Local lumberyard, home improvement center files plans to expand central Lawrence site
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
The home improvement game is competitive locally. And I’m not just talking about when my neighbor added a Jacuzzi and I added a swimming pool with a 747 engine to outdo him. No, I’m talking about the competition between home improvement retailers. Now there are signs that one of those retailers is expanding, but it is probably not the one you are thinking of.
McCray Lumber, 1516 W. Sixth St., has filed plans at City Hall for an expansion of its store near Sixth and Minnesota streets. McCray isn’t as big as Menards or Home Depot — the two behemoths in the local home improvement industry — but it has been a longtime player in the Lawrence market.
The regional chain has been in Lawrence for decades, and it has been in the Kansas City market since the late 1940s. If you are having a hard time picturing the Lawrence location, it is on the portion of Sixth Street that is just outside of the downtown area. It is basically a block west of the Dunkin’ shop on Sixth Street. (Some people use the North Star for navigation. I use a jelly-filled doughnut.)
McCray probably has more of a reputation as an old-school lumberyard that serves contractors and professional builders. But it also is open to the public, though certainly it isn’t the big-box store type of format.
Don’t look for the expansion to turn it into a big-box retailer either. Sixth and Minnesota is not where you build those types of stores. Details about the expansion are slim at the moment. I’ve reached out to the manager of the local store a couple of times, but he has yet to call me back over the last couple of days.
Details may be slim because the project does still have some hurdles to clear. McCray is seeking the rezoning of a vacant piece of ground directly behind its current store. McCray is asking the city to rezone an approximately half-acre piece of property at 508 Minnesota St. The corner lot currently is zoned to allow for apartment construction. McCray is seeking a traditional commercial retail zoning designation.
The vacant lot is directly behind McCray’s outdoor lumberyard. So, it is possible the expansion simply will involve growing the outdoor lumberyard space onto that additional lot. I also suppose the expansion could involve expanding the existing retail building that is along Sixth Street. The extra half-acre would give the business plenty of room to rearrange its operations and grow the building.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
Until the rezoning is completed, though, the project won’t be required to file specific plans for what the expansion will look like. Whether the company intends to use its expansion to try to appeal to more of the do-it-yourself market isn’t yet clear, but will be worth watching in the future.
It is not hard to understand why McCray is looking to become more active in the Lawrence market. While the pandemic has hit some businesses really hard, the home improvement business has been thriving. The city of Lawrence, through data supplied by the state, tracks retail sales in a variety of categories. The year-end numbers show that sales in the category of “building supply and garden supply” retailers grew by 15%. That was the best showing of any category in the city. Sales in that sector totaled about $129 million, up from about $112 million a year ago. Note: I am going through the full report from the city and plan to write something soon showing other winners and losers in this crazy year.
As far as what McCray offers, it focuses on a lot of the big items you need for homebuilding, according to its website. That includes dimensional lumber, decking, siding, window, doors, trim and other such items. The company is based in Kansas City and has four facilities in the Kansas City metro area, including a distribution center and a millwork production facility. It also has a distribution center in Topeka.
In terms of the rezoning request, planning commissioners are tentatively scheduled to hear it in January. If planning commissioners recommend approval, it also will need to win approval from city commissioners before the expansion can move forward.
The property in question already has been cleared of a couple of homes on the site. The current zoning on the property would allow for fairly dense apartment construction on the lot. For that reason, it might be an interesting rezoning to watch. The amount of new apartment construction in Lawrence has drawn some criticism from the public. This is a chance to take some apartment zoning off the books, but planners also will have be comfortable letting a commercial business get closer to some existing homes.
The zoning application by McCray indicates the company is serious about undertaking an expansion in town. In its application to the city, it said a denial of the rezoning request likely would mean the company would abandon its current facility and look to build on an undeveloped site elsewhere in the city.