Damn few living legends that still matter walk the earth once their prime has passed. Time and market conditions change. One minute they’re Blockbuster Video – king of kings – the next, obsolete, gone. Such is life.
Take dinosaur businesses like the record and stereo stores that dotted the landscape of most major cities and small towns for decades. Hey, try and find one now…especially the latter.
These days what passes for halfway decent audio is mostly limited to stores like Target, Walmart and Best Buy. Stores any halfway discerning music aficionado knows better than to waste time shopping at. Because by far and away – with ultra rare exception – the quality of the gear is so poor.
Hey, but that’s life.
Ten years ago there were probably a half dozen mid to high end audio stores in the KC and Lawrence area all of which are now long gone…with one notable exception John Kiefer the owner of Kief’s Audi/Video in Lawrence. Kief’s is a business that has outlasted each and every one of it’s competitors, including esteemed audio/video dealers like David Beatty Stereo and Brandsmart.
A college dropout and refugee from the impoverished, wrong-side-of-the-tracks in KC, Kiefer began by hustling ultra hip vinyl records nobody else was stocking and selling in the late ’50s and grew his business into one of the Kansas City / Lawrence area’s top mid-to-high end audio and video dealers.
Kiefer’s done it all – car stereo, concert tickets, in-store appearances by major label recording artists., mail order and internet sales, custom home audio and video sales and installation. He even incubated esteemed, high-end speaker manufacturer MartinLogan, by indulging a couple of stereo salesman geeks in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
But all good things come to and end almost!
Now John Kiefer is retiring and passing the baton to his son Rob Kiefer.
“So what’s Kief’s going to do?” Kiefer asks. “I own the shopping center we’re in, so we’ll downsize and concentrate on custom, upscale audio with just the good stuff, some mail order and custom installation.
“Right now I’m looking at it like, I could rent this building to a restaurant for a lot of money and there’s no way I can sell (audio) out the front door and make anywhere near that kind of money.”
“We have a five process plan,” Kiefer says. “The first thing we’re going to do is send out a newsletter or a postcard telling people what we’re going to do. That I’m going to retire, but Kief’s is not going to close.”
Aside from Kiefer’s age – a spry 80 – his reason for dialing things back:
“We’ve lost 6,000 audio and video stores in the last five or six years,” he says.
Times are tough.
“We’ll have a sale on everything we have physically in stock,” Kiefer says. “Now, we’re not going out of business, so we can and will reorder whatever we decide to continues carrying – whatever we’re going to recommend to go in your house. And we’re going to be very knowledgable.”
Right now the plan is for Kief’s to downsize into what used to be the Car Audio space on the north end of the building and lease or sell the remaining space, possibly the entire shopping center, if the right offer comes along.
“I think it would be a nice area and / or space for a really nice restaurant where people can come in and get a really nice steak. Or if somebody wants to buy the whole center, I’ll sell them that – we’ve got parking galore – name me another place this close to the KU campus that has anything like the amount of parking we do – a couple hundred parking spaces or more.”
What then would happen to Kief’s?
“Who cares?” Kiefer quips. “We’ll move somewhere else to a smaller building. We’re downsizing.”
FYI, ultra high end audio aficionados take note, the six year-old A/V Design Studio at 90th and Mtecalf in Overland Park is still alive and kicking.