Lawrence City Commission to consider allowing retail, other shops the ability to sell alcohol

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

City leaders will soon decide whether to make the rules for what types of businesses can sell alcohol more flexible, at least temporarily.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider several changes to city development code that would allow more businesses in the downtown and other commercial areas the ability to sell alcohol, though only as a secondary aspect of their business. Specifically, the changes would allow retail and other commercial shops in the downtown, not just restaurants, to sell alcohol as long as alcohol sales were less than 45% of total sales, among other changes.

The changes would initially be made on a temporary basis, in effect until the end of June 2021, and would allow the city to study of the effects of the changes and determine whether they should be made permanent, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The potential code changes arose from a request by Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, and city staff is recommending the commission approve the changes in light of the changing retail market and to allow businesses more flexibility as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the Journal-World reported, Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop has filed plans with City Hall to add a coffee bar to the operations of its downtown store, but ownership hopes to go beyond that. In a letter to the city manager and the commission, Dan Hughes, an owner of the store, said he envisioned the cafe as a community gathering place and that he would also like to be able to sell beer, wine and cocktails. Hughes said he thought the code change aligned with aspects of the upcoming Downtown Master Plan — which is still being developed — that envision a shift to more experienced-based businesses.

“…Now is the time for all of Lawrence to reimagine what Downtown could and should be, while providing those with a specific vision the tools they need to prosper and enhance the crown jewel of our community,” Hughes wrote.

According to the memo, the proposed changes to the code for the downtown commercial district are still in line with the original intent of the code provision, which was to disallow new establishments from being predominantly focused on alcohol sales. Currently, land development code and the associated sidewalk dining code regulations only allow alcohol sales in the Downtown Commercial District if the business derives more than 55% of its total sales from food. The proposed resolution would allow alcohol sales as long as a business does not derive more than 45% of its total sales from alcohol. The changes would also allow greater flexibility for alcohol sales in other commercial areas, allowing accessory bars in businesses other than restaurants.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. wrote a letter to the commission in support of the proposed changes. DLI Executive Director Sally Zogry said that in the unprecedented economic crisis, DLI supports its members and all downtown businesses in creating a flexible and dynamic business environment.

“Creating experiential-based retail opportunities, including expanded sales for food and beverage, appears inevitable and necessary for many downtown businesses,” Zogry wrote.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. is also discussing other potential changes to help downtown businesses respond to the pandemic and “re-vision how downtown spaces can be used,” as the Journal-World recently reported. Those potential changes, which are not part of Tuesday’s meeting agenda, include a more flexible city permitting process for sidewalk dining and the ability for dining or other business to expand into parking stalls or the street.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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