Bringing Artists Under One Roof
Photos by Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
Bob Secord has lived his whole life in North Topeka, so when he saw an opportunity to take part in the revitalization of the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District, he could not pass it up. He believed that NOTO had potential to become something great, and he wanted to be a part of that transformation.
“North Topeka used to be considered a dead area,” Bob said. “It had a bad reputation, and people saw it as the rough side of town. I wanted to see that change.”
Bob also wanted to be a part of the artistic energy that was buzzing around the district.
“I’ve been a wanna-be artist my whole life,” Bob said, “so I saw this as an opportunity to be with like-minded people, with the same feelings about art and creativity. It was really exciting.”
It turns out that Bob made a great move. Nowadays, when people think of NOTO, they think of the arts and having fun on First Fridays.
Kaw River Rustics provides booth space for artists and creatives to display and sell their work for a rental fee of $100 per month. Bob says that rental space is usually completely full, and he is working to add more booth space to meet demand.
“I looked around and saw that Boomers are retiring, and they have time to get creative. They need a place to display and sell their work and connect with other creatives,” Bob said. “At Kaw River Rustics, artists set up their space the way they want it, build relationships, support each other and promote each other.”
Business is thriving now, but Bob took a gamble when he bought his space five years ago. Like all new businesses, he knew he would need to build a customer base, and the older property also needed a lot of work. Like many businesses in the area, there was flood silt in the basement from the 1951 flood, so there was a lot of cleaning to do before the remodeling could begin. It took nearly a year to prepare the building for opening day.
“It was almost a total renovation,” Bob said. “This is a 150-year-old building. Fortunately, I could do a lot of the work myself as a retired glazier and carpenter. I put down floors and built booths.”
Kaw River Rustics gives many artists a platform to succeed, and Bob has also become a successful artisan in his own right. In a big shop at the back of his building, he builds rustic benches and tables as well as other unique, one of a kind pieces of furniture—functional art.
“I’m swamped with work,” Bob said. “I never thought I’d be a furniture builder as my artistic niche, and I love what I do. It’s just a dream come true for me.”