Archive for Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Grocery stores add competition to shopping list

April 12, 2000

Can Baldwin support two grocery stores? That has been the buzz around town since two stores have announced new locations that would make them neighbors in FireTree Estates on the north side of town.

O'Bryhim's Thriftway of Overbrook has signed on as a tenant of FireTree Plaza. The commercial center is being built by Cornerstone Construction Co., Lawrence. Other tenants will include a pharmacy, a chiropractor and a liquor store.

A week after O'Bryhim's Thriftway was announced as a tenant of FireTree Plaza, Jeff and Lisa Simpson, owners of Baldwin City Market, announced they would break ground as soon as plans for their store were approved by the Baldwin City Planning Commission. Their new store includes plans for a pharmacy and a full-service branch of Baldwin State Bank.

"We were planning on starting this summer," said Jeff Simpson of the construction of the new store. "It (the O'Bryhim's Thriftway announcement) sped it up a couple of months. We were planning to open early next spring, now it's the first of the year."

Plans for Baldwin City Market, which would be located along the north side of U.S. Highway 56 across from Eighth Street, could not be submitted in time for this month's planning commission meeting. The commission meets the second Tuesday of every month, but did not meet Tuesday night because there was nothing on the agenda. The next meeting of the planning commission is May 9.

"They should have all the plans in time for the May meeting," Jeff said. "As soon as they are approved, we will begin."

In a world where business is business, Ken Hayes, an owner of Cornerstone Construction, likes the sound of that.

"We're approved by the Baldwin City Planning Commission," said Hayes, a Baldwin native who lives in a house he built on Eleventh Street. "Everything is done except the final interior design of the building. I would say we are 60 to 90 days ahead in front of the Simpsons."

FireTree Plaza will be on the north side of U.S. 56, facing the highway and will be between Ninth and Tenth Streets.

Planning commissioners review plans for compliance with city code, not for marketing strategy, said Jim Tarwater, city inspector and zoning administrator.

"There is nothing in city ordinance that says you can't have triplicate of every store in town," Tarwater said. "They have to accept or reject the plans on the guidelines of city code."

Tarwater said he has not received the plans for Baldwin City Market, but said there is still time for them to be considered at the May meeting.

"All site plans have to go to staff and then to the planning commission," Tarwater said. "We have not been provided with a site plan yet."

"As it stands right now, providing we get information in an adequate amount of time, that site plan would be considered at the May 9 meeting."

The players

Cliff O'Bryhim, owner of the Overbrook store, said he is looking forward to returning to Baldwin. He graduated from Baker University with a degree in business and has relatives in Baldwin.

"It is one of my favorite towns and it's a thriving community," O'Bryhim said. "It fits in with the clientele I am used to."

O'Bryhim said the 18,000 square-foot store will include a bakery and deli and an expanded produce section. The third-generation grocer his grandfather started the business in 1932 said he plans to oversee both stores.

"Baldwin is so close to Overbrook," O'Bryhim said. "I can be a very hands-on person at both stores."

Cornerstone Construction also attracted O'Bryhim to the Baldwin location.

"I have been very impressed with them," he said. "That is why I climbed on board with them. I think they will put together a nice shopping area for Baldwin."

O'Bryhim doesn't expect the competition next door to be much different than what his store faces now.

"It's a type of competition faced in Overbrook, with Topeka and Lawrence nearby," he said.

O'Bryhim expects to have a staff of about 35 full-time and part-time employees at the Baldwin store.

"I'm looking forward to this experience," he said. "I think it's a great town."

Playing on a home field, the Simpsons are experiencing the confusion of two grocery stores already.

"Customers are confused," Jeff said. "They thought the first article was our store. But they are real supportive that we are going to build."

They will be doubling the size of their current location at 520 High Street, and will add a deli, bakery, pharmacy, bank and expanded selections at the 19,000-foot-store. Jeff is also a third-generation grocer and the Simpsons co-owned the Eudora grocery store before buying the Baldwin City Market in 1997.

Plans for the Baldwin store are similar to C & S Market in Eudora, Jeff said. However, he said the exterior of the Baldwin store will be changed to meet FireTree masonry requirements.

"The building can't be metal, so there will be minor exterior changes to the look," Jeff said.

The Simpsons have two years remaining on the lease of their current store. They plan to sublease the building or create a new lease between the owner and new business.

"We've had people interested in it," Jeff said. "Everyone is concerned what will go in here. Customers have lots of ideas, and you hear a lot of third-party stories."

Does Simpson think Baldwin can support two grocery stores?

"It's doubtful, with the size of Baldwin," Simpson said. He said built-up equity and the financial backing from two other grocery stores in the family will make the new store possible. "That is why we are financially able to sustain the storm. We won't have to take out ungodly loans."

The developer

Jerry Donnelly, FireTree Estates developer, says competition is part of business. However, he is concerned about the appearance of what is built in his development. FireTree architectural requirements call for 25 percent masonry on the exterior of buildings.

He has had plans submitted regularly for FireTree Plaza, as well as Mid America Bank, an unrelated project. Although the plans for either project have not formally been approved by the FireTree architectural committee, "they have been doing as I have envisioned," Donnelly said.

He expects the Simpsons' plans also will meet requirements. The Simpsons' architect contacted Donnelly this week. F.P. Gehring Construction, Atchison, is building Baldwin City Market.

"I am not concerned about the competition. I am concerned about what it looks like," Donnelly said. "We want it to look nice. It's something you need to put thought into. It's not 'let's build a store and start moving dirt tomorrow.'"

Hayes, who owns Cornerstone Construction along with Mike Hultine, said he does not consider the two stores to be in a race, as his friends and community members refer to it.

"I already have about 100 laps in at the Indy," Hayes said. "That's not a race."

Hayes and Hultine are also joined in the development of FireTree Plaza by George Paley, former owner of Natural Way in Lawrence, and Brian Abbott, a financial planner.

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