From nuts and bolts to shoes and shirts, sporting apparel store opens in old downtown hardware spot
photo by: Chad Lawhorn
The walls at the old Ernst & Son Hardware store in downtown Lawrence were a lot like the Loch Ness monster: rumored to exist but rarely seen. Past customers of the mom-and-pop hardware store know what I mean. The old store was so packed with nuts, bolts, tools, wagon wheel parts — really, he had some — that you could see everything but the walls that were holding the roof up on the place.
But now the building, which had housed the hardware store since 1905, has new life. The sporting goods apparel retailer Jock’s Nitch has opened in the spot at 826 Massachusetts St.
Yes, the place looks a bit different.
“It is a lot more open than it used to be,” said Ryan Owens, general manager for the Lawrence Jock’s Nitch operations.
That might be a polite way of saying you can actually see the walls again. Several aspects of the old store, though, were gladly kept. The black-and-white tile entryway that spells out “Ernst Hardware” between the sidewalk and the front door remains. The old wooden ladders that were used to get stock from high shelves also are still in the store, and even the Ernst & Son name remains on the glass of the front door.
“The opportunity to move into a historic building like Ernst & Son was pretty appealing,” Owens said. “Everybody in town is familiar with that building. The cool thing is everything is pretty new and updated, fresh and clean in the building now, but we still have that historic downtown business feel.”
photo by: Chad Lawhorn
Jock’s Nitch also plans to follow one other Ernst & Son tradition: packing the building’s basement full of stuff. The basement level is where the hardware store was storing everything from wooden boxes dating back to the early 1900s to supplies for building a properly equipped barn. Jock’s Nitch plans to use the basement for something even cooler than a tricked-out barn: athletic shoes.
The store is an official Adidas dealer. Owens said the basement space won’t be open for the public but will be used for warehouse space. That will allow the store to stock a larger variety of Adidas shoes and sizes.
“We are going to have more Adidas shoes,” Owens said “We are going to have more high school gear, and obviously we are going to have a ton of KU apparel.”
The shop is an officially licensed partner with Kansas Athletics, and it also has its own printing capabilities. That means if the store’s staff — full of current and former Jayhawks — comes up with a fun new phrase or theme for a KU T-shirt, the store can have the shirts on the shelves in short order.
“It is a bunch of KU alumni making KU gear,” Owens said.
The store also makes a lot of gear for area high schools and even some universities. The shop prints graphics for the uniforms and other sportswear worn by a lot of area schools and even smaller club teams. The store plans to use the basement area for a lot of that work, which was spilling out onto the sales floor at the store’s old location. That will make for more room to carry a larger selection of shoes, shirts and other such goods on the showroom floor.
As for the store’s old location at 837 Massachusetts St., there had been some talk of keeping it open to serve as a second location for the company. The company, which is a small regional chain that got started in Pittsburg in the late 1970s, has had two stores in Lawrence at various times. But Owens said those plans have been scrapped. Instead the store at 837 Massachusetts St. will close. It is having sales this weekend and the following weekend to sell merchandise that hasn’t yet been moved to the new store.
Jock’s Nitch has been operating in Lawrence since the late 1980s and had been at the 837 Massachusetts location since the mid-1990s, Owens said.
“We have always been a good location and have always hesitated to move,” Owens said. “But we just felt like this made a lot of sense.”