Main Street market looks for niche in the Kansas community

Hays, like Hutchinson and Salina, will now have a downtown Kansas-grown market

Alice Mannette
Hays Daily News
Kari Burge waits on customers at Blue Smoke Barbecue, which opens into the new Kuhn's Market, on Main Street in Hays, Kansas.

HAYS — Downtown Hays is thriving. Less than a handful of storefronts on Main Street are vacant. This is similar to Salina, where only three storefronts are available to rent. 

In September, Hays' downtown will offer something new that is similar to Salina's downtown - a small-town, locally-owned food market. 

Starting at the beginning of September, Kuhn's Market will open its doors on Main Street in Hays. The market is attached to Philip Kuhn's Blue Smoke Barbecue and will feature Kansas-grown produce and meats, as well as specialty cuisine, which includes Asian, Hispanic, vegetarian, gluten free and of course, barbecue items. 

"We want to do business locally," said Kuhn, who also owns The Press restaurant around the corner. "As customers come in, we're going to order more of what they want."

According to Doug Williams, of Grow Hays, diversity of businesses brings more of a varied population to downtown.

"This market will draw a different type of person (than other downtown businesses)," he said. "The cumulative effect is great."

Like many other towns, decades ago, Hays had a downtown grocery store.

Leslie Bishop, who works for Salina Downtown said diversity in downtown businesses is key.

"If we can't offer that, we won't get traffic downtown," she said. "About 98% of the Santa Fe Downtown District is at capacity."

Kuhn's Market looking into Blue Smoke Barbecue on Main Street in Hays, Kansas.

Kuhn's Market

Kuhn, a trained chef, thought opening a downtown market would help keep people downtown and help the community thrive. He is also wanting to help other Kansas small businesses, including farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs. 

Kuhn plans to offer cleaning products as well as bulk grains. He is hoping to have what people want and deliver it in a community atmosphere.

"I'm excited about getting the products in that people can enjoy and experience," he said. "I'm super excited because I want to do local."

Kuhn said he has a lot of support - even from the government.

"KDA is so awesome," Kuhn said. "They're so full of knowledge, and they help you step by step."

More:Hays chef creates Kansas-made market on Main Street — next door to his new barbecue joint

Kuhn's Market on Main Street in Hays, Kansas.

Because he is selling to the public, all producers must be certified. Meat producers must have their meats slaughtered at either a state or federally licensed processor. 

"We have a very active robust downtown shopping district (in Hays)," Williams said. "This (Kuhn's Market) will be fairly unique and new for Hays, making downtown a destination and driving a lot more people downtown."

Although some downtowns, like El Dorado and Garden City, are regenerating, they do not have a small downtown market. Fortunately for Kuhn, several markets that focus on Kansas-made and Kansas-grown products are dotted throughout Kansas' downtowns. Two of these are Prairieland Market in Salina and Smith's Market in Hutchinson. 

In the case of El Dorado and Hutchinson, they both have a Dillons on their main street. But having a major grocery chain on its main street has not stopped Hutchinson's Smith's Market from succeeding. There are some items that major grocery chains do not offer - many of these products are locally produced.

More:Downtown Hays barbecue restaurant gets ready to ship its homemade specialty sauces

Ann Zimmerman of Saline County buys eggs, vegetables and bread from Maya Kathrineberg at Prairieland Market in Salina.

Prepared foods and CSAs

For several decades, Prairieland Market, a mission driven, non-profit market in Salina, has provided a place for farmers to sell directly to the consumer — without having to have the consumer come to their farm. By doing this, farmers and ranchers are not interrupted by phone calls or foot traffic throughout the day - and the meat and cheese does not have to be shipped and stay in a warehouse overnight.

More:Nonprofit market helps Kansas farmers from across the state reach urban customers

Although Prairieland Market is just off the main thoroughfare in Salina, they hope to move to Santa Fe Avenue soon. This market does not have a restaurant attached to it like Blue Smoke Barbecue, but they make prepared meals and offer CSAs (community supported agriculture) - where people can purchase a surprise, hyper-local bag of farm-grown products on a weekly basis. This helps the farmer have a ready outlet for their produce and allows consumers to understand seasonal gardening and cook with ripe ingredients.

More:Kansas-made product brings the heat

Devin Gagnebin, right, and Beau Erhardt, back, restock Primal, their premium beef jerky, at Smith's Market on South Main St. in Hutchinson.

Decades of consistency

For more than nine decades, Smith's Market has served Hutchinson from its Main Street location. Serving the community since 1933, the Main Street market offers Kansas-made goods and a small-town, friendly environment. 

Along with pies, honey, popcorn and jams, the store features locally grown lettuce and tomatoes year-round. They also showcase locally-produced cheeses and eggs. The store is always willing to work with farmers and specialty vendors, featuring Kansas-made products.  

"Its wonderful to have people downtown," said Bishop of Salina. "About 85% of the businesses are local hometown businesses. It's a neighborhood, and it feels like family."