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Dillons completes renovations at Sixth and Lawrence store; Wal-Mart begins work at South Iowa location

Surely this age we're living in will go down in the history books as . . . The Gilded Grocery Era. I will tell my grandkids how there used to be a day when you couldn't go into a grocery store and get fresh ground peanut butter, and they will laugh at me. (Maybe because of the peanut butter, or perhaps because by then I'll be an old man with eyebrows like hedge rows.)

But the point is, we're living in a great age to buy groceries. Nearly every place in Lawrence that sells groceries has undergone some type of significant renovation in the last several years. As we've reported several times over the last few months, the Dillons store at Sixth Street and Lawrence Avenue is the latest.

Dillons officials on Wednesday declared the renovation of the store complete, and held a well-attended ribbon cutting. The major structural change to the building was the addition of a drive-thru lane for the store's pharmacy. But there was more to the renovations than that. Dillons pulled building permits for $1.2 million worth of construction on the site, making it the 10th largest building project in the city, thus far, in 2013. Here's a look at other improvements at the store:

• A revamping of the natural and organic foods department, which is branded Nature's Market. It includes a new bulk foods section.

• Hand-made sushi

• New selections of gourmet cheeses and an olive bar. (My grandkids will laugh when I tell them I used to have to order gin to get an olive at a bar.)

• An expanded salad bar

• A new beverage center with expanded fountain drinks and coffee selections

• A new floral department

• New color schemes throughout the store, and new energy efficient lighting

Dillons is holding special events through Saturday to celebrate the renovations. The Sixth and Lawrence store will host a t-shirt sidewalk sale from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. On Friday and Saturday, pay attention here, the store will offer large amounts of food samples. So, while I'm uncertain what historians will call this age we're living in, I have no doubt what this weekend will be labeled at the Lawhorn household: The Toothpick Times. As in: Kids, any food with a toothpick stuck in it, grab it, because that's supper tonight. (Don't feel sorry for them. They love it, especially when we put on the fake mustaches and wigs to go through a second time.)

•••

What's better than writing about one retail renovation? Well, writing about two, of course. Bob Catlin, the store manager at the Walmart on South Iowa Street, confirmed to me renovations are underway for that store.

Catlin said perhaps the most noticeable interior improvements will be all new fixtures and cases for the store's produce department. The exterior of the store, however, also will get a new look. He said the entire exterior of the building will be repainted with a different color scheme, and new signs for the building and along the road are on the way. All the departments of the store will remain open during the renovations, which are expected to be complete sometime next month.

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    Pair of traffic calming projects — including a blue light at traffic signals — set for city

    We’ll see if talk of traffic calming produces a calming feeling for you on a Monday. I’ve got word of two projects in the works at Lawrence City Hall.

    • If you drive in the area behind the new Dillons store at 17th and Massachusetts streets, you may want to get a new set of shocks. Seven speed humps are coming to the neighborhood behind the store.

    As part of the store’s City Hall approval last year, Dillons officials agreed to provide $40,000 for traffic calming devices in the neighborhood just east of the store. City officials are now set to begin that project.

    Plans call for two speed humps on 17th Terrace between Barker and New Hampshire, and two more on 18th Street between Barker and New Hampshire. In addition, three speed humps are planned for New Hampshire Street, with all planned for the general area near 17th Terrace and 18th Street. Click here to see a map.

    The city will accept bids for the project on July 16. Work is expected to begin in late July. Project is expected to be completed by the end of August.

    • Red light, green light, yellow light. Blue light? I’m hearing talk around City Hall that Lawrence motorists may start seeing some blue lights at a couple of intersections in Lawrence.

    No, I don’t think this is a sign that Kmart is now sponsoring traffic control in the city. (Remember the Blue Light specials in the old Kmarts?) Instead, my understanding is that this is part of a pilot project that involves KU’s engineering school.

    I’m still waiting to get official details, but here’s what I’ve heard thus far: Crews, perhaps beginning today, will be installing a blue light on the top of traffic signal poles at 23rd and Iowa and 23rd and Louisiana. The blue light is meant to provide police officers another way to monitor whether motorists are a running a red light.

    The idea is that the blue light will be able to be seen from a 360 degree radius. Currently, the best way for a police officer to know whether a motorist has run a red light is to be behind the motorist, where the officer can see both the light and the vehicle. The blue light will come on the moment the traffic signal turns red. Since the blue light can be seen from almost anywhere, an officer can be anywhere near an intersection and monitor it for red light runners.

    I’m still a little short on details on the project, but when I hear more, I’ll let you know.

    UPDATE: My colleague Ian Cummings is now looking into this story for us. He is reporting that the installation of the lights indeed was scheduled for today, but some technical difficulties have postponed it. No word yet on when the installation may occur, but it might be a few days now.

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