Downtown convenience store set to close; where Kansas ranks on list of states most likely to lose college graduates
There soon will be one less convenience in downtown Lawrence. No, you can still get a cup of coffee every 12 feet, and if you like a beverage that is colder with more suds, that’s available about every six feet. But if you are just looking for a bag of chips or a pack of gum, the idea of a downtown convenience store has taken a hit.
The Sandbar sub shop and convenience store is closing its location at Eighth and New Hampshire streets perhaps as early as next week, owner and operator Peach Madl said. Sandbar recently became the food vendor for several facilities of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, including the sports pavilion at Rock Chalk Park and the indoor aquatic center. Madl said that contract is keeping her crew plenty busy, and she’s decided to close the downtown store.
The decision means one less sandwich shop in downtown, but more significantly it marks the end of an interesting experiment in downtown. The business was meant to serve as a downtown convenience store where you could pick up items like candy, corn nuts, aspirin, corn nuts, chips, bottles of pop, corn nuts, beef jerky and, of course, corn nuts.
“The convenience store concept has not been a strong point of the business,” Madl said.
The idea had some fanfare when it opened. A convenience store was touted as the type of business that would be useful in an area that is trying to add more living units. But, for whatever reason, the idea did not take off with residents and others. Madl speculated that the business may have come just a bit too early in the development of downtown as a living area. Or, it may be that the concept wasn’t quite right, she said.
“Downtown might be a little more upscale than we are,” Madl said.
Sandbar shares space with the downtown location of Peoples Bank. The bank will remain in the building, Madl said. Sandbar actually has the lease for the entire building, and Madl said a search for a tenant to fill the Sandbar portion of the building has begun.
It also is worth noting that the idea of corn nuts at 10 a.m. is not entirely dead in downtown. Just a couple of doors down from Sandbar’s location at Eighth and New Hampshire is Tobacco Bazaar, 14 E. Eighth Street. It primarily is a tobacco shop, but it also is marketing itself as a small convenience store. It has chips, drinks, frozen sandwiches, some basic medicines and even some dairy products. Owner Raju Ahmed said the majority of his business still comes from the tobacco side of the business, but said he still is optimistic about the convenience store concept.
“It is growing a little bit,” Ahmed said. “We have a loyal group of customers, mainly people who work in downtown.”
As for Sandbar, it will continue to operate its sandwich shop inside the Zarco convenience store on 23rd Street, Madl said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know if corn nut availability has anything to do with it, but Kansas isn’t doing a very good job of keeping or attracting young college graduates. At least that was the upshot of a recent article in The New York Times. You can read the full article, but the most interesting part was the map that is below.
It shows from 2000 to 2015 which states have seen a net increase in college graduates under the age of 40 and which states have seen a decline. Kansas is in the category that has declined, which fits with what we have generally been hearing about the “brain drain” over the years.
But I thought I would pass along this graphic because it is interesting to see how we stack up with others. We are performing better than places like the Dakotas and Iowa. We are performing worse than almost any state along a coast. But what is surprising is that we are performing worse than state’s like Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wyoming.
What does Oklahoma have that we don’t?
Here’s a tip for you: Make sure your stock portfolio includes plenty of exposure to cheap snack food and elastic waist bands. I may be providing a serious boost to both products.
There are at least two efforts underway to bring a full-fledged convenience store — minus the gasoline — to downtown Lawrence.
The largest effort comes from Scott Zaremba, an owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco convenience store chain. As we reported last week, Zaremba and his partners are opening up a Sandbar Sub shop at 745 New Hampshire, the former spot of the Mirth Cafe.
But Zaremba has confirmed to me it will be much more than a sandwich shop. Zaremba plans to use the approximately 3,500 square foot space to create what he calls a “24-hour destination for downtown.” There will be restaurant food — the sub sandwiches and the Sandbar’s hot breakfast menu will lead the way — but there also will be all the items you would expect to find at a Zarco convenience store. That means fountain drinks, basic grocery items, bottles of Advil (not that you would ever need one of those at work), and . . . well, this is going to get really long if I list everything a convenience store sells.
It won’t be the full-fledged grocery store that many downtown leaders have been clamoring for, but it seems like it will be a significant step in that direction. Zaremba said he sees a need to provide convenience items to the growing number of people who are living downtown. Plus, he said he thinks the large number of office workers in downtown will appreciate the store too.
“Really, where can you go downtown and just get a fountain drink and get in and out without standing in a large food line?” Zaremba said.
Another feature not often found in downtown: The store will be open 24 hours a day. Zaremba said he hopes to have the business up and running before Aug. 10. That’s the date of the anniversary party for The Sandbar — the downtown tavern, not the sub shop. Longtime Sandbar leader Peach Madl is a partner in the Sandbar Sub Shop chain.
Last week we also reported that Peoples Bank was going to have a presence at the location. I haven’t yet had heard back from Peoples officials, but Zaremba confirmed the bank will have a quick service banking operation inside the Sandbar business, which Zaremba said he will brand as Sandbar World Headquarters.
But I mentioned there are two efforts underway to bring convenience items to downtown. The other one is smaller but already underway. Tobacco Bazaar has moved from its location at 19th and Massachusetts to 14 E. Eighth Street in downtown. In addition to selling all sorts of cigarette, tobacco and pipe items, the store also sells an assortment of convenience items. That includes candy, sodas and energy drinks, batteries, and — wait for it — beef jerky. To top it off, the business is setting up a chip section too.
Beef jerky and Doritos in one location, and just steps away from my office: Perhaps now you understand why I’m in the market for an elastic waistband.
In case you're trying to picture where 14 E. Eighth Street is in downtown, it's basically right around the corner from the old Mirth Cafe location. So, these two businesses will be neighbors. It will be interesting to watch how that plays out.
Tobacco Bazaar currently is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on most days, except it is open to 11 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
There is one question unanswered about the two businesses: Will either have slushies? My waistband was afraid to ask.