A down economy means business is up for A-OK Enterprises , and owner Bruce Harris has big expansion plans. "The economy has been very poor, and because of that, people are changing the way they're shopping, and they're buying a lot of stuff from me," he says of his four A-OK Pawn Shops .
All of his businesses — the pawn shops, 12 check-cashing sites, two jewelry stores and two cell phone stores — are doing well.
"In the past year, we've doubled our business in the collateral loan business," Harris says.
As banks turn away business, Harris says people needing money turn to his pawn shops.
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Also, gold is at an all-time high of $1,400 an ounce.
"That's unheard of," Harris says.
He says $400 an ounce was the average price for the past 20 years.
"It's helping the consumers."
Two years ago, Harris had 70 employees throughout his businesses. Now he has 107, and he expects to have more than 200 within a year.
He plans to expand in several ways.
Harris in the process of doubling the size of two Cricket stores he owns.
He's also looking to open two new pawn shops in Wichita.
"What I have, it just works."
Harris is close to deals on new space but isn't ready to share details.
"Not that I can talk about or the price will go up."
Then, Harris plans to expand to Hutchinson, Salina and El Dorado in the new year.
In the meantime, he's starting expansions at his existing shops.
Harris already created a center near Harry and Oliver for his 10,000-square-foot pawn shop, jewelry store, cash center and Cricket store.
He plans to do the same with his store near Central and Ridge Road.
He's building a new building behind his existing 8,000-square-foot shop, then he'll tear down the old shop and use that space for parking. He'll then add more space on the new shop for a total of 28,000 square feet.
Harris has similar plans for his store near Harry and Broadway. It's already 30,000 square feet, but when Harris bought it a couple of years ago, he promised himself he'd tear down the Quonset hut if business did well.
"So now I have to eat my words."
Harris believes it will pay off, though.
"What I've learned in my industry is if you put in a brand new retail store, your business will grow like crazy," he says. "It's more comfortable to go into. It's more like a retail store.... We're becoming more mainstream."
It's a long way from when he started a one-man shop at Kellogg and Bluff 29 years ago.
Harris credits a night class on entrepreneurship he took from Fran Jabara at Wichita State University for inspiring him.
"I thought, man, I want to go start my own business," Harris says. "He got me so excited about doing it, that's what I did."
Harris thinks other business owners need to think along more entrepreneurial lines in this economy.
"If you want the way it's always been... you ain't gonna get it," he says.
"When they get over complaining about it and see what they can do, this is a tremendous opportunity right now."
Another Toubia has opened a restaurant. This time, it's Nathan Toubia , son of the late restaurateur Antoine Toubia .
Last year, Nathan Toubia opened a catering business called Bocconcini , which means small mouthfuls in Italian, with an eye toward opening a restaurant.
Now, after a whirlwind last week or two, he has.
Bocco Deli opened Monday in the former Zoomdweebie's Tea Bar space at 3010 E. Central.
"I had to flip this thing so fast," Toubia says. "I just kind of fell into this spot."
The 1,100-square-foot space can seat 36. It will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Instead of the catering he'd been doing, Toubia will focus on box lunches and party trays, particularly for nearby Wesley Medical Center and doctors' offices.
Toubia will serve soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta, "all with kind of an Italian twist."
He'll make his own focaccia and flatbread.
The Toubia family is Lebanese — Antoine Toubia came from Lebanon and opened a number of successful restaurants here — but Nathan Toubia is more interested in Italian cooking.
He worked for Lidia's in Kansas City while going to culinary school.
"I've kind of learned the Italian food, and that's what I like to do."
So what would his father think?
"I think he would like it. It's definitely a good start."
You don't say
"Events like this make me wish I was a girl."
—Charlie Moon , senior vice president at Fidelity Bank , joking at the recent YWCA Jewelry Jubilee