A 23rd Street restaurant is closing; a new tenant for former Montana Mike’s on Iowa
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
Not even a potbelly stove was enough to stave off a cool-down in business along what used to be one of Lawrence’s busiest commercial corridors. In other words, there is news of another business closing along 23rd Street: Potbelly Sandwich Shop.
The general manager of the restaurant at 1618 W. 23rd St. confirmed to me that today is the last day of business for the Lawrence Potbelly location. It is open until 5 p.m. today, if you want to get one last taste of its fare, which includes a variety of toasted sandwiches and a dessert menu that includes hand-dipped shakes with the novelty of straws that have tiny, round cookies on them. (Why bother putting a person on Mars when we have that type of ingenuity already on Earth?)
Ryan Diaz, general manager of the Lawrence location, said a decline in sales and increased competition in the sandwich market both played a role in the decision to close the store, which had been open for about three years.
Diaz said part of the sales decline was attributable to major changes in traffic on 23rd Street. As we’ve noted, traffic volumes are down on the street after the east leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway opened in late 2016.
“Big time,” Diaz said when asked if the store had noticed a decline in traffic. “It just killed it.”
To be fair, that was part of the point of the SLT. Local leaders spent more than two decades arguing for it because they said it would reduce traffic congestion on 23rd Street. Some opponents said the SLT actually was too far south to create any meaningful reduction in traffic on 23rd Street. While 23rd Street is far from empty, traffic patterns have clearly changed for a lot of motorists. Watching how businesses adapt to the changes over the next couple of years will be important.
As for Potbelly, which gets its name from its use of a potbelly stove in its decor, the chain still has six shops in the Kansas City area that will remain open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some of you may be thinking Lawrence is getting a new restaurant on Iowa Street, where Montana Mike’s used to be at 1015 Iowa St. That, however, is not in the cards.
Remodeling work has begun on the building, but my understanding is that it will be for a medical office building. A group that includes Lawrence investor Rodger Henry has purchased the building and is converting it into a medical use. It is a similar type of project to what is happening with the former Eagles Lodge building off Sixth Street, which is being converted into a new medical office for Panda Pediatrics. I’ll get you more specific details on the medical user for the Montana Mike’s building (I think it is an optometrist) and pass it along in the near future.
It is an interesting project because it seems to be another sign that restaurant activity in Lawrence isn’t what it used to be. It is the second large restaurant building that has undergone redevelopment recently. The other one is the former Applebee’s at Sixth and Monterey Way in west Lawrence. If you remember, that building was torn down to make way for a new tunnel car wash business. Plus, you have some buildings like the former Steak ‘n Shake near the entrance to Target on 31st Street that continue to sit empty after a couple of years. Restaurants simply aren’t biting on that location, which still has pretty high traffic counts. One that is not yet in that category but is worth watching is the former Longhorn Steakhouse building at 3050 Iowa St. It has been closed only since July, but thus far has not attracted a new tenant. Surely that high profile spot will get filled. If not, that would be a significant sign that the dining scene is experiencing some heartburn.