Friends of the Kaw has been protecting, advocating for, and helping people discover the Kansas River for 27 years.


Friends of the Kaw is a non-profit organization, founded 27 years ago in Lawrence, Kansas, by a group of North Lawrence residents looking to oppose dredging on the Kansas River, and now acts as a grassroots environmental organization “working to protect and preserve the Kansas River.” For the last four years, the group's executive director and Riverkeeper has been Dawn Buehler. The executive director part sees Buehler managing the daily activities of Friends of the Kaw. Riverkeeper, though? That might take some explaining.

“Waterkeeper Alliance is a worldwide alliance that has over 330 waterkeepers, worldwide,” Buehler explains. Keepers can include Coastalkeepers, Baykeepers, or any body of water. There's only one in the state of Kansas, which is the Kansas Riverkeeper, and that is her. “The way it works is that we're all members of the Alliance, but supported by a local non-profit – in this case, Friends of the Kaw, who joined the Alliance in 2003.”

The main job of the Riverkeeper is to protect and preserve the river, and Buehler, along with Friends of the Kaw, does that by mediating suspected pollution by working with different agencies to make sure it gets cleaned up or investigated, and holding communities accountable for the health of the river.

“I explain it to people like this: we're polite and we want to work in collaboration,” Buehler explains of the Riverkeeper position. “But we push, and we push hard until things get resolved. A huge part of what we do is advocating. We protect the river, we advocate for it, and we help people discover it. ”

Buehler has held a connection with the Kansas River which goes back as far as she can remember, growing up in De Soto on a 500-acre crop farm along the river's banks. She's had a relationship with the river her whole life, she says.

“Some of my earliest memories, we were fishing on the river from a jon boat or on the banks,” she recalls. “We would canoe on the river, we camped on the sandbars.”

Looking back on her time on and near the river, Buehler says, she realizes that every time she went through a hardship in her life, she'd go to it to reflect.

“One of my grandmothers passed away, and I would go to the Kansas River bridge in De Soto,” Buehler says, slightly choked-up and with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. “I would sit there and I would watch the sunset, and it was amazing. It was breathtaking to me. It was the most peaceful place to sit and think and reflect about how your life has changed so much.”

 So, Buehler had a really deep relationship with the river already, but she worked as an accountant for 15 years. She went back to school to get a Bachelor of Science degree in Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and decided she was going to do the work that she was doing on the weekends.

 “I was working as an accountant, and on the weekends and was volunteering for Friends of the Kaw, the Nature Conservancy, or for the Baker Wetlands – anywhere I could find volunteer work,” says Buehler of her story. It was mostly outdoors, and even now, she says, she finds that most of the Friends of the Kaw volunteers are like that: “They'll tell me that they have a full-time desk job and that this is their outlet, and I'm like, 'I know exactly what you're talking about, because that's what landed me here.'”

 One of those many volunteers is Blue Collar Press president, Sean Ingram, who began showing up to Friends of the Kaw events about a year ago.

 “Our relationship with Blue Collar started when Sean started working with us as a volunteer” is how Buehler explains how Friends of the Kaw came to work with the press. “He came and volunteered with us at an event, and just kept coming back. I don't even think that I knew the name of the business he was the owner of until six months after I met him.”

Once Buehler realized the possibilities of a volunteer with a business like Blue Collar Press, she reached out to Sean, because Friends of the Kaw is an organization with a diverse set of needs. Right off the bat, she says, the press offered to make shirts for the group's Kaw River Guides, who are the volunteers on the river for things like the Friends' regular educational paddle trips.

“They donated them all, and that was very humbling to have such a large donation, and to be able to give back to our volunteers ,” relates Buehler. “People who get paid nothing and do it just because they care about the river, care about our organization, care about helping people connect with the river. It's completely selfless volunteering at its finest, and they're just amazing people.”

Blue Collar Press debuted a brand-new pop-up concept at the Friends of the Kaw's third annual Beers of the Kaw fundraiser, held at Lawrence's Abe & Jake's Landing in early November of 2018. The company brought screenprinting equipment on-site and made t-shirts, bags, and koozies while people waited, and it was a smashing success – as was the event, which sold out its 650 tickets, and brought in another 150 people in the form of vendors and volunteers.

“That was absolutely incredibly popular,” Buehler says of the pop-up. “People loved it. There was nothing left. It was amazing. They were fabulous – I look over, and there must have been 20 people in line, every time I looked over there.”

Things look big for Friends of the Kaw: they just hired their first Development Director, literally the day before we sat down and spoke. They've also already announced the next Beers of the Kaw event – November 3, 2019 – for those who like their beer local, benefiting a good cause, and tied to education. Also, with the start of the new legislative session, Buehler has some folks to meet and advocate to.

“There'll be some new relationships to build there,” concludes the Riverkeeper. “There's a lot of things that are competing for the money that we have in this state, and I fully recognize that there are a lot of other things that need that attention, but we hope that water is a part of the conversation, too.”

Story: Nick Spacek
portrait: Austin Snell
photos: FOK instagram

Fat Girl Flow founder Corissa Enneking wants everybody to feel included in her line of custom-designed plus-size clothing.


The website Fat Girl Flow is about plus size fashion, but also so much more. As founder Corissa Enneking states on the site, it's the intersection of that, challenging toxic views, sharing pretty things she loves, and triumphs through adversity, among many other aspects.

For something that started with Enneking “messing around on Tumblr ten years ago,” as she says, her once-blog, now blog-and-clothing-company, Fat Girl Flow, has grown far beyond reblogging posts. Granted, her not-insubstantial 24,000 followers were nothing to sneeze at, so Enneking's decision to move from the social media platform to her own site wasn't without good reason. Plus, as she says, the timing was right.

“Definitely before everyone was blogging, but definitely on the cusp – it was starting to become a thing,” says Enneking in her office, located above Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. “I was thinking, 'Y'know, maybe I'll take this Tumblr thing legit and see if anyone will go for it.'”

One of the people whom she'd met on Tumlr was her friend, Joe, who had a hosting company called Accelerated Worpress, as well as a ton of information on how to get started. So, when Enneking made the decision to start blogging, the site's been growing and changing almost continuously since it launched in 2015. It hit the ground running, as Enneking says enthusiastically.

“I feel really grateful,” Enneking states. “Since the beginning, I've had a mentor. Since I started with it, I didn't stop – I went full-force.”

About eight months after the Fat Girl Flow blog started, Enneking started a companion YouTube channel. As she researched and followed other channels, she realized that people were doing merchandise for their shows. She started a line of shirts with the Fat Girl Flow logo on them, but quickly ran into a problem.

“No-one could find a size over 3X to save their lives,” she recalls with a bit of resignation. They did a small run with another company, and it did all right, but the lack of options was still an issue – that is, until a little over a year ago, when her friend, Mallory Wright, brought to Enneking's attention the possibilities that existed with Blue Collar Press.


Wright, who became Enneking's account manager at Merchtable, took the opportunity to tell the company owner all of the things a local company could do. Enneking was excited:

“So, there's actually somebody in Lawrence who can do this, and I can actually physically meet with the people I'm talking to?”

Still, they ran into the same problem, in that sourcing shirts above a 3X or 4X was a difficulty, and even the shirts that they could find were boxy, unisex styles that were definitely more functional than fashionable.

“I'm not saying that a unisex shirt doesn't have its place – they're great, and I think a lot of people get a lot of use from them,” Enneking points out, but she goes on to explain that her audience was not loving it as their only option. So, from there, it became fairly apparent that there was a need for Fat Girl Flow to create their own line of t-shirts, from the ground up.

“There's this thing in the plus-size community where we're always getting second-best,” continues Enneking. “It's not hard – we just want pretty-looking clothes. That feels pretty simple.”

Enneking says that it's less a matter of things being difficult, and more a cyclical aspect of the fashion industry not being willing to take the step of making clothing for the plus-sized market, because they don't think the market will buy them, then when they make substandard things, the market doesn't buy them, and then the argument starts all over again.

“You really have to let people know that you're doing this for them, and that you have their best interests in mind,” she explains, offering up a counterargument to the usual suggestion that people should just buy what's available and be happy with it.

“For us, the 5X and 6X's are the first thing that sell out,” Enneking says. “They fly, so people will buy – you just have to put the small amount of effort into letting them trust you.”


To that end, she met with Sean Ingram, and he got in contact with designers behind the iconic American Apparel tees, and explained the unique opportunity that Enneking and her idea represented.

“We were both on the same page,” Enneking says of her work with Ingram. “The thing is – nothing fancy has to happen, right? Plus-sized people just want access to the same shit everybody else has. It's not that magical: we just want a soft, cotton-blend shirt. How difficult can that possibly be?”

There was a mock-up made, Enneking tried it on, they made adjustments as to whether or not it needed to be longer, or if the sleeves needed to be shorter, and so on, and she describes the entire process as being “pretty cool.”

Also cool? The absolutely inclusive aspect of the Fat Girl Flow brand. In addition to the Fat Girl Flow logo tees, crewnecks, and croptops, as well as FGF Basics line, which offers up perfect tees, raglans, and croptops, there's the amazing Pronoun Packs. These offer up an enamel pronoun pin, several stickers, including a "Hello My Pronouns Are" sticker, a “Break the Binary” sticker proudly representing the trans flag colors, 20 “Hey friend, you misgendered me” cards, and an “ask me about my pronouns” button to get the conversation started.

“My focus has always been body positivity,” Enneking explains, and while the phrase may have been bastardized over the years, to Fat Girl Flow's founder, it's still strong. “To me, the focus is giving equal respect, dignity, and love to every body: every trans body, every black body, every fat body. It's a very inclusive thing, and for me, in my mind, when I think about designing products, I want everybody to feel included. I don't want people to feel, 'This is something I don't get.'”

Story: Nick Spacek
Photo: Hallie Sigwing

Standard Electric Tattooing's Jarod and Holly Hackney make pulp comic ink come alive on the skin of their clients.


Sitting in Standard Electric Tattooing, the tiny shop owned by Jarod and Holly Hackney at 19 W. 9th Street in downtown Lawrence, you very quickly get an idea of what the pair does best when it comes to their art. There's a stack of vintage science fiction paperbacks on a shelf, flash sheets featuring classic designs, interpretations of scenes from iconic horror movies like Suspiria, and – dominating the back eastern wall – a canvas featuring a print of Japanese artist Hokusai's “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

“I think, sometimes, it's easier to say what we don't specialize in,” says Holly, when I ask how all of this factors into what styles the husband and wife duo work in when they're tattooing. “We love doing traditional. We love doing black and gray. We love doing fine-line black and gray. We don't like doing a lot of watercolor. We don't do portraiture. We maybe do a little neo-traditional? It just depends.”

Jarod, thanks to an early mentor, ended up falling into black and gray. He'd worked at several different establishments in Lawrence, Wichita, and Overland Park over the eight years before the couple opened Standard Electric in August of 2016, but he credits his time at J. P. Cruise Professional Tattooing in Wichita, and the shop's owner, Josh Cruise in really helping him find his particular niche.


 “It was the best thing that could happen to me,” Jarod recalls.”He really kind of retrained me really quickly, and I ended up falling into black and gray. That was where I really blossomed, because you can turn anything into black and gray. As a matter of fact, in tattooing, all tattoos start out with black and gray before you put the color on top of it.”

He brings up the fact that he had always been an all-around guy, prior to that experience, taking all the simple tattoos which walked in the door, but he quickly realized that the easiest tattoos are also the easiest to do wrong.

“The ones you can see from across the room – where if it's not a perfect heart or a star behind an ear, it's warped, and everyone can see it,” Jarod says, pointing to the fact that these are shapes people have known by heart since kindergarten. “So, I learned to go really technical.”

Holly, prior to apprenticing under her husband, had worked in education since she was 19. She quickly learned that working for the school district, opening a new business, and apprenticing – to say nothing of the couple's three children – was more than she could handle. 

“We opened this place in August, and by October, I quit my job,” relates Holly. “Just to focus on tattooing, because it was just way too much. Basically, I dropped everything so I could just focus on appreciating, because it was just really overwhelming, it was really emotional, it was really fucking hard – really taxing.”


She says all of this with a smile and a laugh, and you can tell just how much the couple enjoys working together after just a couple minutes sitting with the pair. It's a good thing, too, because taking on their own business was a real learning experience, especially for Jarod, who'd always worked in a shop wherein all he had to worry about was coming in and working at tattooing.

“I didn't realize how much of an office a tattoo shop was,” he explains. “It's like, 'Oh, we gotta have a stapler.' 'Oh, we gotta have staples.' 'Oh, this stapler sucks. We gotta get a new one.' 'Where's all the scissors?' It just kept going and going and going. I never thought I'd be ordering clipboards and things like that.”

Sorting out the practicalities of the shop on the tattooing side was easy, because the pair knew what they needed on that end – gloves, ink, disinfectant wipes, and so on – but things like tape? Who knew you needed to buy tape?

“Working in a big shop, you can just bounce around and it's like, 'Dude, you got those medium gloves for me?' offers Jarod as just one example among many of the things beyond one's personal station that become something to consider when you're the boss.


Thankfully, one of the things which happened a little more smoothly was when the Hackneys decided to order their shirts from Blue Collar Press. A prior experience with a different press shortly after opening Standard Electric had resulted in less than stellar results, with the design looking fine on smaller sizes, but when blown up to extra-large, it ended up being unfortunately small.

“We weren't too impressed with them,” says Holly. “We just ended up giving them away. So, we knew the second time around, we wanted to do it right – that we liked the shirts and the quality and everything.”

They point to the fact that the Bourgeois Pig, just down the block, has really wonderful stickers, and an inquiry into who'd made them was the Hackneys' first introduction to the Blue Collar name. So, when it came time to order their next set of shirts, they had a name and a sense of quality to start with. Holly credits the online ordering process on the Blue Collar website as being a breeze and helping make their second batch of shirts far more appealing.


“I just shot over an email, and I shot over our design,” she says. It helped that the Hackneys knew what shirts and colors they wanted, thanks to really doing some research on their end, but the ability to email a local company with everything they wanted, approving the price, and then receiving an invoice and a timeline as being wonderfully easy and simple.

“[Blue Collar] made it really painless,” Holly concludes. She reaches under the desk to pull out a tri-blend t-shirt so that we can ooh and ah over how nice the shirt looks and feels. The experience has been so positive, the pair is looking to using the press for future merch, like stickers and enamel pins. While they offer up free buttons to clients, they'd like to have something a little more fancy.

 “We do hat buttons, but when it comes to enamel, with the backing on them?” Jarod looks off into the middle distance, kind of dreaming at the prospect. “That's my jam.”

Story: Nick Spacek
Photos: Austin Snell

Ad Astra Area Aquatics' Patrick Norman runs a swim team that's a coach directed, parent supported, and athlete centered.

When Patrick Norman started Ad Astra Area Aquatics in 2010, he had 13 athletes enrolled as part of the Lawrence swim team for which he is the head coach. Along with his wife, Katie Price-Norman, who is the head age group coach, they've grown the squad to more than ten times that, with 140 area swimmers.


“We've grown a lot since then,” Norman states matter-of-factly about those early days over kombucha in downtown Lawrence one late summer morning. Ad Astra started when the coach left the other Lawrence swim team for which he worked, in order to follow a different model than what his previous team had offered.

“It's coach directed, parent supported, athlete centered,” he explains. “It's a little bit different than running a parent-run team, where a lot of the decisions are made parent board of directors.”

There is a board for Ad Astra, but as Norman notes, it's more of a sounding board, and less involved in what he refers to as the “wet side” of things. In addition to being head coach, Norman is the president of the Ad Astra organization, and his wife is the business manager.


“It was a bit of a movement in terms of what people wanted here in town, and so we started with that in mind and that's how we've been operating ever since,” states the coach. The growth wasn't all at once, obviously. The Ad Astra Area Aquatics team has grown steadily, but Norman says that he thinks they've exceeded any expectations folks might have had when they began, especially as there wasn't a plan, so to speak, when he started.

“I would've been happy coaching the 13 kids – and having the sort of job security that I have now – for a long time,” Norman says of Ad Astra's growth, which he says came from the success that they've had. “I had been coaching for a long time and I had coached all over the country, so I had had some success in the past, so I think once people saw we were being successful in swimming, people just kind of jumped on board.”

The head coach does acknowledge that they had some good athletes when they started, so it wasn't starting from scratch, but that first year saw the team place place 16th at the Sectionals, and was the third place team at the Missouri Valley Swimming LSC Championships, Small Team Division. The very next year, 2011, would see their rankings move up to 14th at Sectionals, and Ad Astra would be the first place team in the Missouri Valley LSC Championships, Medium Team Division, and be the fourth place team overall. That's an impressive jump, and might explain why the team has qualified four swimmers for the USA Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha since 2012.

“It's just kind of fallen into place,” Norman continues. “We were going to create happy kids and happy families, and teach their kids how to enjoy swimming and love the sport.”

Norman says a lot of that has to do with the fact that there's a sort of swimming family in Lawrence. He started coaching in 2001, and swam for the University of Kansas, and some of those kids whom he coached in those early years now work for him.

“There's one who I coached when she was like, eight – I literally taught her how to swim,” the coach says with a sense of wonder. “Now she's finishing her schooling to be a teacher and coaches for us, and does other swimming and coaches on the side.”


Those are the kinds of stories, Norman says, that when you're really passionate about swimming and love what you do, are really cool. That's sort of the reason why the whole Ad Astra perspective is to start kids out, and getting them in the water with a sense of loving swimming, rather than immediately immersing them in competition. Even as the kids age, however, there are some who aren't necessarily aiming for lifelong athletic competition, and Ad Astra wants them to be part of the community, as well.

“Not everyone's gonna want to be that sort of swimmer who's going to go to college and swim, and just keep doing it forever,” Norman says, although he's quick to point out that swimming is the kind of activity you can do all your life. To the end of keeping the folks who want the team atmosphere to encourage them to push the beyond their limits, they have the One Day A Week group.

“We've had so many people that we kept involved in our sport, and we realize that swimming every day of the week – including Saturdays – is a huge commitment,” he says of the group. “We've kept people not only involved and joining the team, but that's a huge group right now.”

That flexibility in terms of what Ad Astra Area Aquatics does is reflected in their relationship with Blue Collar Press – a willingness to find different things, and work with someone in order to make them happen.


Norman's a graphic designer himself, so he comes up with all of the different looks the team has had over its history. He started working with the Press during his final year with his previous team, and he says that, when they started Ad Astra, it just made sense to keep working with Blue Collar.

“Even when we had small orders at the beginning – we had 13 swimmers, so not too many – we were able to utilize them to help us customize our orders,” Norman says of the days, going on to say that he never even considered going with anyone else. “I really liked going in and being able to talk to them and say, 'This is what I want to do' and ask questions like, 'What kind of shirts are popular right now?' and just have them work with me.”

Norman also likes the fact he's working with a company which has been growing alongside his for the last nine or ten years, but has remained just as accessible as when the relationship first began.

“Over the last few years, we've gotten pretty steady with what we want, and they know what we want,” he says of the long term Ad Astra / Blue Collar pairing. “Sometimes, we try to branch out, but they've always been able to recommend things and know what – from an athletic standpoint – what we were looking for.”

Dave and Jessica Derr's Wiener Kitchen keeps it local by providing a snapshot of the farmer's market year-round


Although Dave Derr and his wife, Jessica, have been cooking together since 2001, their sausage-making business has only been around for six years. Originally started in 2012 as the Wiener Wagon, a cart which would appear at the Overland Park Farmer's Market and the occasional special event around the JoCo area, the couple opened a storefront location – Wiener Kitchen – in December of 2017.

“We were taken with that hot dog cart / food truck movement,” Derr explains of the sausage business's start, sitting at a table in the lobby of Wiener Kitchen's storefront at 9645 W. 87th Streetin Overland Park. “At the time, we were cooking at the Art Institutes International, being college professors for culinary arts.”

They had some free time, so they figured, “Let's fill this up with a hot dog cart, just to see what happens.” Of course, Derr says, it was possibly the worst time to start a project like that – their four kids were all still really little, and they were also redoing their kitchen.

“Their claim was 'Build a hot dog cart out of used stuff and things from Walmart and Harbor Freight for $399' or whatever,” Derr says, but admits that they decided to go bigger. Their garage was filled with coolers and equipment, and after some mucking around, they built their custom cart. “That took us four, five, six months, off and on, building it, and then, there it was.”

Derr says that at the outset, the couple had no purpose, but they did a few small events like a carnival and the Pendleton Heights homes tour, and steadily stair-stepped upward after their first appearance at the farmer's market later that summer.

Derr attended Johnson County Community College, as part of their culinary arts program, and during their garde manger class, wherein students learn the art and science of a cold kitchen, sausage-making was one of the weeks.

“I just got it,” says Derr with emphasis. “I loved it.”

 Derr would belt out links for dinners at the golf course restaurant he and his wife both worked at, or at home for a cook-out, and it was just something he never let go. Once the available teaching hours at his regular job started to wind down, he voluntarily stepped aside to focus on the family-owned Wiener Wagon, and now also, Wiener Kitchen.

 While there's now a brick-and-mortar location open year-round, it's not changed the fact that the business is very local. Derr's daughter can ride her bike to the shop from her house and the farmer's market – where the Wiener Wagon can be found every Saturday, from April to November – is just 3-4 minutes down the road by car.

“It's one of the places that's really helped us gain clientele around here,” explains Derr. “It's all very local to us. We love it – we're neighbors. I'm starting to get to know a lot of the families around here – like, 'Where do your kids go to school?' It's great.”

In addition to growing the business's locations, the offerings have increased from Wiener Wagon to Wiener Kitchen. While those early days might have seen only Italian sausage and bratwurst on the menu – as well as the unlikely turdurcken (a combination of turkey, duck, and chicken) – the Kitchen's menu sees bacon sausage, chorizo rojo, jalapeno cheddar kielbasa, and a vegan dog, among others, as well as a constantly-rotating menu of seasonal offerings.

“It's gone from three or four to start off with to – I don't know – 50? 60?” Derr guesses. He credits the vegan option to Jessica, upon their acceptance to the farmer's market. “She's like, 'It's vegetables. It's 2013. It's gotta happen,' and the several times we've gone out and said, 'Let's not do a vegetarian one,' we shot ourselves in the foot, because vegans and vegetarians, and saying, 'I can put some toppings in a bun'? That's not fun.”


The food is amazing and delicious – everything's made from American Homestead Natural Meats pork and chicken from Gerber’s Poultry – and the folks in the kitchen have paired the right sauce to put on your sausage, no matter what you order. The bacon sausage comes with homemade country gravy, for instance, and if Jessica's behind the counter, she'll even help you pick out the right kind of Jarritos soda to drink with it.

In a further effort to listen to their clientele and offer up what they hear is wanted, Wiener Kitchen is now supplied with a vegan bun by Farm to Market Bread. As Derr points out, the business is constantly evolving: “We're good about listening, and transparent about what's in there.”

A way in which the Derr's product line has expanded is that not only does the store carry a wide variety of their sausages, along with drinks and homemade chili or gravy, but customers who walk into Wiener Kitchen can also snag some local and regional products to dress up that meat.

“We're just trying to carry all of the stuff from our friends at the market,” he says, pointing to jars of locally-made KC Canning marinara sauce along the lobby's east wall. “Buy some Italian sausage, buy some marinara from them, and handmade pasta – done. You can even get cheese and have a meal.”

He points to the cold cases along the opposite wall, which feature locally-made cheeses from Skyview Farm & Creamery out of Pleasanton, Kansas, and Hemme Brothers Farmstead Creamery of Sweet Springs, Missouri. Both are producers who've been alongside the Wiener Wagon at the farmer's market for years, as well as Teabiotics, makers of the kombucha nestled next to the Lost Trail root beer.


Of course, what local sausage shop would be complete without a t-shirt to show your love? While maybe not as attention-seeking as shirts claiming to be “Best of the Wurst,” the Wiener Kitchen tees are nicely done, with logo work by Blue Collar Press from the get-go, going back to the original hot dog on a fork for the wagon, as well as the new Wiener Kitchen baseball-style version.

There's even a neon version of the kitchen's logo for an upcoming shirt. While the Derrs don't have an actual neon sign, folks can brighten up their wardrobe with one on themselves, which the shop's owner really digs.

“I love how we can bounce ideas off of them – whether it's a sketch or verbal,” Derr says of the Blue Collar design team. “They're awesome. There are some bro tanks coming – gotta have those. We're gonna do one of those refrigerator bags, so you can reuse it, and we're finally going to do bumper stickers – 'Honk for Hot Dogs,' 'I Brake for Bratwurst' – something to keep it fresh, man.”

Story: Nick Spacek. Photos: Austin Snell

The Raven Book Store works to make Lawrence the “culture capitol of Kansas”, resisting the notion of flyover country.


Tucked away on a side street, just around the corner from downtown Lawrence icon Liberty Hall, The Raven Book Store has been the city's independent “purveyors of print on paper since 1987,” as the shop's Twitter bio cleverly states.

However, owner Danny Caine took over the store at 6 E 7th Street just a little over a year ago, when he purchased the longtime establishment from owner Heidi Raak. However, it wasn't the start of his time with The Raven, as he'd been an employee of the store for several years prior. Caine's ownership of the store comes down to what he describes as a combination of a lifelong dream to own a bookstore and a little bit of dumb luck.

“It was always a dream, but it was a dream I didn't let myself [have],” he says with a grin. “It was like, 'Well, on the off chance that anything ever leads to this, I'd love to do it, but I should probably plan on being a teacher' was kind of what I did.”

Caine actually had a teaching career – high school and college for nearly seven years – and he learned through various ways, at various times, that it just wasn't for him. So, he came to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas in pursuit of an M.F.A. in poetry, and immediately started trying to get a job at The Raven.

“I moved here, Lawrence was cool, Lawrence had a small bookstore, I knew somebody who worked here, and I started this campaign,” explains Caine of his goal to work in the sort of place he'd dreamed up growing up in a Borders town, where the only bookstore was the big chain. “It took about six months to convince them that they even had a job opening, and that I was a good person for it. 

Caine worked at The Raven for two and a half years, and as he lost interest in teaching, he started becoming more interested in the book business. He took on more and different responsibilities and looked into different aspects of bookselling as a career. Then, one night, Raak made an offhand joke about selling the store to Caine.


“I was like, 'This could be my moment,' right?” the now-owner says with obvious excitement. He knew she was joking, but just in case, he seized the opportunity. “I was like, 'Well, if you ever think about it, I would love for you to talk to me first.'”

Then, as jokes sometimes do, it turned into something serious. It took Caine a lot of research to determine whether or not it made sense – whether he could afford to take it on, whether it would be a viable business, and so on – and after nearly a year, he decided that this was his chance, and he took it.

“Thankfully, Lawrence has always been kind to The Raven,” says Caine appreciatively. “It's been great.”

One of the notable changes during Caine's time at The Raven – aside from more shelves and fixtures around the store since he took ownership in August of 2017 – is that, while the store has always hosted readings and visits from local, national, and international authors and poets, they have certainly ramped up over the last couple years, both in terms of number and visibility.

“That's definitely my favorite part, and the part I'm working on the hardest,” Caine says of the reading series. “It's something I have a lot of energy for. I really love bringing authors to town, and once you have a couple that work out, they very slowly begin to beget more.”


He points to a partnership with Liberty Hall as being a large part of it. While The Raven has always done library events at the Hall, they've recently begun putting on their own events there, teaming up with The Commons at KU. To say they've gone well is a bit of an understatement.

“In January, we had 550 people to see Eve Ewing, who's a debut poet in her 30s from Chicago,” offers Caine as an example. “That's amazing numbers anywhere for a poet. You could throw a poetry reading in New York City that wouldn't draw 550 people.”

Caine hopes numbers like that will make Lawrence the culture capital of Kansas, and for folks to view Lawrence as a Midwestern literary hub, not unlike Iowa City. As he says, the city has the authors, the audience, the book store, the facilities, and the energy.


“I would love for people to see Lawrence as a city where cool literary things are happening,” he explains. It's definitely a possibility, and we discuss various other bookstores in middle of the map – Iowa City's Prairie Lights, Denver's Tattered Cover, and Austin's Book People – as shops which offer up examples of how it's happened elsewhere.

“I resist the notion of flyover country so much,” Caine definitively states. “Just because we don't touch an ocean doesn't mean interesting art isn't happening here.”

Bringing in authors and sponsoring events around Lawrence is definitely a way to develop the community both in general, as well as one related to The Raven itself. It's important to do these community events, Caine says, but there's also a practical element to everything the bookstore does.

“I love Lawrence, and we love to bolster the community here and we think it's important to bring people in, but it also helps us to stay afloat,” says the owner matter-of-factly. “We have a table in the back selling books. It's a great way to sell a lot of books, and to make sure we can keep doing this.”


In addition to the thousands of books which populate The Raven's shelves, you can also take home items which demonstrate your love for the store. There's the usual – what's a bookstore without a tote bag or coffee mug? –  as well as “Make America Read Again” hats, which the owner can be seen wearing most times you spot him. Caine has also increased the number of t-shirts options available, and he's done it in an interesting way.

“Beyond mugs, The Raven had never done merch before I took over,” he explains. He's designed all the merch, except for their most recent shirt, which features an image of the store taken from Kevin Cannon's Midwest Indie Bookstore Map. There's also what Caine calls the “retro” design, which looks like an old physical education shirt from the '70s. That's where things get clever.

“I wanted to only print one color once,” he explains with excitement. “Each run is a limited-edition one, partly because I think it's fun. It's totally a gimmick, but it's also fun.”


The store printed a limited run of shirts on red and gray as a test when Caine took over, so whenever he sees one of those colors, he knows he's looking an OG, early-adopter Raven customer. It's another example of just how hands-on he is in terms of deciding what merch goes where. Caine was also pretty particular about the look and feel of the shirts, and worked closely with Blue Collar Press to determine what kind they should be.

“Blue Collar was really good about that – I love the shirts we print on,” Caine says. The quality and the price point on those shirts, he continues, allows the bookstore to make their margins and sell the tees for ten dollars less than similar-quality apparel from other places. It's the tote bags, though, that really demonstrate what The Raven is all about.

“Even if it wasn't a bag I had designed and sold to that person, I would think that a bookstore tote bag is such an important marker of who you are,” Caine concludes. “You shop local, you like to read – so that's really cool.”

715 simultaneously promotes itself & local arts scene with uniquely original idea.


With its classy simplicity, restaurant 715 is one of the gems of downtown Lawrence. The 2018 Best of Lawrence awards – voted on by the people of the city – named the eatery at 715 Massachusetts Street “Best Dining Ambiance,” “Best Date Spot,” and gave the bar “Best Wine List” and “Best Place to get a Mixed Drink/Cocktail.”

While awards are impressive and bring notice, the European-style restaurant and bar has really made its bones by paying attention to the little details, and changing with the wants and desires of its customers since it opened in the fall of 2009. According to Matt Hyde, manager and part owner of 715, the restaurant has evolved over time, depending on both what the owners have felt like and what the guests are in the mood for. He points out the current 715 menu as an example.

“Right now – this time of year – with our new chef, Jake Dodds-Sloan, it's very vegetable-focused,” Hyde explains. In summertime, vegetables are plentiful, since they're in-season, and it's something that's light and fresh. “This time of year, I don't think anybody wants to eat squash – like, butternut squash. They want zucchini.”


However, while 715 tries to be flexible and pay attention to seasonal availability, there are core items that stay on the menu year-round. As a recent Instagram post noted, when they attempted to replace the spaghetti with tuna, mozzarella, and capers with something else, “a bunch of people freaked out,” so they “un-replaced it” and “people chilled.”

“We have a core menu of things that are on there year-round, and then we rotate things in,” Hyde says. Even the cocktail menu follows suit. “We've broken it out in to 715 standards, classic cocktails, and then seasonal cocktails. We do an early spring, then a late spring, a hot hot summer.”

715's bar manager Katrina Weiss swaps out her cocktails not just four times a year, because it'll still be summer at the beginning of September, explains Hyde. They never set a date – the folks at the restaurant just look at the forecast and plan accordingly. Case in point: the day we were talking, it was sweltering hot out, and thanks to a suggestion from Twitter, they were making sangria.

As 715 has aged, the way the restaurant presents itself has changed somewhat. When they first opened , they had several different t-shirts available for purchase, and they were prominently displayed above the host station by the front door.


“We had some for the staff, and people asked about them, so we sold a few of those,” Hyde says of early merchandising for the restaurant. However, merchandise never really became a solid thing for 715 – he says they probably still have a bunch of shirts in storage – so, they've pivoted in terms of what they do to promote themselves, and it's quite novel.

“What we've done to try to mix it up a little is the coasters,” the manager says, lifting up a water glass to show off one of the drink mats 715 has custom-made by Blue Collar Press. “We're on our second series of coasters with local artists. We've got four different coasters, with the story of the artist on the back.”

Hyde has been part of the Lawrence arts scene for years – his first restaurant job was washing dishes at the former downtown institution, Tellers, because he needed a flexible schedule to be involved with music things (he helped found the Lawrence record label, Lotuspool, in the early '90s). The building in which 715 sits was Silverworks, a jeweler, which was around for nearly 30 years, so Hyde says that's a way to maintain a connection to the history of the building, as well as the present of the arts scene in Lawrence.

The coasters feature work by local artists, and with the assistance of Alicia Kelly, the curated series has an image of a piece on one side, with a brief explanation of it, along with biographical details and contact information on the reverse. It's simple, but it's different, and it's definitely far more interesting to see artwork – especially, say, artist John Niswonger's image of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rendered in stained glass – as opposed to the restaurant's logo or yet another Budweiser advertisment.

“Just trying to hit the arts, because we don't have art displayed on the walls,” Hyde says, pointing to the bare stone of the south wall, and the plain, painted north. “We wanted to have a way to get the word out about artists.  There's also a poetry installment coming soon, curated by the Raven Bookstore's Danny Caine.


“Jim McCrary, the poet came up with the idea,” Hyde continues. “He was like, 'Why don't you do poetry?' and I was like, 'That's a great idea.'”

Local musician and Raven employee Chris Luxem even suggested using compact discs as coasters, but the restaurant will be sticking with the thick, hefty coasters they've been getting from Blue Collar. As Hyde points out, these four-inch by four-inch squares are pretty much ready for display, as is.

“What I like about these is, you can clip a little magnet on them and put them on the fridge,” he suggests. “Because I'm such a fan of the arts, it's great to be able to have some [artwork] here, because then, if you end up going to any of the Final Fridays or the [Ladies of Lawrence Art] events, maybe you'll see it again.”

It's great, Hyde says, because the 715 staff sees older women in their 60s and 70s quietly sneaking coasters into their purses when they think nobody's looking, but he assures everyone that they're meant to be taken.

“They're pretty – having a set of these on your coffee table at home is kinda cool, because it's not same-old, same-old, you know?” Hyde gestures to the rest of the restaurant from where he's seated by the front windows. “It's pretty monochromatic here, with the wood and the rock, but then we've got the black tables, white dishes, white napkins – so it's nice to have this little bit of color without it being obnoxious.”


Hyde points to any number of art openings, concerts, readings, and multiple other events taking place in Lawrence on any given night, and how great it is that 715 gets to be a part of that on the regular. He hopes that the coasters can give back a small amount of that joy to community.

“We like to have all of that interaction with the arts, and this is just one way we can continue to have that interaction and support the local scene in our own way,” Hyde concludes. “I have no idea if it's provided anything other than enjoyment for me, but it's cool to help people, you know?”

Story by Nick Spacek.  Photos by Austin Snell

Wild Territory introduces multiple generations to science through merchandise


Before opening Wild Territory Science & Nature Store, her science and natural history shop at 942 Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence, owner Joyce Donham worked as the Oklahoma City Zoo for 11 years, where she was the education curator. It was during her time there that she started the business that would turn into the cool and quirky shop.

“On the weekends and stuff, I started going to flea markets, selling science items and biology – alligator heads and stuff like that,” is how Donham describes the store's early days. Then, when she moved back to Lawrence after time away, she figured she'd either get her Masters or open a store.

“If the hills weren't so bad here, I'd've gone to KU for my Masters,” she says with a grin and a laugh. Wild Territory first opened in 2002, just a block north on the other side of the street, operating out of the back half of a storefront it shared with Prairie Pond Studio. After two years, though, Donham was able to find a storefront of her own, and has been in her current location since 2004.

The store is described on the Wild Territory website as a “unique education store,” which specializes in “providing basic as well as unusual and intriguing natural history and science products for our customers,” but that only scratches the surface of what you can find in Donham's shop. It's a veritable cornucopia of products to tempt kids and kids-at-heart.


A glance in any direction will reveal fossils, mounted insects under glass, microscopes, a Lost In Space action figure, and t-shirts featuring everything from the caffeine molecule to glow-in-the-dark skeletons. It's all tastefully arranged, and pretty amazing, but the counter with insects, fossils, and a dizzying array of animal bones attracts the most traffic. It's no surprise, given Donham's background.

“We emphasize every aspect of science, but biology is really my forte,” the store owner explains, as her degree is in biology education. It's a very tactile kind of store, and Donham loves the fact that her store is a place where kids can see things in person they might have otherwise only viewed online or in books, as well as the fact that they can touch them – which is so much better than a museum.

“It's really great, because we get to introduce [kids] to science,” Donham describes the way mothers and fathers in Lawrence bring their children to Wild Territory. “This town is a very educational community.”

She's quite proud of living in a town that cares so much about science, and the fact that her store is now something of a multi-generational favorite. Having been open for almost 17 years now, some of the customers who came in when they were young, now bring in children of their own to Wild Territory.

“It drops me for a loop,” Donham says. “I heard one lady tell her child, 'This was mommy's favorite store when she was little,' and I was just – 'Holy cow! How old am I?' It does shock you, but it's very nice.”


Located just two doors up from The Toy Store, the science and nature store sees a lot of business during the summer holiday break, as well as at Christmas, but people are in and out of the shop year-round (during our short conversation at the shop's front counter, two entire families come in and make a circuit around the store).

While Wild Territory sells quite a few t-shirts with logos ranging from Star Trek to an Einstein t-shirt that looks like the Aerosmith logo, in terms of store-branded merchandise, Donham says that Wild Territory logo t-shirts are very popular. When she sees someone wearing one, it makes her happy.

“It's like, 'Wow, that's great,'” she says. “It's fantastic – we know that what we're selling is working, and that people enjoy and like it.”

It's not just Lawrencians who buy those shirts, either, continues Donham, because visitors to Wild Territory are the sort who, if they stop there once, will stop by every time they're in town.

“We have a lot of people who come for conferences at KU,” she says, listing off a slew of international visitors to the store: “From Norway, Africa, England, Canada – you name it. Everywhere. They'll come in for a conference, and then buy one and take it back to their university or their museum.”

While some of Dunham's shirts are ordered pre-made from other companies, she gets her Wild Territory logo t-shirts from Blue Collar Press. She describes the positives of working with a local business to get that merchandise as being on the same wavelength.

“I can just call and say, 'Can you change this a little bit?', and get it right down to exactly what I want,” Donham says of her experiences working with Blue Collar Press. “It can be real simple, and it's taken care of, and I get exactly what I want.”


A further example of just how far Blue Collar is willing to go to help a customer started with Donham. When she'd come to pick things up in winter months, the front desk manager would carry out her shirts to her, due to ice on the steep incline to the front door of their current warehouse.

“It was just the nicest thing,” Donham says. “I didn't even ask – they just started doing it for me.”

After taking notice of the trouble Donham had with the large boxes in which her shirts came, Blue Collar started a free Friday delivery for her, and eventually extended the service city-wide to their Lawrence customer base, essentially starting an entire business initiative out of a desire to help just one customer who needed it.


The logo, found on those t-shirts, was designed by a customer, who did it as a favor, freshening up the shop's original sign – which still hangs on Wild Territory's back wall. While that logo was designed by an advertising professional, the current logo was a fan of the store who just wanted to give something back to a place she liked.

“She just came in and said she could make it look nice, and that's the one we're using,” Donham says with no small amount of amazement. “They're so nice! Just lovely people.”

As far as niceness goes, Donham and Wild Territory give back to the community which gives to them, especially to charities which go along with the store's mission of biology and education, like the Lawrence Humane Society, the Special Olympics, or the Jayhawk Audubon Society's annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day every January.

“We give away shirts all the time,” says Donham. “We donate a lot – probably more than I should, but sometimes, it's a worthwhile cause that I support wholeheartedly.”