Sunflower Outdoor & Bike looking to get into coffee business; two eateries won’t reopen due to pandemic losses

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Seating for a coffee shop area would be near the Eighth Street entrance to Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, 804 Massachusetts St., according to plans filed with Lawrence City Hall. The shop is pictured Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Unless you are really good at riding with no hands, having a cup of coffee while on a bicycle might be tough. (Obviously, one hand must be free to keep the admirers of the spandex outfit at a distance.) But that doesn’t mean coffee and cycling don’t go together. Lawrence’s largest bike shop may show how.

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop has filed plans with City Hall to add a coffee bar to the operations of its downtown store. Dan Hughes, an owner of the store, told me the plans are a little in flux because of the business disruptions caused by the pandemic. But he still has high hopes for the idea.

“I think coffee fuels a lot of adventures,” Hughes said. “When I get up and have a specific workout to do, I know it doesn’t get started until I have a cup of coffee.”

From that standpoint, Hughes thinks the coffee idea fits in well with his retail store. In addition to bikes, Sunflower is big into the outdoor market — hiking boots, camping equipment, kayaks and other gear.

“We’ve always felt like what we really sell are experiences,” Hughes said.

Part of an experience is planning it, talking about it and reliving it. Doing so in a coffee shop with other like-minded people is appealing, Hughes said. He is hoping the shop, which doesn’t have any particular name at this point, will become a hangout spot for bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts.

Plans filed at City Hall call for the area near Sunflower’s back door — the one that opens onto Eighth Street — to house a small seating area for the coffee shop. A little deeper into the store, near the service department, plans call for the actual coffee bar and barstool seating. A small area in the store’s basement also would be set aside for prep work related to the coffee shop.

Hughes said the coffee shop likely will sell some food, but nothing elaborate that would require a full grill or other sophisticated kitchen equipment.

The coffee shop shouldn’t require Sunflower to cut back on other things that it sells. Hughes said the business has plenty of space.

“One of the things we are blessed with is a ton of square footage,” Hughes said of the big multistory, double-storefront building at 804 Massachusetts St. “We want to figure out how to make the best use of that square footage because retail has changed quite a bit over the last five years, even three years.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, 804 Massachusetts St., is pictured Thursday, May 14, 2020. The large downtown retailer has filed plans to use a portion of its space to house a coffee shop.

Of course, retail has changed dramatically in the last two to three months. Sunflower largely was closed during the early parts of the pandemic, although its repair shop was deemed an essential business.

“We tried to pivot pretty hard to selling stuff online and curbside and contactless transactions, but it was a hit for sure,” Hughes said.

The pandemic losses have put the coffee shop plans into flux. The plans are still filed with City Hall and seeking the necessary planning department approvals, but Hughes said it is more difficult to put a timeline on when the project may begin.

“Our projections for what we thought we could do and where we would be at this point in the year have really had a pin put in them,” Hughes said.

Like a lot of downtown retailers, Hughes is curious to see what happens when restaurants in Lawrence are allowed to resume in-person dining, which could happen as soon as next week. He said it has become more obvious over the years that restaurants play a big role in driving traffic to the downtown.

“That’s the next critical thing to figure out,” Hughes said. “When those restaurants get back online, does the traffic return, or have we experienced a paradigm shift?”

In other news and notes from around town:

• I expect to have plenty of news to report in the coming weeks and months about businesses that have decided to not reopen as a result of the pandemic disruptions. I have news of two in downtown right now.

The Mexican restaurant Mexquisito, 712 Massachusetts St., has decided not to reopen, according to the business’ landlord, Tim Keller.

Angel Alvarez — who was involved with the business through his brother Jose Alvarez, who owned the restaurant — also confirmed the closing. He said the restaurant’s downtown lease was up in June, and there was just too much uncertainty to sign another lease, especially with worries of a second wave of the virus lurking.

“This is right at the time when we normally made enough money to survive the winter,” Alvarez said of the Mexican restaurant business. “That is not happening this year.

Keller has begun the process of finding a tenant for the space. He said he thinks it is likely to remain a restaurant, given that it already is equipped for a kitchen. In a sign that business activity hasn’t completely dried up, Keller said he had done a couple of showings to prospective tenants.

“But everybody is real cautious,” he said.

Mexquisito was open almost for a decade in downtown. Run by the same family that has the Tortas Jalisco Mexican restaurant, it opened in 2011, according to previous Journal-World articles. Tortas Jalisco, if you remember, was on Sixth Street and then closed, but reopened in a small space behind Empire Bar & Billiards near Ninth and Iowa. Angel Alvarez continues to operate Tortas Jalisco, he said. It has been carryout and delivery only, and he said he will hold off on resuming in-person dining for a bit longer, even if regulations do get relaxed soon.

The second closing trends more to the breakfast side. Wake the Dead Breakfast Bar has closed for good, according to information on the business’ Facebook page. The spot at 7 E. Seventh St. was known for homemade doughnuts, cocktails and brunch items.

The business made the call pretty early in the pandemic that it wouldn’t reopen.

“This pandemic just kicked me in the face,” a March 29 Facebook post from the business read. “It has been a wonderful ride and so much fun to make people happy. Maybe someday, Wake the Dead will come alive again.”

Since that post, the business has had an auction selling all of its equipment.


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