Apparel retailer signs deal to locate in former Ernst & Son Hardware building

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The sports apparel retailer Jock's Nitch plans to open a new downtown location in the former Ernst & Son Hardware building. Plans call for the store to be open by the end of summer.

The basement of the Ernst & Son Hardware building in downtown long had the reputation as a massive storage vault, housing everything from covered wagon parts to things that weren’t even useful anymore. Well, that big storage space has helped seal a deal for new retail life at the building.

The sports apparel store Jock’s Nitch has signed a deal to move into the space at 826 Massachusetts St. later this summer. And officials with the retailer are excited about the basement space. They plan to fill it with shoes and lots of other gear from Adidas.

“We haven’t come close to carrying the amount of shoes and sportswear that we want to have,” said Ryan Owens, general manager of the Lawrence location of Jock’s Nitch. “In the long run, this will be a lot better for customers.”

Jock’s Nitch doesn’t plan on using the basement space for a retail area, but rather, it will be storage space that will allow it to expand its inventory. It is space the company just doesn’t have at its current location at 837 Massachusetts St., which is basically just across the street from the Ernst building.

Owens said officials with Jock’s Nitch, which is a small regional chain that got started in Pittsburg in the late 1970s, aren’t sure whether they will move out of its existing building on Massachusetts or try to operate two stores, which is something the company has done in the past in Lawrence.

The Ernst space does provide a slightly larger retail showroom on the main floor of the building than the existing store. But Owens said the company is still deciding how large of an Adidas showroom it wants to have at the new location.

Jock’s Nitch has a special relationship with Adidas, as it provides the service for a number of Adidas accounts the sportswear giant has with area high schools. Much like Adidas has an apparel sponsorship with Kansas Athletics, the company also has apparel deals with multiple high school athletic programs in the area, including Lawrence public schools, Eudora and Perry-Lecompton. (At this point, area athletic directors have swallowed their whistles over that statement. They may point out that there are a few million dollars difference between what the high schools and KU receive.)

But, as part of the deals, the school districts do get a portion of qualified Adidas sales made at Jock’s Nitch, and Jock’s Nitch also offers large discounts on certain Adidas items on individual purchases made by athletes and students from the schools.

“We really want to have a full Adidas section,” Owens said.

In addition, the store plans to continue carrying a large line of KU-branded gear. Jock’s Nitch has a licensing agreement with KU, which allows the retailer to produce its own KU-themed T-shirts and other merchandise.

“We will still carry a ton of really cool KU stuff,” Owens said.

Owens said he expects some remodeling on the building to begin in the early summer, with a goal of being open by August.

The deal will put to rest questions about what will happen to one of the longer serving retail buildings in downtown. Ernst & Son Hardware had operated out of the space for 113 years. Then, proprietor Rod Ernst died in January 2018, and the family closed the business for good in June after failing to find someone to take it over.

The family, though, will continue to own the building.


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