Construction begins on one A-OK Center, second one to follow with more after that

WICHITA — Construction started this week at Bruce Harris’ new A-OK Center at New Leaf Plaza at 21st and Amidon, but that’s hardly the only new thing the pawn shop owner has going on.

“Wichita’s economy is starting to come back,” he says. “This shopping center in the middle of town is going to come alive again.”

The former Marina Lakes is now home to a Walmart Neighborhood Market that Harris says is contributing to those “sparks of life coming along.”

Harris also is about to begin building a new center at 410 N. West St.

It’ll be about 19,000 square feet, and the center at New Leaf will be 25,000 square feet.

“It’s going to be a huge place,” Harris says.

His centers at Harry and Oliver and Harry and Broadway are 18,000 square feet each.

The New Leaf center will be the “same thing on steroids.”

“What we’re doing is changing the way people shop,” Harris says. “We have new, used and lease to own.”

Both new centers and his store at Harry and Oliver will have a Better Living shop, which is Harris’ new lease-to-own concept.

New Leaf and West Street also each will have an A-OK Pawn Shop, One Day Jewelry and Repair, Cricket and A-OK Financial Services, which offers check cashing, payday loans, title loans and tax services.

Harris says the New Leaf center will be the most elaborate.

“I’m going to try to make it a lot of fun,” he says. “It’ll be kind of like Cabela’s.”

What he means is he plans a lot of displays and unusual touches that will “make it a really neat retail atmosphere that you’ve never seen in the pawn industry.”

There will be a dramatic 30-foot ceiling at the entrance of the center where Harris hopes to have something fun, such as a small plane or part of a helicopter hanging.

“We’re going to try to work with the Wichita motif.”

The West Street center will have the same style with a slightly smaller footprint.

“We still are putting together the final touches on what we are going to build,” Harris says.

He’s also remodeling his Harry and Broadway center. He put new stucco on it only a couple of years ago but decided he wants his stores to have glass windows in the front instead.

“It’s going to be the next generation of A-OK.”

Harris says he’s taking advantage of low prices.

“Money is cheap,” he says of what it costs to borrow right now.

“My customer base is growing.”

Harris will have four centers, five pawn shops, two jewelry stores, three lease-to-own businesses and nine check-cashing businesses.

He also owns most of the 114,000-square-foot New Leaf Plaza, which is about 60 percent leased. Harris says he has a couple of new tenants to announce there in the coming weeks, and he’ll have more of his own plans to announce after that.

“I will be expanding outside of Wichita and the state of Kansas and possibly become the next new public offering,” he says. “I’ve got a couple of avenues working.”

Harris says having five profit centers under one roof saves on overhead, which is why he says he can offer better prices. He says it makes sense to take the concept elsewhere.

“This concept I will take nationwide.”

Harris is confident he’ll succeed.

“It’ll be the next Pizza Hut.”