KEARNEY – How good are the delectable treats at Ktown Cakery?
Owner Kari Printz lets her customers respond to that question.
According to Printz, Ktown customers became nervous several years ago. Watching as nearby businesses shuttered during the pandemic, the bakery’s loyal customers shared their worries that they might lose their favorite bakery. According to Printz, they promised their support to help Ktown Cakery remain open.
Shoppers in downtown Kearney know the rest of the story. The Cakery survived COVID, and now there’s more to see and do at the business. Ktown Cakery remains a key part of the business, but Printz is rebranding her place as The Central Mercantile.
A native of Colorado’s western slope, she has happy memories of a hometown business called The Mercantile. It was more than a store. It was a gathering spot where everyone knew your name and you knew theirs.
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That’s the kind of hometown vibe Printz wants to inject into every scone, brownie or warm cookie served at Ktown.
“When I think of The Merc, I think of the names of the people who worked there,” she said.
By many measures, Printz and her staff have achieved something special with The Central Mercantile and Ktown Cakery.
One month ago when the Nebraska Department of Tourism announced places to see in its Nebraska Passport Program, Kearney’s Big Apple Fun Center was on the list. So was The Mercantile. The effect was an immediate boost for business.
“That morning, after the Nebraska Passport list came out, we had people in here from St. Paul," Printz said, noting travelers from a town about 66 miles northeast of Kearney. “Being listed on the Passport Program opened their eyes. Now, if they’re in the area I think it’s likely that they’ll visit The Merc again."
Now entering its third year, The Central Mercantile and Ktown Cakery are making a splash in downtown Kearney. The phenomenon is a bit surprising for Printz. It’s surprising because the journey from the friendly confines of The Merc on the western slope of Colorado to Central Avenue in downtown Kearney includes a detour. There were dark years during her career in the big league livestock and meat packing industry. Those 27 years punched such a hole in the hometown niceness she knew as a youth that Printz doubted herself.
Memories of the hometown business she loved remained strong, but could she dial down the big business side of herself and recreate The Merc in Kearney, Nebraska?
She said succeeding in downtown Kearney still requires a sharpened pencil, but she’s relieved to learn there’s room for a big heart and creativity in what she’s doing today.
The bakers are happy because the bakery has found ways to shorten the work week. Customers are as loyal as ever, she adds. Unfortunately, there have been a few that were unkind to The Mercantile’s staff.
“I’ve had to fire two customers,” Printz said.
It took a confident, creative approach to move KTown Cakery to 2006 Central Ave. and wrap it around the cookware and other assorted merchandise, but Printz said gradually The Mercantile is evolving into the business of her dreams.
There’s a group of women who play cards at The Merc every Tuesday. Other friends like to just sit and chat while enjoying a sweet pastry.
“People sit and they linger. If they stay long enough we ask what music they like,” she said.
Printz and the bakery and merchandise staffs have thought of new ways to keep customers interested and coming back. Ktown now serves lunch, and there’s gourmet ice cream.
As preparations take shape to build the huge sports complex in south Kearney, Printz is dreaming of inventive ways to tap into the thousands of visitors destined for Kearney when the massive sports center begins conducting weekend sports events.
“I still have people who are coming in for the first time. They usually say, ‘We don’t have something like The Merc in our town.’”