Auto repair shop moves near Warehouse Arts District; a reason for people to hope Old Navy will return to Lawrence

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

News owners have renovated an old bus barn building at Ninth and Delaware streets to house Slimmer's Automotive and future tenants.

An auto repair shop in an arts district makes a lot of sense. Anytime I’ve created art, critics have said they would love to drive a truck through it. A longtime Lawrence auto shop indeed has made a move off of 23rd Street and now finds itself down the street from art and other such culture.

Slimmer’s Automotive Services opened at Ninth and Delaware earlier this month. The shop may not technically be in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence — I’m not sure where the official boundary is — but it is basically across the street from the district. The art was somewhat appealing to the business’s new owners, but being just a few blocks from downtown was definitely a big deal.

“From the beginning, we wanted to be as close to downtown as possible,” said co-owner Richard Backus.

Backus and business partner Marcos Markoulatos purchased Slimmer’s from longtime owners Pat and Linda Slimmer earlier this year. The Slimmers had operated out of a building on the eastern edge of Lawrence on 23rd Street — just west of 23rd and O’Connell Road — since the late 1990s.

Being more centrally located was one reason the new owners were looking to move. Getting west Lawrence residents to drive downtown for car service is easier than getting them to drive to the eastern edge of town, the pair is betting. But the duo also have more selfish reasons. They both live in North Lawrence, and even though they are car guys, they don’t want to drive one to work every day.

“The appeal of being able to ride a bicycle to work is pretty strong,” Backus said, although he sometimes cheats and rides a 1973 BMW motorcycle.

Motorcycles are a big part of Backus’ past. Before this latest venture, he was an editor of a national motorcycle magazine. But before that, he worked for the Slimmers first as a “weekend warrior” mechanic and then as their general manager.

Markoulatos’ background is rooted in European auto repair. He previously worked for an area BMW dealership. Backus said the shop would continue to do work on all makes and models, but he thinks Markoulatos’ work at BMW will give the shop an advantage in properly servicing many European makes and models.

The new location also will give the shop more room to do so. The new location has nearly 2,000 additional square feet of shop space and has six auto lifts, compared with four at the old location.

“That was really the point of the expansion,” Backus said. “We want to try to expand our capacity in every aspect.”

The shop also helped transform a longtime building in the neighborhood. The building long had been known as the bus barn that used to house the transit buses of the now defunct Lawrence Bus Company, which used to provide service to the KU campus. New ownership of the building has completely revamped the building to make it look more modern and cleaner. Slimmer’s is occupying about two-thirds of the 10,000 square-foot building, while other tenants are expected to eventually occupy the rest.

As for the old location at 2030 E. 23rd St., the Slimmers still own that property, Backus said. They currently are looking to sell or lease it.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe there will be a day that Old Navy returns to Lawrence. I don’t have news of a specific plan for the clothing retailer, which used to have a store next to Kohl’s in south Lawrence. The out-of-state developers who are trying to win approval for a major shopping center at the intersection of U.S. Highway 59 and the South Lawrence Trafficway long have said Old Navy was a company that had expressed a strong interest in being at the center.

There has been some news this week that would indicate the developers are telling the truth about that. At an investor event on Thursday, Old Navy officials said they planned to about double the number of stores they are operating in the next several years, multiple national media outlets reported. That is going against the grain for most retailers, who have been closing brick and mortar stores.

Old Navy, though, is set to become its own publicly traded company as part of a spinoff from its parent company, Gap Inc. The leadership of the company has decided Old Navy customers like going to a store. While the company, of course, didn’t mention Lawrence, it did say some things that make it sound like Lawrence would be the type of community it is targeting. USA Today reported that the plan calls for the company to be located in under-served markets — such as markets that don’t have an Old Navy at all — and also would focus on being in developments other than shopping malls. In case you haven’t noticed, Lawrence doesn’t have a mall.

The company plans to open about 75 stores a year, according to the reports. Perhaps worth watching in Lawrence.


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