The Merc plans major renovation at Ninth and Iowa; city wins grant for riverside trail; Color Run returning to downtown Lawrence
Fresh juice, fine coffee, surrounded by local produce: It sounds just like my daily breakfast because I’m almost certain mini-powdered doughnuts, Cap’n Crunch and Nutter Butters are all grown locally. Well, regardless, get ready for an upgrade in the world of coffee and juice establishments, as The Merc has plans for a new shop as part of a major renovation project.
The Merc is in the beginning stages of an approximately $500,000 renovation at its grocery at Ninth and Iowa streets. A new coffee and juice shop will be one of the more visible changes shoppers will notice. General Manager Rita York Hennecke says The Merc will be expanding the coffee and smoothie program and will be adding organic juices to the menu. Currently, the store’s espresso bar is kind of tucked away in a corner of the building. Hennecke said the location will change to a spot that is much more visible to shoppers.
“You won’t have to be in the know anymore to get your coffee,” she said.
Hennecke said the new coffee/juice bar also will have an expanded seating area, will offer an expanded line of baked goods from The Merc’s in-store bakery, and will put a greater emphasis on a quick-service menu.
“We want people to be able to stop by on their way to work and get a cup of coffee,” she said.
Other improvements in the renovation project include a new express check-out lane and a relocation and upgrade to the store’s customer service desk. The desk will be more visible and will be a great place to tout The Merc’s cooperative ownership structure, Hennecke said. The Merc has about 7,000 co-op members who are owners of the store, although you do not have to be an owner of the store to shop there.
Some renovations to the office area and receiving area also are on tap for phase I of the renovation. Work is expected to begin Sept. 29 and last through Nov. 11. The store will remain open throughout the renovation.
The store also is planning a phase II renovation that would begin one early 2015, pending approval of the co-op’s board of directors. That will include a new ceiling and new energy efficient lighting system for the grocery.
Hennecke said the renovations are a sign that The Merc recognizes it needs to continue investing in itself in order to thrive in what is becoming a much more competitive grocery market. Sprouts, a farmers' market-style grocer, is under construction near Wakarusa and Overland Drive in West Lawrence, and Natural Grocers on 23rd Street has come to the Lawrence market since The Merc’s last major renovation in 2007. Plus traditional grocery stores are expanding their health, organic and locally grown departments, which has long been the calling card of The Merc.
“We are preparing for increased competition,” Hennecke said. “We understand we have to step up our game in so many ways. We have started to do that with our pricing strategy, our sampling program, and now this renovation. We want to be strong. We don’t just want to survive competition.”
The timing of the renovation also is good in another way: The Merc is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, which is amazing. But not as amazing as the fact that apparently Nutter Butters aren’t grown anywhere. How can that be? They look like a giant peanut.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you eat enough Nutter Butters and Cap’n Crunch, I’ve found that you may want to take a bit of a walk before your midmorning nap. Soon, Lawrence residents will have a new trail to walk on. City Hall has been notified it has received a grant to build a new riverside trail that will connect Constant Park near Sixth and Tennessee streets with Burcham Park near Second and Indiana streets.
The Sunflower Foundation has provided a $53,460 grant. The city will provide an equal amount in matching funds to build the trail that will be a little more than a half-mile long. Its path will be along the banks of the Kansas River, which means Lawrence kind of will have a river walk adjacent to downtown Lawrence. (If you see me in a flat-bottom boat with my guitar and my big sombrero, you’ll know I’m likely just trying to re-create the San Antonio river walk scene.) There is a makeshift trail through the area now, but this one will be an improved trail that also won’t face the risk of washing away as the river rises.
The new trail will tie into the Outside for a Better Inside Trail, which is a hike and bike trail that goes around the large pond that is behind the former VFW property. That property has been donated to the city by the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. The property is being converted into the city’s newest park, the Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park. The Outside for a Better Inside Trail is complete. Once the riverside trail is complete, users basically will have a continuous path from about Lawrence Memorial Hospital to downtown.
• If your style of walking or running involves being sprayed with colored corn starch, you are in luck. The Color Run is making a return to downtown Lawrence. The event has filed for the necessary permits to run in the downtown area on Oct. 18. The Saturday race is expected to draw about 4,000 participants to downtown.
If you are not familiar with the event, which has been run in Lawrence since 2012, participants wear white clothing to start the race, then run through several color zones where people spray colored cornstarch on them.
The city is proposing that the event, since it is a for-profit operation, fully reimburse the city for any money it spends on staffing or cleaning up afterward. The city also is requiring the event to have volunteers available to direct traffic at each intersection affected by the race. That is designed to cut down on the number of police officers needed to staff the event.
As for the route, click here to see a map.
Large fitness center coming to East Lawrence; update on Rock Chalk Park fitness center, trail system
The Lawrence-based company that hosts Color Run events all over the country is opening a major new fitness center and health club in East Lawrence. But no, they won't be throwing paint on you while you work out. (While we're on that subject, could someone please tell my wife to put down the paintball gun while I'm on the treadmill.)
Plans are in the works to convert the old Zimmerman Steel building at 701 E. 19th St. into a fitness center that will have Crossfit training, circuit training, cycling classes and a sports performance department that will include former KU football running back Jake Sharp and KU football athletic trainer Murphy Grant as head trainers for the facility.
In total, the facility will have 9,000 square feet of indoor fitness center space, plus a 24,000-square-foot outdoor turf field that will host youth camps and other events. The site even will have room for a community garden, said Ryan Robinson, president of the Lawrence-based event and promotions company Silverback.
The new gym will carry the Silverback name, and the building also will serve as the corporate headquarters for the approximately 20 full-time employees who work as part of the event-promotions company.
"This just seemed like a natural fit for us," Robinson said. "Plus, the building is too neat not to do something really cool in here."
If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is about a block west of the 19th and Haskell intersection. Silverback recently has filed a request with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to have the property rezoned to commercial from its current light industrial status.
Silverback has made a name for itself in the sporting and event industry by serving as one of the top contractors for the immensely popular Color Run events, which are fun runs where participants run through a course and have a colored starch solution sprayed on them at various stations. The runs have become immensely popular. Last year's 5K Color Run in downtown Lawrence attracted more than 3,000 participants, and it's one of the smaller Color Run events nationally.
Robinson said his company produced 200 events across the world last year, with many of them being Color Run events, but also Ironman, marathons, obstacle course competitions, and another themed-race called The Electric Run. (Would somebody please tell my wife to put down the jumper cables.) In total, events hosted by Silverback attracted more than 1 million participants last year.
"Business has been great," Robinson said. "We had a record year last year, and we are doing even better now."
Silverback will continue with its event promotion business, but Robinson said the company was looking for a business venture that would allow the company to have a stronger presence in Lawrence. The company is going through the necessary approval process at City Hall, and hopes to have the fitness center open in September.
In the meantime, unfortunately, I guess my wife and I will have to continue with our fitness routines: Me running on the treadmill and her lifting case after case of paintballs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city of Lawrence also is ready to make a big purchase when it comes to fitness. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve $120,000 worth of cardio and fitness equipment for the new Rock Chalk Park recreation center, which is scheduled to open by September.
City staff members are recommending going with the same brand and style of fitness equipment that is used at the student recreation center at Kansas University. In terms of quantity, the order will include: five treadmills, three recumbent bikes, three upright bikes, five elliptical trainers, one upper body cycle, one stair climber, 12 strength/weight machines, and a variety of dumbbells and free weights with benches and weight racks.
• City commissioners also are scheduled to approve a master plan for the trail system at Rock Chalk Park. The plan calls for a little more than 5 miles of trails at the complex, which is just north and east of the Sixth Street and SLT interchange in west Lawrence.
About 3.3 miles of the trails will be constructed in the wooded area north and west of the recreation center. The scenic trails will allow for 5K runs and walks to be hosted on the site. Plans call for the trail to be built with crushed asphalt. When hosting running events at the site, the city plans to have the start/finish line in front of the recreation center. Near the recreation center, a gathering area — complete with fire pit — will be built to host runners and spectators.
In addition, about 2 miles of 10-foot-wide, concrete shared-use paths will be built on the property. Those paths will connect the recreation center to other facilities such as the track and field, softball and soccer venues on the site.
Click here to see a detailed plan, or look below for a quick glimpse. The yellow trails would be the crushed asphalt trails through the natural areas of the site. The blue and purple trails would be the 10-foot-wide concrete shared-use paths. The red asterisk is about where the 8-foot-by-8-foot fire pit would be located.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
There are times that you just don't have the energy to go get an energy drink at three o'clock in the morning. I assume you all have been there.
Well, now you can avoid those awkward trips into a convenience store while dressed in your Hulk Hogan pajama bottoms and My Little Pony sleeping caps. (I'm assuming again.) A former KU student turned entrepreneur has started a new business — dubbed Birdfeeder — that will deliver to your home almost any convenience store product.
"I have been to a lot of the Greek houses and passed out about 500 surveys," Birdfeeder owner Steven Fowler said. "Everybody said they could use a service like this. I think it also will be a good deal for the city too. It helps keep some people off the road that probably shouldn't be on it."
Birdfeeder is geared to students and the late-night crowd. For the moment, its delivery area is between Massachusetts and Iowa and Ninth and 19th streets. Hours are 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Customers place an order by calling, texting or tweeting. His info is available on the BirdfeederLLC Facebook page.
Fowler has a menu of products that he offers for sale, ranging from medicine to candy. He buys everything wholesale and sells it retail, and hopes to make money on tips as well.
As for the types of products expected to be popular, he cited sodas, energy drinks and other products that kids these days use to make cocktails.
"I don't know how many times we've gone to the liquor store and forgotten to buy something to mix it with," Fowler said.
Alcohol, however, won't be one of the products he delivers. That's illegal in the state.
Snacks, over-the-counter medicines and ice cream also are expected to be big sellers. But when I asked him what he thought would be the biggest seller, near the top of the list was certain bathroom products and a particular family planning product. I can honestly say I don't know what you tip for those.
Fowler said he decided to start the business after he got tired of paying for student loans, and realized that the only reason he was in college was because he wanted to learn how to start a business. He said delivery services are starting to take off in Denver and Chicago, and a friend of his is having good luck with one in the Westport area of Kansas City.
Fowler said he has plans at some point to expand the business to deliver food from restaurants that currently don't have a delivery service.
Sounds like a plan, as long as he doesn't get his orders mixed up.
Elsewhere around town...
• I'm working to get more information about an expansion of jobs in town. The Results Company, a customer call center that is located on the ground floor of the former Riverfront Mall in downtown, has a significant workforce expansion planned. A company official confirmed some new hiring is going on, but directed me to other officials. According to folks at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, about 175 new call center positions will be created at the company. As we previously reported, the Florida-based company set up shop in the former Affinitas call center space last fall.
• Speaking of calls, you may want to call ahead before you go downtown over the next several weeks. Otherwise you may find yourself surrounded by a hoard of runners. City commissioners are being asked to approve two upcoming races that will have significant impacts on downtown traffic.
Perhaps you remember The Color Run from last year, when several thousand runners descended on downtown for the fun of having volunteers throw colored corn starch on them while they ran through the streets of Lawrence. That event is set to come back to the city Sept. 14. That will cause several streets on that Saturday morning to be closed from about 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Here's a map of the route.
Last year, city officials also weren't too thrilled with how the clean-up process was handled by the run's volunteers. This year, staff members are recommending the company place a $20,000 deposit with the city that only will be refunded once the area is cleaned to the city's satisfaction. This year, the event also happens on the same day that Bike MS event, which attracts several thousand bicyclists, will be happening downtown. That will be one busy day in downtown Lawrence.
A second proposed race adds a new twist for downtown. The Glow Run is set for Oct. 12 and is expected to draw up to 3,000 racers who will run through downtown and East Lawrence wearing glow sticks and "lighted clothing." Here's a map for that event. As you might have guessed, the event will take place in the evening, which is new for downtown races. That means that on this particular Saturday night, the portion of Massachusetts Street that runs through South Park would be closed from 2 p.m. to about 11:30 p.m. Commissioners have allowed that stretch of Massachusetts Street to be closed before for various events, but I'm not sure they've ever allowed it to be closed on a Saturday night. Commissioners will consider both events at their 6:35 p.m. Tuesday evening meeting.
National boutique Francesca’s Collections coming to downtown; nearly 3,000 runners slated to participate in Saturday’s Ugly Sweater Run; organizers planning to bring Color Run back for 2013
News and notes from around town:
• It appears another growing, national specialty retailer is targeting downtown Lawrence.
It looks like Francesca’s Collections is preparing to move into the long vacant space at 742 Massachusetts St. If you are having a hard time picturing that spot, it is just north of Teller’s restaurant.
I haven’t gotten confirmation from the company about the deal, but the retailer has filed for a sign permit at Lawrence City Hall. That’s usually a pretty good indication a deal has been sealed.
At first I was very excited about this news, but that was mainly because I misread the permit. I thought it was Fraschilla’s Collections, as in Fran Fraschilla, former St. John’s University basketball coach and current ESPN college basketball commentator. Just think of the wonders that man’s collections would include: Super industrial strength ear plugs to block out Dick Vitale, as well as tips on how to stay on Bob Knight’s good side. (Tip No. 1: Never meet Bob Knight.)
But no, this is Francesca’s Collections. I don’t know who Francesca is, but I’m sure there will be plenty of people excited about her entry into Lawrence. According to its Web site, the retailer is a traditional type of boutique that offers women’s clothing, bags, shoes, jewelry and a few gift items.
The company has at least four locations in the Kansas City metro area, including at Oak Park Mall, Town Center Plaza, and Country Club Plaza.
The deal continues a recent trend of growing national or regional retailers targeting downtown. Off the top of my head, there have been White House Black Market, Ten Thousand Villages, and if you remember, we reported last month a store called Earthbound Trading Company is coming to downtown, although we haven’t yet seen official word of which spot they will be taking.
• I don’t know if Francesca’s plans to sell ugly holiday sweaters, but you’ll have a chance to see plenty in downtown this weekend.
As we previously reported, an event called The Ugly Sweater Run is coming to downtown Lawrence. But we now have more details about the run. It is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday with the start/finish and celebration area slated for Watson Park. City officials believe the 2 p.m. start time will ensure all the horses from the Downtown Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade — which starts at 11 a.m. — will be cleared from the area. (Although it would be interesting to see how a 1,000-pound-plus draft horse reacts to a man in a lime green sweater adorned with candy canes, snow flakes and phrases that involve “ho, ho, ho.”)
But the big news is just how many people want to come to downtown Lawrence and run a race wearing an ugly sweater. Bob Sanner with the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau said 2,200 runners already have signed up for the event, and a favorable weather forecast has organizers hopeful the event will hit the 3,000 mark.
If this crazy event sounds a bit like the oddity that was The Color Run in September — an event in which runners wore white shirts and then got sprayed with colored corn starch — you are correct.
The same company that organized The Color Run is organizing the The Ugly Sweater Run, which also will be happening in nine other cities across the country.
Evidently the company thinks Lawrence is a good running community or else it has figured out that if you offer to sell beer outside afterward, locals will come to about any event. (Samuel Adams is the event sponsor of the Ugly Sweater Run, if that tells you anything about the post race celebration planned for Watson Park.)
Sanner confirmed race organizers are planning to bring The Color Run back to Lawrence in 2013. Organizers tentatively have set the date for Sept. 14. This year’s Color Run race drew about 7,000 runners to downtown.