New cheese shop opens in west Lawrence; home sales gain steam in April, but shortage of houses persists
I have news of cheese and also news of people buying new homes. And though it may sound like it, this isn’t a follow-up to the wild cheese party that ended up with Gouda in places that was no Gouda.
First, the cheese news. Look for a new store inside the Dillons at Sixth and Wakarusa. The longtime New York-based purveyor Murray’s Cheese has signed a deal with Dillons’ parent company to open cheese shops across the country. Lawrence has landed one of them.
The Murray’s Cheese shop at the Dillons at 4701 W. Sixth St. opened last weekend. According to information from Dillons, the cheese shop will stock more than 175 varieties of cheese, plus it will carry other items such as local honey and preserves, olives, crackers and charcuterie.
That is right, charcuterie. My, how far we have come in a short time. I honestly had never heard of the word before late 2013 when I wrote about plans for Hank Charcuterie to open at 19th and Massachusetts. I thought it was a critter that we may find the fellows on "Swamp People" chasing down. But now I have learned that charcuterie is French for “too expensive to serve to my friends.” (Don’t let that dissuade you, though. That’s more of a commentary on my friends than the prices.) In case you somehow don’t know what charcuterie is, it refers to sausages, pates and other specialty meat products that go well with cheeses and other appetizers.
To be honest, I also hadn’t heard much about Murray’s Cheese shop before, but that's mainly because I have tried to cut way down on the number of cheese conversations I have during the course of a day. According to Dillons, though, Murray’s is one of the more famous cheese shops in New York. It has been open since 1940, and has drawn large crowds to its original location in Greenwich Village.
The deal with Dillons calls for Murray’s to stock its most popular cheeses at Dillons. Looking at the store’s website, it appears varieties include: Parmigiano-Reggiano; English Cheddar; Irish Cheddar; Roquefort blue cheese; Havarti, Alpine style Grand Cru cheese; a variety of BellaVitano cheeses; marinated mozzarella; and more than a half dozen styles of Gouda, including smoked, aged, farmhouse, double cream and others. They even have a cheese platter called “Life is Gouda.” (Wait a minute. I thought I had the market cornered on Gouda puns.)
One other point to note about the new cheese shop: It encourages people to sample a different variety of cheese on each visit.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If I took Murray’s up on that offer, I may need to buy a house with wider doors. Maybe that is what is going on with other folks in town. Whatever the case, Lawrence home sales were up in the important month of April.
Home sales in Lawrence grew by 10.5 percent in April, compared with April 2015 totals, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. I’m sure that was a welcome site for Lawrence real estate agents because 2016 sales had started off a bit sluggish. During the first quarter of the year, sales were down by 1.1 percent.
But with April’s strong showing, homes sales are now up for the year. Through April, sales are up 3.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
The report, though, does provide reason for concern. The number of homes on the market in Lawrence continues to decline significantly. At the end of April, 250 homes were on the market, which is down from 346 in April 2015 and 429 in April 2014. Real estate agents believe a small supply of homes ultimately will lead to a reduction in sales and also an increase in home prices. At the moment, it is making for a seller’s market.
The result is homes are not sitting on the market for long. Thus far in 2016, the median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is 28. That’s down from 43 in 2015 and 60 in 2014.
“The pace of this market can be challenging for everyone,” said Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Other statistics from the recent report include:
— Sales of newly constructed homes were up slightly in April, totaling nine versus seven in April 2015. For the year, sales of newly constructed homes are up 37 percent, totaling 22.
— The median selling prices of homes this year is $167,565, up 5.4 percent from the same period a year ago.
— The total dollar value of homes sold in Lawrence thus far in 2016 is $61.1 million, up 6.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
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.
More LJWorld City Coverage
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.