A look at what’s open and what’s not on historic day in Lawrence

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The parking lot of Pine Ridge Plaza, the largest shopping center in Lawrence, is shown midday on March 24, 2020, the first day that Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health issued a stay-at-home order.

As the old saying goes, “curiosity kills the cat.” I know many of you are curious about what was open and what was closed on this unique day in Lawrence history when health officials told people to stay home unless they had some essential reason to be out.

But don’t be a cat. Driving around to satisfy your curiosity is not what health officials want you to do. Besides, I’ve already done it for you so that you don’t have to. Yes, I do work for a business that is allowed to continue operating under the order and, yes, I practiced social distancing. (I always practice social distancing in the F-150 because it takes too long to get rid of the piles of junk on the passenger’s seat.) Seriously, I practiced social distancing.

Here’s a look at what I found, with the caveat that most of this was done just by reading signs on businesses. I didn’t go into many to confirm details. Also, just because I note a business is closed now doesn’t mean it waited until Tuesday to close. I’m sure some closed days ago. Plus, know that this is just a sampling. I can’t look at every business in town. I also am not judging any of them. Everybody can decide for themselves whether a business should be open or closed. I’m just reporting the scene from what surely was one of the odder days in Lawrence history.

Overall activity:

It is not a ghost town by any means, but traffic is noticeably lighter. I pulled out of one parking lot on Iowa Street just before noon and shot the F-150 across four lanes of traffic to the parking lot on the other side without ever having to hit my brakes. In other words, big gaps in traffic. But, if you think you would be the only car on the street, it is far from that. But Lawrence, to me, felt at least half the size that it normally does.

Grocery stores and pharmacies:

As you would expect, I didn’t find any instances of those types of businesses being closed. Looking in from the outside, I also didn’t see evidence that those businesses were getting swamped with people perhaps hoarding supplies. The parking lots were far from empty, though. Here’s a look at the Dillons parking lot near Sixth and Wakarusa at about 10 a.m.

There may be an issue developing at grocery stores, though. We are checking on reports that the stores are getting backed up in filling online customer orders. We’ll let you know if we find information on that front.

Close-contact businesses:

Think barber shops, nail salons, massage businesses and other places that require an employee to be pretty close to a customer. I didn’t find any examples of those businesses open. Those are ones that the health department had basically called out by name to close, and it looks like they paid heed.

Fitness centers:

The same goes for fitness centers and gyms. I went by several, both big and small. Genesis West was closed, Body Boutique at Ninth and Iowa was closed, Crunch Fitness at 23rd and Iowa was closed, Planet Fitness on south Iowas was closed, as were smaller gyms, like Orangetheory Fitness near Sixth and Wakarusa.

Entertainment venues:

It was a little early to check in on bars and nightclubs, but several of them have been closed for days. I did stop by the bowling alley near Ninth and Iowa. It had been open for small groups of 10 or fewer as late as Monday night. But it is closed now.


This is one industry that hasn’t shut down by a long shot. There were still tens of millions of dollars worth of building projects underway Tuesday. Interestingly, some of the biggest projects operating were ones controlled by public entities who are urging people to stay at home. Construction on LMH West — a $100 million outpatient clinic near Rock Chalk Park — was underway Tuesday. This photo here shows a couple of guys close together in a lift doing some work to the large glass facade.

Work on the city’s new police headquarters building also was underway just north of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. This photo shows the parking lot for that job site to give you an idea of how many people reported to work there Tuesday.

Work also was underway on Lawrence High School, but it wasn’t nearly as visible. Some of that may be because a lot of the work is inside currently, but there also appeared to be a smaller contingent of workers there. So, no photos of that one. I did reach out to the city and LMH to ask whether they gave any thought to halting construction on those projects so that fewer people would be out during this stay-at-home order. Of course, such a decision would put both of those public projects behind schedule and might create some cost overruns.

The city responded by saying they did discuss the idea of delaying the police headquarters project. Spokesman Porter Arneill noted the stay-at-home order issued by Douglas County Public Health seemingly has some provisions that would allow for such construction projects to continue. That likely is correct, as the order has about 25 categories of essential businesses, plus other exceptions. Arneill said the city did talk with its contractor on the project, Turner Construction, who said it was practicing social distancing on the project by holding virtual meetings, for example.

LMH also responded with a statement Tuesday afternoon: “LMH Health did consider the possibility of postponing construction work on the west facility. The decision was made to continue moving forward for a number of reasons. When health care services resume more standard operations, we need to be ready to help our patients and community access high-quality surgical services and robust outpatient care. This location allows us to meet those needs. In that same vein, there are many patients who have postponed elective procedures during this time under the advice of their physician. We will have an immediate demand to care for these patients to allow them to return to their healthiest lifestyle as quickly as possible.

“Our partner, McCownGordon Construction, met with us on Monday to discuss both the Lawrence/Douglas County ‘stay’ order, and their processes and procedures to adhere to social distancing, the health and wellbeing of their employees and ongoing job site safety in light of COVID-19. We feel their plan is sound and operates under a great amount of safety for their team and our community. As referenced in the Emergency Public Health Order – Section One, Item B, Subsection VIII, commercial construction is identified as an essential activity.”

Private construction projects also were continuing. The new Casey’s convenience store just south of 31st and Iowa, for example, had crews on site. The city probably has the ability to shut construction work down throughout the city through its building permit process, but as the police headquarters project shows, city officials understand the balancing act with that type of decision.


The general rule of thumb seemed to be that any fast-food restaurant that had a drive-thru was open. If the businesses didn’t have a drive-thru, it was more hit or miss. Some — barbecue restaurants and even a steakhouse — were doing curbside delivery, but others weren’t. If you are planning on going to a restaurant, calling or checking online probably would be a good idea before venturing out. As a reminder, the health department is not allowing dine-in service at any restaurant, and I didn’t see any evidence of any restaurant offering dine-in service.

Discount stores:

Both Walmarts and the one Target store in Lawrence were open. Weaver’s, which is not a discount store, but is the largest Lawrence-based department store, also was open in downtown. Here’s what the Walmart parking lot along south Iowa Street looked like around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Walmart parking lot near 33rd and Iowa streets is shown on March 24, 2020, the first day of a stay-at-home order issued by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

I think the Dollar General Stores also are open. At least the one in North Lawrence was.

Big boxes on south Iowa Street:

The largest shopping center in the city is Pine Ridge Plaza, which stretches from 31st Street to 33rd Street along Iowa Street. It has Kohl’s, Ross, Bed Bath & Beyond, World Market and a few other anchor retailers. That entire parking lot — two blocks worth of pavement — had 18 cars in it around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. Every big box retail store in the center (note: I didn’t check the smaller shops and restaurants on the outer edge of the parking lot) was closed, except one. Michaels, a hobby and craft store, remained opened, apparently deciding it was an essential business under the city’s code.

Nearby, its competitor Hobby Lobby was closed, as were its two neighbors, Five Below and HomeGoods.

Farther north on Iowa, Dick’s Sporting Goods was open but only for curbside service. People could order online and employees would bring the item to the parking lot. Also in that shopping center Ulta Beauty was closed, while PetSmart was open for curbside service. Boot Barn, which is next door to Dick’s, remains open but with reduced hours. The Famous Footwear store just down the street at Pine Ridge Plaza was closed. South Iowa was a good example of similar types of businesses having different policies.

Auto dealerships:

Most new auto dealers that I drove by seemed to be open to some degree, although one car dealer did tell me staffing was fairly minimal at his location.


Most are operating only their drive-thru lanes, though some had signs allowing people to make an appointment to access the lobby and safe deposit boxes.

Home improvement stores:

Both Menards and Home Depot were open. Home Depot had a sign on its door saying it had been declared an essential business under city code. It was slightly interesting so I tried to take a photo of it, and probably gave a few customers a good laugh in the process. The sign was on a sliding door that opened every time you got close to it. It took me a few times to figure out that situation, by which I mean I decided I didn’t want a photo that badly. Both home improvement centers had some activity. Menards, for example, had about 50 vehicles, not counting the back row usually reserved for employees, at about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Liquor stores:

They are allowed to be open, and every one I found was. The only twist there was Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama has a drive-thru and was limiting its business to drive-thru only. The vape shop next door to Myers was closed, by the way. I didn’t see any vape shops that were open, but did see at least one CBD shop that was open, the one at 19th and Massachusetts.


I didn’t come close to surveying all of downtown. I did stop by The Toy Store because its front window display caught my eye. It was full of board games. I will know this crisis has hit a new level when my wife agrees to play Monopoly with me. She claims I cheat, while I contend that just because I have a press that prints Monopoly money that’s not evidence I’m a cheater. (Nobody says the Federal Reserve is a cheater.) Regardless, The Toy Store is not open for walk-in business. It did have an employee there, however, who would bring an order to the front door.

The other thing I did in downtown is I took a photo of the 700 block of Massachusetts Street at about noon. I also took one Monday at the same location and at about the same time. You can compare the two to see the change in activity.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A look at the amount of midday activity in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street on March 23, 2020, the day before a stay-at-home order took effect for the community.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A look at the amount of midday activity in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street on March 24, 2020, the first day of a stay-at-home order issued by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.


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