Last August I wrote a bleak little blog post called “Empty Nest, White Sky,” in which I shared the following pictures of Old Town Lenexa:
You might say the area didn’t make a stellar first impression. So when my friend Malleson offered to show me her favorite neighborhood, and it turned out to be Old Lenexa, I was a bit skeptical.
I met her outside the Bulk-It store, a place I overlooked during my visit last summer. The name led me to believe it was some kind of grocery, but that’s not exactly true.
We entered the store and Malleson asked for Nancy Baum, the owner, while I looked around. Instead of the rows of bulk items I expected, the store is a marketplace for healthy, locally produced food. Chips and salsa, salad dressing, granola and dog food all have a place within Bulk-It’s lime green walls. They’re generous with the free samples, and everything I tasted was first rate.
Nancy came out of the back room, where she had just finished teaching an early morning yoga class. “There’s my friend Malleson,” she said warmly, in a tone I heard her repeat with every customer. The people who enter Nancy’s store are her community, her friends. She accepts them, nurtures them and rejoices over their lives.
I discovered this when Malleson said, “Jane wrote a book.” Nancy fell in love with the plot, and applauded my journey to publication. Long story short, you’re all invited to my book signing at Bulk-It on June 23rd. Be there or be square.
When Nancy’s store got busy, we headed to Velo +, the bicycle shop next door. The owner, Vincent Rodriguez, is a man of many interests. He makes steel bicycle frames for the serious cyclist. He also roasts coffee beans right there next to the bike display. (The beans are for sale, but he doesn’t serve coffee drinks.) And recently he’s been learning to process cacao beans and make his own chocolate bars. “I make things. That’s what I like to do,” he told me. Indeed.
In one corner of the bike shop, we found a relic of the way things used to be. The building where Bulk-It and Velo + rent space was once Ryckerts market, which served small-town Lenexa back when Pflumm was a gravel road. Ryckerts closed in 1993.
We returned to Bulk-It for lunch because it was Tamale Tuesday. Nancy served our vegan tamales (delicious) at a table in the middle of the store, and we washed them down with made-in-Olathe kombucha. Refreshing, and—like everything else in Nancy’s world—good for you, too.
Old Town Lenexa could use a face lift. From the outside, the shops seem a bit inaccessible. In addition, the city has grown up around the little row of shops, choking off access to the parking lot from 95th Street, and shrinking the public land surrounding it. But there is hope. After many years of westward expansion, the city has begun to take an interest in revitalizing the area. The next public meeting to discuss the matter will take place April 26th.
Some urban dwellers accuse the suburbs of being soulless. They look at our strip malls, and our propensity for the color beige, and they write us off as sellouts. They are wrong. Community is alive and well in residential Johnson County. It thrives in our neighborhoods, churches and schools. Community can even bloom in the places we shop. Just ask Nancy.