| 2013 Winter | story by HANK BOOTH | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
When it comes to retail shopping districts, just about everybody thinks ours here in Lawrence is pretty darn good. A recent Topeka Capital Journal poll said our downtown was the best in NE Kansas. It must have been hard for the Cap Journal Editors to print that one. Even a national publication gave us top marks for our downtown and all that it provides. Now we’re in the process of making it even better with major new projects that will provide apartments and town homes right in the middle of everything.
Calls are coming in regularly at the DLI office from people ready to sign contracts for living quarters, months before they are even ready to show. East Lawrence, Old West Lawrence and other nearby neighborhoods are looking much more attractive to local realtors. Just a few blocks from downtown the Warehouse Arts District is being created out of the ashes of the old East Lawrence industrial district and it will be a sensational boon to the downtown. It started with the rebuilding of an old warehouse, the Poehler Building, into affordable apartments that were all leased during the first day they were displayed. Creative arts studios, built in an old popcorn packaging plant and entrepreneurial offices, cubicles and work stations are in strong demand at the renovated Cider Gallery which is also open for business as a site for parties, receptions and meetings. On the century-old stonewalls of that building, art creations of nationally known artists are on display. Hooked to all of that is the renovation of the Santa Fe Train Depot. Wrap it all up and the package is a downtown business district that is a natural draw for all ages, but Boomers really like the idea of living right in the middle of the action.
It certainly isn’t the Massachusetts Street I grew up with, pedaling the old Schwinn bike from one end to the other, often stopping for a quick refreshing pause at one of the soda fountains at Round Corner Drugs at the north end at 8th and Mass (now Intorno Restaurant and Intorno means round corner, by the way), Raney’s Drugs in the middle, and Rankin’s Drug Store on the south end at 11th and Mass. Just thinking about the changes at those three locations gives a snapshot of the evolving market place that is downtown Lawrence.
When I was a kid, nobody had a better toy department than Malott’s Hardware and I worked for Ruby and Dar Malott putting those toys together when I was a teenager. Guys went to Ober’s (Boy Scout stuff upstairs), Lawrence Surplus for jeans where the owner Hal Keltz seemed to always have a partially smoked cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth, Campbell’s Men’s’ Wear and Whitenight’s. The ladies found their fashions at The Jay Shoppe, Terrells, and of course, Weaver’s. Shoe stores were plentiful, The Royal College Shoppe, owner Bunny Black personally swept the sidewalk out front every morning, Gordon’s Shoe Store, Ober’s, Weaver’s (again), and Arensberg’s (still there).
There are a few other of the old classics still around with Ernst and Son Hardware at the top of the list and the son is still behind the counter.
The old movie theaters where Saturday afternoon matinees cost a quarter now house other entertainment venues. The Jayhawk Theater is now Liberty Hall and back in my college days was the wonderful Red Dog where we saw Ike and Tina Turner, the Kingsmen (remember “Louie, Louie”?) and many other national acts and great local groups like the Fabulous Flippers. The Granada is still the Granada, but the movies have been replaced by bands of all kinds. Across the street was The Varsity and it’s now a clothing store. The balcony of the old Varsity was a great place to take a date as “necking” was ok. If a guy’s date said she only wanted to sit downstairs he knew he was out of luck.
Downtown Lawrence had maintained a state of constant evolution and today is a classic mixture of retail shopping with specialty shops of all kinds, fine eateries with varied menus and late night bar stops for the younger generation. Add in the latest development of new housing and you can live a trip down the elevator and a short walk to anything you might want to sample. The “Boomer’s” are going to love it. The Final Friday’s Art displays have been added to KU and Fine Arts events to bring visitors to town from all over the Midwest. When they get a firsthand look at what’s going on in downtown they’ll want to stay and find a place to live. The future is bright for business throughout the city, but downtown will be a magnet. ■