Auto dealership selling to firm with K.C., local connections; restaurant that focuses on board games to close; ax-throwing business to return downtown

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

McCarthy Nissan of Lawrence is pictured on June 1, 2023.

Here are some news and notes from around town:

• A Kansas City-based auto dealer is on the way out, while one with both Kansas City and Lawrence connections is set to replace it.

McCarthy Nissan of Lawrence is in the process of exiting the Lawrence market, while Dream Nissan — which has a dealership in the area near the Legends shopping district of Kansas City, Kansas — is set to take its place.

Employees at McCarthy Nissan began notifying customers in the last week or so, and a McCarthy employee confirmed the news to me when I stopped by the dealership at 2233 W. 29th Terrace this week.

The dealership, which is in the Lawrence Auto Plaza just off of south Iowa Street, was mainly empty of employees on Thursday. An IT technician with Dream Nissan had just been in the building completing work for Dream to take over the space.

An employee at Dream Nissan’s Kansas City location said he would have a manager of the dealership return my call to discuss details of the pending move to Lawrence. However, I haven’t heard from the dealership.

The dealership has a strong Lawrence connection. It is part of the same dealership family — Dream Automotive — that includes the Lawrence Kia and Lawrence Mitsubishi dealerships on 23rd Street.

The Lawrence Kia dealership has been in the news recently. As we reported this week, a multiyear case involving an alleged loan scheme at Lawrence Kia is nearing an end. An arbitrator has awarded 31 customers of Lawrence Kia nearly $15 million after allegations that the dealership had improperly inflated the monthly income totals of several customers who were applying for financing at the dealership.

As for Dream Nissan, it also has another location — Dream Nissan Midwest — in Wood River, Illinois, which is just northeast of St. Louis.

As for the McCarthy Auto Group, which is one of the largest in Kansas City, it will continue to have a presence in Lawrence. It continues to operate McCarthy Subaru of Lawrence, and Karl Kramer, a spokesman with McCarthy, said that isn’t going to change.

“We like Lawrence and actually would love to acquire some other locations in Lawrence,” Kramer said.

But he said the dealership decided to sell it Nissan operation in Lawrence because “in business sometimes there are opportunities where someone might have a desire for an asset we have, and it ended up being a good opportunity that worked out.”

Kramer said the transfer in ownership is underway and will happen soon.

• There soon will be one less opportunity for fun and games — particularly games — in downtown Lawrence. The downtown restaurant and bar RPG — short for Restaurant, Pub & Games — is closing at the end of the month.

The business is a unique one in Lawrence because it has made board games — think everything from old-school offerings like Monopoly and Clue to much newer and hipper strategy board games — a central part of its business.

Part of the idea was that patrons would have an activity to keep them entertained while enjoying food and beverages. But the idea went beyond that, co-owner Matt Pool told me. He said the business always wanted to be a place where a spirit of community could be built without many of the traditional barriers that exist.

“It was and still is conceptually a perfect fit for Lawrence,” Pool said. “We are very proud of the idea and goal of building community in Lawrence. The business just didn’t make it.”

Pool said the business definitely has struggled to bounce back after the pandemic. In addition, he said there has been some major, unexpected business expenses arise that led the ownership group — it includes Nate and Meghan Morsches along with Betsy Pool — to decide that now was the right time to close.

The closing will end a nearly four-year run in Lawrence for the business. Pool said the group’s foray into the restaurant industry has been an eye-opening one.

“The restaurant industry itself is frankly a mess,” Pool said. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

Pool said the issue of pay and benefits for restaurant staff in Lawrence is a dividing one. He said many restaurants are doing the right things to adequately take care of their employees, but he said many others aren’t, which can make for a tough competitive environment.

RPG is planning several events during the course of June to say farewell to fans and customers. The last day of business will be June 30, and RPG is planning a special farewell event.

As for the building, the restaurant has leased the space, and a future tenant hasn’t been announced. Some of you also may be wondering about the future of something else: all the board games. RPG ended up with about 1,500 board games. Pool said the company currently is looking for a bulk buyer, perhaps another game-themed restaurant that is opening up elsewhere.

• This information is just in — an ax-throwing themed bar and restaurant is returning to Lawrence. Blade & Timber will be returning to downtown about four years after being destroyed by a fire. The business is going in the spot at 722 Massachusetts St., which is where Signs of Life Bookstore has been located. As we reported recently, Signs of Life is closing down. We reported that Matt Baysinger, the founder and CEO of Blade & Timber and the broader entertainment company that operates it, had purchased the building. At that time he wasn’t yet releasing what he planned for the building.

Now we know. The new Blade & Timber will be bigger than the old venue. This new location will have six throwing lanes, up from four, and will feature a limited menu of food and drink options. I’ll work to get more information to report in the weeks ahead, including whether the facility will also house another one of Baysinger’s concepts: a miniature golf-theme restaurant and bar. The brief announcement I got from Baysinger’s company alluded to that being a possibility. It mentions Sinkers Lounge being a possibility for the site, which is the name of the miniature golf themed bar and restaurant he operates in Kansas City’s Power & Light District. It sounds like that would be a phase II part of the project, taking place in 2024, while Blade & Timber would get started later this year. The information also mentions a retail component that would feature items from various Kansas City boutiques.


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