City Union Mission still shows signs of opening thrift store operation in Lawrence; another taco shop slated for downtown

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Plans are still in the works to convert the former Conoco gas station location at the soutwest corner of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue into a donation center for City Thrift, which is the Kansas City-based thrift store chain of the faith-based nonprofit City Union Mission.

News and notes from around town:

• I still think there is a chance one of Kansas City’s largest homeless shelter nonprofits is going to open a thrift store in Lawrence.

In March, I wrote about Kansas City-based City Union Mission filing plans at City Hall to convert a vacant convenience store at 23rd and Haskell into a “thrift distribution center.”

But, when I tried to get more information out of City Union Mission leaders, I didn’t hear back. Plus, I didn’t see much sign of activity at the 23rd and Haskell site, which used to house a Conoco gas station, if you are trying to picture the location.

On Friday, though, a City Union Mission official was on site conducting job interviews. In a brief conversation, he said the Kansas City nonprofit is still planning to locate in Lawrence. Right now, the 23rd and Haskell site would be used as a place for people to drop off donations of used items that would in turn be sold through the nonprofit’s network of thrift stores in the KC metro area. Those thrift stores help fund City Union Mission’s charitable work, which includes operating an approximately 200-person homeless shelter in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The employee said current plans didn’t call for the 23rd and Haskell site to be more than a drop-off location. People wouldn’t be able to buy items there. But he also said City Union Mission officials were actively looking for retail space in Lawrence that would allow them to open a thrift store. So, that is something to keep an eye on.

It brings up a question of whether City Union Mission — a faith-based group that has been operating in KC since 1924 — is planning to become active in charitable work in Lawrence. There are certainly no signs that the organization is planning to open a homeless shelter in Lawrence, but the employee said he generally didn’t know what, if any, broader plans the nonprofit had for Lawrence.

I’ve again reached out to City Union Mission’s leader, but haven’t yet heard back.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The former Wa Japanese Restaurant in downtown Lawrence is slated to become a Mexican restaurant.

• Lawrence is finding itself in a chicken situation again, except this time with tacos. You remember that time period a few years ago where every week seemed to produce a new chicken restaurant. People were making bad jokes like: Why did the chicken cross the Lawrence road? The deep fat fryer was smaller on the other side. (Give me credit for accuracy. I said the joke was bad.)

All that is to say, I have news of another Mexican restaurant opening. A business called Loco Lime: Tacos & Tequila Bar is set to open in the former Wa Japanese Restaurant spot in downtown Lawrence, according to a sign recently hung in the window.

I don’t have many other details about Loco Lime. The sign indicates it will be operated by the same folks who have Molcajete’s Mexican restaurant in downtown Lawrence. That is one of the new Mexican restaurants that have opened in recent months. Molcajete’s also has a big emphasis on tequilas, serving a variety of options both straight or in margaritas.

Loco Lime certainly will add to the concentration of Mexican restaurants on Massachusetts Street. Here’s a brief rundown of the relatively new establishments: Loco Lime, 740 Massachusetts St., which is basically catty-corner from Ta Co., the Mexican restaurant that recently closed and announced plans to re-open in Topeka; Molcajete’s, 941 Massachusetts, which means its sister restaurant will be less than two blocks away; Rusty Taco, 945 Massachusetts, just two doors down from Molcajete’s; Casa Grande, 1011 Massachusetts, making it less than a block away from Rusty Taco and Molcajete’s.

And remember, those are just the new Mexican restaurants downtown. There are enough existing Mexican restaurants downtown that I’m not going to try to list them, but there are at least four that I can think of off the top of my head. On top of the downtown scene, three street taco restaurants have opened or expanded in recent months outside of downtown — a shop at 19th and Massachusetts, another at 31st and Iowa next to the convenience store near Best Buy, and La Estrella, which opened a large restaurant and Mexican market just southeast of 23rd and Iowa. Go back just a few months more, and you could add the chain Torchy’s Tacos to the list in the old Longhorn steakhouse location on south Iowa Street.

Why the sudden explosion in Mexican restaurants? Just like with chicken, I’m light on answers, but my stomach grows heavier by the day.

I’ll plan to check back in on Loco Lime as it gets closer to opening. It appears renovation work is underway on the building. As for Wa Japanese Restaurant, don’t look for it in another location. The owners announced near the end of the year that they were retiring after more than 10 years in business in Lawrence.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Excavation work is underway for a new quick service oil change center at the southwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets.

• Some of you have asked about the construction work underway at 27th and Iowa streets in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods. I had reported back in September that plans had been filed for a Valvoline Instant Oil Change Center to go on the site, which previously housed a small branch for US Bank.

It took a while for the project to get started, but work is now well underway, and a sign recently emerged confirming that the Valvoline quick oil change business is still the tenant for the site.

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