Lawrence City Commission approves change that permanently allows retail, other shops the ability to sell alcohol

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The main entrance for Sunflower Cafe is on Eighth Street, just south of Massachusetts Street. But the cafe also has filed plans with the city for a sidewalk dining area on Massachusetts Street for the cafe.

City leaders have voted to permanently allow more types of businesses to sell alcohol as a secondary aspect of their overall sales.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-0, with Commissioner Jennifer Ananda absent, to adopt a code change that permanently allows businesses other than restaurants in the downtown and other commercial areas to have an accessory bar. Commissioners agreed that businesses, especially retail businesses downtown, needed additional options.

Mayor Brad Finkeldei said the city needed to do all it could to support retail not only in the downtown but across the city, and he could also see other types of businesses where the ability to serve alcohol could be a nice draw.

“It’s been allowed in other communities, so I think we are following with the times here and I think it’s a good change,” Finkeldei said.

The commission adopted a temporary resolution that allowed the secondary sale of alcohol in May 2020, following a request from Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop. The changes allowed the retail store to open a café that sells alcohol in addition to coffee and food, and Hughes told the commission Tuesday that in order to compete with online retailers like Amazon, the store needed to be able to offer a place to gather and an experience that Amazon could not.

“From our perspective, retail is getting tougher and tougher and tougher with every passing day, and we are looking for every tool in the toolbox to sell experiences to customers,” Hughes said.

Specifically, the changes will allow retailers and other businesses in downtown and other commercial areas in the city — such as art studios, neighborhood convenience stores and barbershops — to sell alcohol as long as alcohol sales are less than 45% of total sales. Under previous regulations, only restaurants and hotels could have accessory bars, and a provision regarding alcohol sales downtown required businesses to generate 55% or more of their sales from food. A city staff report states the change maintains the intent of the downtown rules, which are to prohibit additional bars from opening downtown beyond those that are already grandfathered in.

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