Signs that a large chain fabric store is coming to town; Kansas community has best Main Street in USA, and it is not Lawrence

There’s a lot I don’t understand about fabric or sewing. I have no idea why a stitch in time saves nine or how the heck the needle got in the haystack. And don’t even get me started about why the only thing my wife will sew me is a ski mask. Regardless, I do have speculation to share about a new chain fabric store coming to town.

When I reported in April that Hancock Fabric would be closing its Lawrence store near 27th and Iowa streets, I told you I would pass along any information about a possible replacement for the fabric and sewing store. Well, I still haven’t heard any official word on a replacement for the store, but the folks at Hancock Fabrics are telling customers that the large chain of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores is coming to the Lawrence market.

When I inquired at the Hancock store, an employee there freely told me that Jo-Ann has told store employees that the company has made a decision to locate in Lawrence, but hasn’t yet finalized a specific location for the store. The employee told me the company has said Hancock’s current location in the shopping center at the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets is a strong possibility, but the store site may not be as large as Jo-Ann would like.

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I put a call into a spokeswoman with Jo-Ann’s corporate headquarters but have not yet heard back. So, at the moment, this should be categorized as unconfirmed but widely circulating speculation. There could be any number of reasons that Jo-Ann wants the community to believe it will be locating in Lawrence, but it also would make sense that the retailer plans to come to town.

The Ohio-based chain describes itself as the “largest specialty retailer of fabrics and crafts.” It has about 850 stores in 49 states, and already operates in the Topeka and Kansas City markets. If Jo-Ann does come to Lawrence, it may end up being a larger store than what Hancock offered. Company data on several business websites reported that the small-format stores for Jo-Ann average about 15,000 square feet, and its large format stores are closer to 35,000 square feet. Hancock averaged about 13,000 square feet, and I’m not sure the Lawrence store checks in with that much space.

According to its website, Jo-Ann stores seem to have an inventory that stretches quite a bit beyond sewing and fabrics. The site lists scrapbooking supplies, painting supplies, jewelry making items, baking accessories and several other categories.

As for Hancock Fabrics, the Lawrence store is still open. Store employees said they haven’t been given a date for the store to close, but they expect it to be soon. A message on the store’s phone estimated the store would close in mid-July. Inventory is now being reduced by 50 percent to 80 percent, according to the message.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe the light poles in downtown Emporia are made of Twinkies. Emporia is the home of the Twinkie production plant — “Twinkie Town” would be a good moniker — so perhaps that is what is garnering downtown Emporia national attention these days. Whatever the case, a USA Today publication has named downtown Emporia as the “Best Main Street in the USA.”

The USA Today site chose Emporia as one of 20 finalists, and then the website conducted four weeks of voting among readers of the website to determine the winner. The award was announced a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve had a few Lawrence readers bring it to my attention recently because they were miffed that Lawrence didn’t make the list. One important note is that Lawrence folks never had the chance to vote for our Massachusetts Street because it didn’t make the list of 20 finalists this year. The website asked two experts — one from the National Main Street Center and another from the American Planning Association — to compile the list of 20 finalists. For whatever reason, Lawrence didn’t make the list this year.

Take comfort, though. Lawrence’s downtown has won many awards, sometimes from these same organizations. In 2010, downtown Lawrence was named one of the 10 best streets in the nation by the American Planning Association.

As for Emporia, it is only about an hour-and-a-half drive, so you can check out that downtown for yourself. The website touts how Commercial Street in Emporia is home to an old Granada Theatre that hosts concerts and events and how the downtown has become a gathering place for large events like the Dirty Kanza Bicycle Race.

In case you are wondering, here’s the complete top 10:

No. 1: Emporia

No. 2: Howell, Mich.

No. 3: McMinnville, Ore.

No. 4: Staunton, Va.

No. 5: Ogden, Utah

No. 6: Franklin, Tenn.

No. 7: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

No. 8: Eureka Springs, Ark.

No. 9. Bath, Maine

No. 10: Georgetown, Texas