores like Made have really opened up a portal. Before, everybody was just trying to do this online.”
Crook said it will be interesting to see how far the trend goes. Already she is noticing more traditional downtown retailers starting to carry locally produced goods as part of their inventories.
“I definitely think people are looking for more local and handmade works,” Crook said.
The new store currently is open Thursday through Saturday, but Crook said an expansion of hours is being considered.
As I mentioned above, the Warehouse Arts District near the area of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is continuing to make noise. The latest is it has hired a new full-time employee to promote the district.
Patti McCormick, who worked for several years as the main promoter for the local group that owns The Oread and The Eldridge hotels, has been hired by developer Tony Krsnich to promote the district.
McCormick said she is entering the job with the idea that the district has a chance to become a “national creative arts destination.” There already are several artists who have their studios in what is called the SeedCo Building, an old warehouse a bit south of the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection.
The district, though, will make its biggest splash in the coming weeks. McCormick said the Cider Gallery is scheduled to open by the end of the month in a building just west of the renovated Poehler Lofts building. The gallery, as we’ve previously reported, will be a sister gallery to the Kansas City-based Weinberger Fine Art Gallery. McCormick said the plan calls for the Lawrence gallery to feature “nationally recognized, emerging and museum quality artists.”
Also, as we’ve previously reported, Krsnich and his partners have a plan to build a new building to house apartment lofts on vacant ground just south of the Poehler building. The latest news on that project is that Krsnich has settled on a size and has submitted an application for low-income housing tax credits to the state. According to information provided to the city, Krsnich is planning on a 40-unit loft development, with 34 of the units being designated as low-income units that would have rent-controls placed upon them by the state.
City officials recently wrote a letter of support for the project to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which hands out the tax credits. It looks like the agency is expected to make a decision in May on what projects will be awarded credits.
Rebecca Buford, executive director of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, also confirmed to me today that Tenants to Homeowners will be a partner in the project. The organization will be the nonprofit partner that will allow the project to apply for $400,000 in state HOME funds and $400,000 in funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
Tenants to Homeowners main mission is to help people buy affordable housing in the city, but Buford said her organization has seen a need to increase affordable rental units in the city.
"There are plenty of apartments in Lawrence," Buford said. "That's not the problem. There is just a gap in affordability."
Once the project is built, the development group — not Tenants to Homeowners — will serve as the manager of the project, but Tenants to Homeowners will have an oversight role.
One last art item to get out of the system. If you are an actual artist who has a Lawrence-based project on your mind, there’s a grant program out there wanting to hear from you. But the deadline is quickly approaching. The deadline for the city of Lawrence’s Community Arts Grant program is 5 p.m. on March 25. The program uses city funds to provide grants of $500 to $2,000 for projects that “promote awareness and appreciation of the arts in Lawrence and encourages arts collaborations within the community.” Click here for an application.