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Kansas City's new airport terminal is 'showing love to local' with markets full of hometown goods

Curious potential shoppers peer into the new Made in KC Marketplace at KCI's new terminal during an open house event.
Tommy Felts
Startland News
Curious potential shoppers peer into the new Made in KC Marketplace at KCI's new terminal during an open house event.

When the new KCI terminal opens, about 80% of its vendors are local — including a Made in KC Marketplace that will showcase local brands like MADE MOBB and Kansas City Puzzle Co.

Local businesses are a significant part of Kansas City’s story, Tyler Enders said, and the new terminal at the Kansas City International Airport gives travelers coming into the city the perfect prologue.

“Right when people land in Kansas City, they will be introduced to local artwork, local restaurants and local retail brands. When they go out to spend time in downtown, the Plaza or one of our other city centers, they’re going to see some of those brands they saw at the airport. Then as you’re flying back out, it’s one more interaction with a now-familiar brand,” said Enders, one of the co-founders of Made in KC.

KCI’s new terminal is set to open Tuesday, Feb. 28. Airport officials have reported that about 80% of the new terminal’s vendors are local — with a Made in KC Marketplace, located in A Node, among the most prominent retail locations to find local products.

“We will have primarily souvenir-type goods that you’d see in our Made in KC shops, but also some grab-and-go items like cold, prepared sandwiches, which are under the brand Parisi,” Enders noted.

Vantage Airport Group won the bid in 2021 to manage the terminal’s food, beverage and retail operations. Under Vantage, Marshall Retail Group (MRG) manages a majority of the terminal’s retail; and OHN manages a majority of its food and beverage.

“We partnered with MRG, so we are a small minority part of the ownership group,” Enders said. “It allows us to help ensure that there’s local products throughout the airport, not just in the Made in KC Marketplace.”

Enders is confident that the Kansas City City Council made the right decision in trusting Vantage, he shared.

“We firmly believe that they were the best bid and will be the best operator,” Enders continued. “They really have become the new gold standard of concession operations across the U.S. The reason they won is because they are so committed to local, and they had the portfolio of doing this in other airports. But we — and when I say we, I mean Made in KC along with the city’s Aviation department and the rest of the city — really pushed them to go even further. So this is going to be the most local program that they’ve ever done.”

‘New things to love about Kansas City’

Two people can be seen walking in the middle of a wide open interior space. To the right is a storefront with the side above it "Made in Kansas City Marketplace." On the lift is signage for an airport terminal guiding people to baggage claim and boarding gates.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Visitors to Kansas City International Airport's new single terminal stroll past the storefront for Made In KC Marketplace during a test run of the airport on Feb. 14, 2023.

Several dozens of local businesses’ goods can be found within the airport’s Made in KC Marketplace. For some founders, it’s not their first time working in KCI.

Vu Radley, one of the co-founders of MADE MOBB, worked at KCI in his early 20s. More than a decade later, Radley is returning to the airport — but as a small business owner.

“I used to work in the warehouse, and I would drive a box truck around to deliver a bunch of this Wizard of Oz gear; it was really lame shit that was made who knows where,” Radley said. “I’m glad with the new airport [terminal] that they’re showing love to local. It’s crazy to come from working at the airport delivering that stuff to now having our own designs in the airport.”

Tim Ekeren, who co-founded Kansas City Puzzle Co. with his wife Stefanie, had his sights set on being a part of the airport since founding the business in 2020.

“When we started the company, we designed our boxes to be a little bit smaller than a lot of traditional puzzle packaging with the idea to be included in the airport — this was before we were even partnered with Made in KC,” Ekeren recalled. “We wanted people to be able to fit our puzzles in their carry-on luggage easier, so this has been a dream for us.”

Puzzles offer travelers a unique souvenir or gift to take home, Ekeren said.

“It’s something that is a little more emotionally-involved than something like a shot glass,” he said, laughing. “We just have so much love for Kansas City, and I hope that shines through with our puzzles. We try our best to represent the city and the landmarks that are so beloved here. We also hope our puzzles help people discover new things to love about Kansas City.”

Just the first taste

 18th and Vine gift shop at the new KCI airport terminal.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
18th and Vine gift shop at the new KCI airport terminal.

Christopher Elbow, the founder of Christopher Elbow Chocolates and a frequent traveler, shared his excitement for how the new terminal better represents Kansas City.

“As much as there’s some sentimental value to the old terminals, I just feel like this is a great step forward for our city,” Elbow said. “We’re a homegrown company that’s been around for 20 years now, so we’re really glad our products are a part of this historic step.”

Travelers can delight in everything from Christopher Elbow Chocolates’ signature bonbons — known for their hand-painted designs and special flavors — to their chocolate bars, toffee, turtles, drinking chocolate and malt balls.

Christopher Elbows Chocolates’ shop in the Crossroads Arts District is planning to offer experiential tours later this year, Elbow shared.

“People can come in and learn more about where actual chocolate comes from in the world — where it’s grown and how it’s processed, as well as the history of it,” he explained. “I’ll share my experiences of travels to these cacao-producing companies and see our process from start to finish. We will also have tastings of different chocolates from around the world. I’d love to see people try our products at the airport and then come to the shop to have that experience.”

Kansas City fosters a wildly creative community, said Kilee Nickels, the founder of Nickel & Suede, and the airport is a representation of that creativity.

“In Kansas City, whenever we do something, it’s just so thoughtful and creative,” Nickels said. “We really pay attention to the people and local businesses in the community and do our best to support them. I feel like the airport will give travelers such a great taste of our city.”

Several people gather in front of an indoor structure. It has white metal framing with see-through walls and a green metal roof. A sign reads "City Market, Kansas City" above the people.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3

Nickel & Suede is currently in the process of expanding its product line, so travelers can expect to find more than its signature leather earrings at the Made in KC Marketplace in the coming months, Nickels said.

“We’re going to be adding more leather accessories such as Italian handbags, made and designed by us, and other really cool and unexpected accessories,” Nickels teased. “When you start a business, you have a lot of hopes and dreams. Being involved in the tight-knit Kansas City business community is more than we could have ever imagined. Made in KC is one of our best wholesale relationships, so we’re really excited to have a presence at the airport at their shop.”

Ready for takeoff

With the new airport terminal opening slightly earlier than expected, Chad Hickman, co-founder of Sandlot Goods, applauded MRG for its leadership in getting everyone ready to open.

“It’s been a true test for our team, but MRG has been incredibly accommodating and excited to work with local companies,” Hickman said. “… Our hats will be a bulk of what we’re offering, but we will also have some apparel and some of our Negro Leagues Baseball Museum-licensed products.”

Sandlot Goods’ products can be found at Made in KC and in the 18th and Vine gift shop.

“The airport has definitely exceeded our wildest imaginations,” Hickman said. “We’re actively trying to be a great employer in the city while also pushing forward on our business goals, so being a part of the airport is validating. We are grateful to be on the front line of visitors coming in and seeing our great city.”

This story was originally published on Startland News, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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