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KU football's resurgence is bringing more fans to Lawrence — and headaches to some merchants

A woman stands in front of a storefront window and stares down at a cat.
Zach Perez
Wonder Fair's shop cat, Dave, welcomes a customer outside the store.

After a fast start, the Kansas Jayhawks are playing before a packed stadium. But not every business on Mass Street welcomes the large crowds.

Walk down Massachusetts Street on any given Saturday and you’ll probably see a decent amount of people. When there’s a home football game, that amount increases significantly, especially this season.

On Saturday, lines for restaurants extended out onto Mass Street, businesses closed for extended lunch hours to view the game, and groups of fans darted around lines of slow moving traffic to reach their seats at Memorial Stadium.

Even after a 38-31 loss to TCU on Saturday, this year has been an incredible success story for the Kansas football team, which entered the game 5-0 and ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25 college poll. Jayhawks fans have taken notice. Saturday’s game was the third straight sellout of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Thousands of people are coming to Lawrence football games, creating a new set of benefits and drawbacks for many local businesses.

Businesses on Mass Street often see most of the fans drawn to Lawrence for the games, but business owners and their employees are divided on if crowds are worth the trouble they can cause.

'It’s been nothing but positives for us.'

Many businesses and their employees are just as excited about the season as fans. John Davis, assistant manager of Jock's Nitch Sports, an apparel store on Mass Street, says he has had to increase the number of employees in the store on game days.

“The only downside is we can’t pay as much attention to the games when it’s going on,” Davis says. “Other than that it’s been nothing but positives for us. We’ve been super busy. Just slinging T-shirts left and right.”

A man and small child walk into a store with outdoor clothing racks.
Zach Perez
Jock's Nitch Sports storefront on Mass Street.

Down the street, Wonder Fair, an art and stationery store, is also seeing an increased number of customers on game days.

“I think it has definitely picked up for us this year,” says Claudia Navarret, a Wonder Fair sales associate. “We see a lot more college students with their families because their families will come for the games now.”

Navarret says she has noticed that Mass Street seems busier than it did a year ago, when the football team won only two games.

“I’ve only been working downtown for about two years now, but I can tell that businesses are just so much busier right now.”

'It’s too much of a mess.'

Some businesses, such as restaurants and apparel shops, may be better suited to take advantage of fans sweeping through town. But for merchants less connected to sports, crowds can often cut them off from their regulars.

“People tell me, ‘I’m not gonna go down there. It’s too much of a mess,’” says Kelly Corcoran, owner of Love Garden Sounds record store on Mass Street.

A man stands behind the register of a record store and speaks with a woman across the counter.
Zach Perez
Love Garden Sounds owner Kelly Corcoran, left, speaks with one of his employees on Saturday.

Love Garden Sounds is only one door down from Jock's Nitch, but Corcoran says that they’re getting far less traffic on game days. He says that every weekend there’s a home football game in Lawrence his store loses 20 to 25 percent of its regular business.

Other businesses are also losing regular customers due to the home game crowds.

“(The games) don’t help,” says Yarn Barn co-owner Jim Bateman. “Our customers are both local and regional. A majority of our walk-in trade comes from outside Douglas County. Many of those people stay away because of the traffic.”

Traffic concerns are a major concern for those commuting into Lawrence from out of town. The concerns have some worried that the city of Lawrence is unprepared to deal with the number of people being brought into the city by the new popularity of the football team.

“I don’t think Lawrence is doing a good job at adjusting infrastructure to deal with an influx of 50,000 people,” says Corcoran, “most of whom think rules don’t apply to them.”

As KCUR’s Community Engagement Producer, I help welcome our audiences into the newsroom, and bring our journalism out into the communities we serve. Many people feel overlooked or misperceived by the media, and KCUR needs to do everything we can to cover and empower the diverse communities that make up the Kansas City metro — especially the ones who don’t know us in the first place. My work takes the form of reporting stories, holding community events, and bringing what I’ve learned back to Up To Date and the rest of KCUR.

What should KCUR be talking about? Who should we be talking to? Let me know. You can email me at zjperez@kcur.org or message me on Twitter at @zach_pepez.
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