Town Talk | A new downtown coffee shop that also loves water; business hopes to be hub for paddling, wading, fishing enthusiasts | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Bob Marsh, owner and founder of Great Blue Heron, shows off a canvas bucket that is one of several items the combination outdoor store/coffee shop is selling from its new downtown Lawrence location.

Some people think if you want to go fast on the water, you need a big 150 horsepower outboard engine hanging off the back of your boat. But maybe there is another way. How about a paddle and a double espresso? There is a new coffee shop in downtown Lawrence that likes that way of thinking.

Great Blue Heron is in the process of opening at 823 Massachusetts St., and when it does, it will be a mix of a coffee shop and store filled by people who love canoeing, fly fishing, or simply just wading in the water.

“I want to bring some community together around this idea of wading sports,” said founder and owner Bob Marsh, who is a retired corporate attorney who for more than 50 years has been a devout participant in a variety of water sports.

“My grandfather had a cabin at Lone Star Lake,” Marsh said. “I learned to fish there. I learned to canoe there.”

That type of lower-key, lower-noise water sport is what Marsh really enjoys and what he wants to promote at the new store.

“We are not about the big bass boats,” he said.

Instead, the shop has everything from a selection of sandals designed for wading in shallow water to starter fly rod kits to books of poetry about the water and the great outdoors. The store’s front window actually features poetry verse about the outdoors and the store’s namesake blue heron.

“There is no better place to spend time than on the water,” said Marsh. “Being next to a flowing stream with family or friends is great. Maybe brewing some coffee on an open fire is pretty good too.”

There won’t be any open campfires, but Great Blue Heron will have plenty of coffee. Marsh said the coffee definitely won’t be an afterthought for the store. He’s partnered with Messenger Coffee Co. from Kansas City to supply the store with a variety of roasted offerings. The menu will include a variety of drip brewed and pour over coffee varieties, plus espressos, cappuccino, mocha and latte varieties. The menu also will include some iced coffees, plus iced and hot tea offerings.

The shop does represent a bit of a trend in the downtown Lawrence coffee scene. It is at least the second coffee shop that has built itself around a theme of connecting with the outdoors If you remember, Sunflower Outdoor & Bike opened a cafe inside its downtown Lawrence store several months ago.

Marsh said the planning for his store was already underway by the time he learned of the Sunflower project. He said the project, though, shows there is a real desire for people to not only get a cup of coffee but also do so in an environment where they may be more likely to run into people who share a similar passion.

While the canoeing, kayaking or other “wading sports” community, as Marsh calls them, may not be as big as the cycling and hiking community, Marsh believes they have great potential in Lawrence.

In addition to the Kansas River and Clinton Lake, Marsh cited locales like Lone Star Lake, Baldwin State Lake, several nearby county lakes in Johnson County, plus numerous city lakes that people all can easily access. Plus, there always seems to be talk about Lawrence doing something to connect downtown to the Kansas River in a more meaningful way. It all added up to Marsh deciding that Lawrence would be a better spot for the store than other places he considered.

“We looked at some options in Kansas City, but I don’t think you can beat the energy of Massachusetts Street,” he said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Great Blue Heron owner and founder Bob Marsh looks at a 1920s-era canoe that is displayed in his new downtown coffee shop and outdoor store, Great Blue Heron, 823 Massachusetts Street.

Marsh plans on the store having new offerings as it grows and matures. Currently, the store doesn’t sell any boats, but he expects that to change. He said he’s in discussions to become an authorized dealer for a quality canoe brand in the future.

“In an ideal world, we would even rent them,” he said.

The store also plans to be a place for some harder-to-find brands from smaller companies in the outdoor world. Marsh said the combination of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s has made for juggernauts in the outdoor industry that can make it difficult for smaller, quality companies to find shelf space.

Right now, among the offerings the store has are a mix of speciality and traditional fishing lures, wooden paddles, hats and other outdoor wear, binoculars, fanny packs, and several other items.

One wall of the store also is devoted to a big bulletin board that currently has a single kayak listed for sale, but Marsh believes will become a hub for news about fishing, paddling, duck hunting or other water-based activities in the area.

That’s the type of activity Marsh most wants to see out of his new venture. He said that a connection to the outdoors and water seem particularly important in age that easily can become too rushed.

“You know, the heron is a very patient bird,” Marsh said as he explained his idea behind the name of the store. “Patience is part of all of these activities, whether it is canoeing or fishing or duck hunting. In an age of computer games and screens and all of that, it just seems like the patience that comes with these activities is important to learn.”

Look for the Great Blue Heron to open any day now. When I talked with Marsh on Monday morning, he was hoping to officially open the doors for business by late Monday afternoon, or certainly in the day or two to follow.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A portrait of a great blue heron is displayed at the Great Blue Heron coffee shop and outdoor store, 823 Massachusetts Street.