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.”

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Wisconsin-based Cobblestone Inn & Suites looking to bring hotel to Augusta

UPDATED — A new hotel may be coming to Augusta.

Wisconsin-based Cobblestone Inn & Suites, which recently opened a new hotel in Anthony and also has one in Harper, is considering a 50-room hotel.

“They have been looking at our community,” says Mayor Kristey Williams. “They’re growing very rapidly.”

Cobblestone is considering property on Seventh Avenue next to a car lot and just down from the new Walmart.

“It’s not finalized, but there seems to be a lot of interest,” Williams says.

Cobblestone is looking for local investors to be part of an LLC. The hotel isn’t a franchise.

Williams compares it to a Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn.

“It’s of that caliber.”

She says there would be a pool and a bar.

“It has all the amenities and features that you would find at any reputable chain.”

Attracting a well-known franchise in a city of Augusta’s size is difficult, Williams says.

“As you can imagine, it’s much more expensive to bring a franchise into your community.”

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Knork Flatware expands Bed Bath & Beyond presence to 650 stores

WICHITA — Newton-based Knork Flatware has landed a deal to sell its products in 650 Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

“It’s obviously going to impact sales substantially for us,” Knork president Tom Carson says. “It’s probably our largest retail account for a box store.”

The company began working with the chain in 2008.

“Bed Bath & Beyond started as a test,” says Knork vice president of marketing Lacy Simon.

Initially, the flatware that features its signature knife and fork in one utensil — a Knork — was in only the Wichita Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

“It’s just built from there,” Simon says. “The product sold very well.”

The number grew to 200 before jumping to 650, though Carson notes there are many more Bed Bath & Beyond stores than that, and he’d like to be in all of them. Knork is on the chain’s bridal registry as well.

“That’s done very well for us, too,” Carson says.

“I like to get Knork anywhere there’s heavy bridal,” Simon says.

There are 200 Dillard’s stores that sell Knork.

“Right now, Dillard’s is exploring the opportunities to expand, and that might be a possibility for spring 2013,” Simon says. “Macy’s is looking at a test for next fall.”

Target and Kohl’s also carry Knork online but not in their stores. Simon says Knork’s extensive manufacturing process makes it more expensive than other flatware lines sold in those stores.

There are now about 50 Knork products and $2 million in annual sales for the company, which started in 2004 with one product that Wichita resident Mike Miller created.

“It was kind of gadgetry,” Carson says. “A fork that cuts like a knife.”

The issue was “just overcoming some of the consumer skeptics of the new kind of unfamiliar product,” Simon says.

“It was quite a struggle at the beginning.”

It sometimes still is.

“It is truly such an experiential product,” Simon says. She says the goal is always to put the product into someone’s hands.

“You’ve really got to put it in your hands to experience the functionality of it,” Carson says.

Starting out, Carson says the company sold direct to other businesses.

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American Bikes 4 You to move to Wichita

UPDATED — Andover-based American Bikes 4 You, which sells pre-owned Harley-Davidsons, is moving to Wichita and almost doubling its space.

“Right now we average just over 300 bikes a year that we sell,” says LoRisa Fouch. “We’re hoping to double that. We’ll be able to have more motorcycles.”

Fouch owns the business with her husband, Larry, who has sold pre-owned Harleys for more than 25 years.

The 6-year-old company is moving to 8,500 square feet at 12345 E. Kellogg, which is east of Lowe’s and Walmart where Suburban Equipment used to be.

Currently, the Fouches rent two buildings, which are about 2,300 square feet each, at 13916 U.S. 54.

LoRisa says in addition to getting more space, the move will allow them to own their building, which she says makes more sense.

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Walmart confirms it will move and double the size of its Augusta store

WICHITA — In October 2010, Have You Heard? first reported a new, larger Walmart would be coming to Augusta. The Arkansas retailer didn’t have a comment at the time. It now confirms the store.

In an e-mailed response to an inquiry from The Eagle, spokesman Ryan Irsik said the company will be moving its 47,000-square-foot store at 1618 Ohio St. to 719 W. 7th Ave., which is near U.S. 54 and Lulu Street.

The new store will be a Walmart Supercenter with 120,000 square feet.

In addition to having more general merchandise, Irsik says the store will have more food as well, including a bakery, deli and fresh produce section. There also will be an expanded garden center.

Walmart currently employs 75 people at its Augusta store. The new one will have about 135 workers.

Look for the new store to open in early summer 2013. also vies to Get on the Shelf at Walmart

WICHITA — Homecooked Shortcuts isn’t the only Wichita company that has entered Walmart’s Get on the Shelf competition, which could land its microwave vegetable bag on the store’s shelves. also submitted a video to tout its reflective house numbers.

Joni Barthelman’s family started the company, which her son, Eli, now owns.

“Lo and behold, people started writing, ‘Where have you been? … We’ve been looking for you,’” Joni Barthelman says of the product’s immediate popularity.

She says the numbers are larger and more attractive than most on the market. They’re reflective “so emergency services can see you at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Barthelman says she’s not concerned about winning the Walmart competition.

“What we’re looking for most is the exposure,” she says. “Obviously, we think the exposure will be huge.”

To see the company’s video, click here.



To Get on the Shelf at Walmart is a Homecooked Shortcuts dream

WICHITA — Landing a spot on a Walmart shelf is a big deal for most manufacturers, which is why Wichitans Steve and Suzy Spatz have entered the chain’s Get on the Shelf competition.

“The Walmart competition is just a very unique opportunity,” Steve Spatz says.

The top winners of the contest, in which almost 4,000 participants have submitted videos of their work, will have their products featured at Walmart.

Spatz and his wife started Homecooked Shortcuts last year to sell the Corn-n-Tater Microwave Cooking Bag.

“It’s a simple, easy-to-use product,” Spatz says.

The bags can be used to cook vegetables such as corn and potatoes in the microwave.

“It makes it taste like it just came out of the oven instead of a microwave,” Spatz says.

Suzy Spatz made the products for years as gifts for family and friends.

“Momentum has just been growing and growing,” Steve Spatz says.

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Planet Fitness coming to Wichita with at least three gyms

WICHITA — Gold’s Gym International isn’t the only new fitness chain coming to Wichita.

Planet Fitness is finalizing deals for three locations as well.

In fact, the two chains have been jockeying for some of the same spaces.

No one with Planet Fitness is talking just yet, but it looks like the company is working on locations in the former Star Lumber space at Normandie Center at Central and Woodlawn, at Marina Lakes at 21st and Amidon where a new Walmart Neighborhood Market is and also at the 21st and Maize area.

The website for Planet Fitness describes its gyms as fairly basic.

“We don’t have any salespeople, and we don’t bother with all the extras like juice bars and childcare that drive up costs and can make a gym membership seem more like a car payment.”

Look for more news on the deals in the coming weeks.


Huddle House franchisees to open second restaurant in El Dorado

WICHITA — Huddle House franchisees David Key and Ron Lee are close to opening their second restaurant, this time in front of the Walmart in El Dorado.

The two opened their first Huddle House in Newton six months ago. Initially, they planned five of the restaurants over the next four years. The success of the Newton restaurant has caused them to change their plans, though.

“Just based on its success, it seems silly to build one a year,” Key says. “This is such an inexpensive place to dine in, we’re seeing record sales.   . . . So we’ve accelerated it.”

They’re planning about 14 of the restaurants in Kansas.

This is the first time the half-century-old chain has come to the state. The 24-hour diner has what Key describes as everything from breakfast food to comfort food.

There are more than 400 Huddle Houses, mostly in the southeast.

Originally, Key and Lee planned to make Hutchinson their second Huddle House site. They chose El Dorado instead because “just enough people from the city and potential customers were calling and asking,” Key says. “We’re seeing which communities reach out to us. I think that’s a safer way to play it.”

So far, he says, no one from Wichita has called. Key and Lee live here, though, and he says it’s just a matter of time before they open a Huddle House in Wichita.

Key and Lee also are looking at another franchise possibility and checking into developing their own concept as well.

“The more we can do in a community, there’s some synergistic savings,” Key says.

“Everything has to be right. In other words, there’s no rocket science to operating a restaurant. You’ve got to give people what they want. Every community is different.”

Advanced Computer and Cell Phone Solutions to open near new Walmart at 21st and Amidon

WICHITA — Walmart’s new Neighborhood Market at 21st and Amidon is attracting another new nearby business.

Advanced Computer and Cell Phone Solutions is opening in the small strip center at 2039 W. 21st St.

“You can see it from the new Walmart,” says Hugh Huynh, who is partners with Michael Le in the venture.

Huynh says the nearby Walmart factored into their decision to locate there.

The two will offer computer and cell phone sales and service.

Don Piros of Landmark Commercial Real Estate handled the deal.

“We plan on expanding in the future,” Huynh says of other sites.

“Right now we just want to focus on the northwest side of town first.”