Tom Harper: Celebrate memories of Turner’s Grocery, the Merc at 700 Maine open house

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Buildings become historic sometimes simply by surviving, often serving many purposes and functions along the way. They are places where memories are etched into our consciousness, from meaningful experiences to long-lasting friendships.

700 Maine Street is one of those buildings. It has been the home of two locally owned grocery stores, and a single-family residence for two artists.

In 1933, Glenn Turner helped his parents open the store. He later married Rena Turner and they both ran the family grocery store aptly named Turner’s Grocery. The store eventually added a bait and tackle shop in the basement and in a small outbuilding off the alley.

Turner’s Grocery served the needs of Old West Lawrence and surrounding neighborhoods for a remarkable run, 44 years. In a framed 1977 newspaper article currently residing at 700 Maine, the journalist wrote that Turner’s was the last family-run grocery store in operation in Lawrence and that it was soon to close.

The Turners sold the property to the Community Mercantile in 1977, today known as The Merc Co-op. The Community Mercantile prospered at the location from 1977 to 1993. Eventually outgrowing the space, they moved to 901 Mississippi St., then moved once again to their current location at 901 Iowa St. in 2001.

Malika Lyon, a longtime Merc member and former board member, moved into Old West Lawrence in 1982. She fondly recalls pulling her children, Alan, Michael and Nicolette, in a little red wagon from their home at 628 Maine St. to the Merc frequently. 

“It was a funky old hippy store. The Merc had all the good food; it was where we got everything,” she said. “It was a familiar place. It almost felt like home.”  

Dan Rockhill, KU distinguished professor of architecture, purchased the property from the Community Mercantile in 1993, repurposing and resurfacing it with a smooth stucco finish into the modern single-family residence as it appears today. Rockhill constructed the two-story modern home to the east that once served as the parking lot for the grocery stores. He also renovated the small building in back that served as the bait and tackle shop for the Turners, and later, the bakery for the Mercantile.

Tom Harper 700 Maine St., as it appears today

For the last 29 years, the property has served as a home and studio for two artists. Most recently, it was the home of Richard “Rik” Dishinger, KU professor emeritus of painting, who recently died. Rik’s daughters, Alison Dishinger and Sarah Pastora, are now selling the property and asked me to help market and sell the home.

As we were discussing its rich history, I recalled fond memories of shopping at the Community Mercantile and felt how special it was to be back in the space. In 1989, I moved from Wichita to Lawrence to attend KU. My first apartment was on Mississippi Street, and that’s when I discovered this small health food store at 700 Maine. I felt comfortable and welcomed with my long hair and Birkenstocks, and I returned often to purchase trail mix, Blue Sky Soda and Nan Renbarger’s yummy Jammies and cinnamon rolls. 

I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have a collaborative open house so that we could a share the space with the community and share our collective memories? Alison and Sarah graciously agreed, and so did The Merc.

We invite you to join us from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 3 at 700 Maine St. for an open house.

It will be an opportunity to see old friends, meet new friends and help build upon the rich history of our co-op. We encourage you to bring your photos and memories to share.

At 2:30 p.m., we will listen to a variety of speakers, including:

  • Kathy and Rick Sedlak, who worked at Turner’s Grocery Store along with their mother, Ramona, who was the butcher. 
  • Rockhill will speak about the renovation of 700 Maine, the bakery, and constructing the two-story home to the east.
  • Jennifer McKnight, the owner of the two-story Rockhill home to the east and the small building that was once the Merc Bakery has graciously offered to open the building for the tour.
  • Several early and current Merc members/managers will speak, including Linda Gwaltney, who was one of the four collective managers for the Community Mercantile from 1978 to 1996.
  • Nan Renbarger, one of the co-founders of the Merc Bakery that would later become Amazing Grains, will bring her world-renowned “Jammies” for those in attendance.

Please consider joining us for this unique opportunity to visit 700 Maine and celebrate its past as well as its future.

About the writer

Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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