The Happy Hipsters of Lawrence, Kansas

The Kansas hipster. (Credit:

Attention, hipsters! I have fantastic news. I went away for the weekend, and there’s something you ought to know.

It turns out, friendliness and hipsterism are NOT mutually exclusive. And I have proof. There is a place in the world where the hipsters are friendly. Where they greet anyone with a smile and make small talk. It’s in Lawrence, Kansas, where an unlikely subculture of happy hipsters thrives.

So when I buy a record, a t-shirt, or a cup of coffee from you in Chicago, you don’t have to be standoffish! You don’t have to respond with annoyed disbelief when I ask your opinion about the menu. You don’t have to return my smile with a stare of practiced indifference. You can totally be nice.

Here are some examples from the happy hipsters of Lawrence, KS. Think of these as a sort of “how-to” guide.

Example 1: Saturday breakfast at Wheatfield’s Bakery

Me: [awkwardly wielding iPhone camera as hipster bread boy looks on nervously] I’m sorry, you don’t need to be in this. I just want a picture of this wall of bread behind you.

[Hipster bread boy scooches uncertainly out of frame.]

Me: Thanks, sorry about that. [scooching away to my table, ashamed] Erin, I think the hipster bread boy hates me. [Erin shrugs.]

[Five minutes later, back at the counter to buy cookies]

Me: Hi again. Can I get two almond macaroons, please?

Hipster Bread Boy: [smiling] Did your picture blow up on Twitter yet? [smiles bigger]

Me: What? Oh! Um, yeah, totally did. Blew up all over the place! Haha.

Hipster Bread Boy: It is a very aesthetically pleasing wall of bread.

Me: Yeah! So pretty.

The aesthetically pleasing wall of bread.

Example 2: Saturday night, counter service at The Burger Stand

Me: I was going to get the Cod Po Boy, but would that be a mistake? What would you get?

Hipster Cashier: No! It wouldn’t be a mistake!

Me: OK… Hm. I’ve never been here before, so I want to get what’s good.

Hipster Cashier: The Po Boy is good, and the spicy shitake mushroom burger is really good too.

Me: That does sound good… I don’t know! You pick for me!

Hipster Cashier: [laughs] OK, here, this piece of paper is the mushroom burger. [puts it behind her back] Which hand is it in? This is how I make all my decisions.

Me: [pointing] That one!

Hipster Cashier: [revealing the paper] OK! Mushroom burger it is.

[laugher and smiles by all]

This is how it was all over town. In a boutique the hipster store clerk chatted with us about Zelda and junior high fashion. In the cupcake shop we gushed about the chocolate cayenne cupcake with the hipster baker. It was like the Twilight Zone. Or Pleasantville. I asked Erin, “What is up with Lawrence? Why are all the hipsters so nice?” She chalked it up to friendly Midwestern sensibilities.

Maybe. Maybe it’s because Lawrence is a small town and hipsters don’t have to work so hard to prove their hipsterness. Whatever it is, it was a breath of fresh air. A cool glass of water on a hot day. A smile from a hipster is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. It’s the Grinch returning gifts to the Who’s in Whoville.

I don’t know why Chicago hipsters aren’t friendly. But I do know, whether you’re a hipster or not, it’s nice to be nice to people. Even if they don’t have a mustache. And it’s extra nice when someone is nice back to you. Especially when they do have a mustache. Like the happy hipsters of Lawrence, Kansas.


52 thoughts on “The Happy Hipsters of Lawrence, Kansas

  1. oh my gosh, this is the funniest post ever! I wonder everyday why the hipsters in Wicker Park are so mean! Now I want to go check out Lawrence, Kansas.

  2. The only place I’ve noticed people being super nice to me was in small town Pennsylvania. It was weird, and I liked it. I had a very pleasant conversation with the checker at CVS, and I was even clearly Not From Around Here (had to show my license). Everyone should be nice, everywhere, always.

  3. I made a now good friend once by telling her “Ya, I am talking to you,” after I said hello and she didn’t as we passed each other in a gargoyle-y entry at the U of C(Chicago not Calgary). I guess I expect people to be nice…! It sounds like I would like Lawrence, Kansas.

  4. What a great blog post, thank you very much!!!!! Regarding that wall of Wheatfields bread – Their bread is not only beautiful, it is delicious. Thank you Chuck, Joey, and the rest of crew! My wife and I moved back to Lawrence after 8 years in DC and almost 20 years of country living, and LOVE it. Lawrence is a hub of creativity, has a great art scene, is an awesome foodie town, has amazingly compassionate people, and is a really fun place. Best of all,you can live just a blocks from its wonderful downtown and/or close to the K.U. campus at a very reasonable cost! Check out Old West Lawrence, East Lawrence, or North Lawrence – very different neighborhoods, and all great places to live.

  5. Like Eric, I came back to Lawrence, but after almost 20 years in Chicago. I don’t regret leaving Chicago for a second. Public life is kinder here, although with each changeover in school year we get a fresh crop of “I’m too cool to breathe” newcomers–but they warm up after a while! I’m glad you like Lawrence.

  6. Came to Lawrence for school, spent 20 years in the coolest of towns, Austin, TX, and then came back “home”. This is the greatest town to live in, if you’re a student, parent of little ones, empty nester or whatever. It’s beautiful, it’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s progressive and old fashioned. Everyone shows up for everything- art shows, parades (and there are lots of them!), The Kansas Relays track meet, which is held on closed streets downtown, you name it- it happens here. And yes, that bread is amazing.

  7. Lawrence rocks. I grew up there and am raising my kids there. You know how high school is always portrayed in movies and TV? It’s so not like that here. We have jocks and nerds and whatever else, and sure we have groups of similar friends, but we don’t have cliques and all the different groups get along fine. In fact, it’s totally normal for a house party to have everyone, not just jocks, or just nerds, or whatever. We all grew up together and are friends, despite our differing artistic or athletic abilities. Also, I’ve noticed that on TV the special ed kids are made fun of. Here, not so much. Everyone know and loves the special ed kids here, and everyone looks out for them and includes them. And that doesn’t stop in school. We have a few townies who have special needs and the whole town knows them, cares for them, and looks out for them.

    Also, it’s not just the hipsters who are friendlier here. It’s everyone. I’ve gotten in car accidents (not my fault) where we’ve been friendly and compassionate instead of angry and egotistical. We’ve considered moving to Kansas City for the sake of my husband’s commute but we just can’t. The people just aren’t friendly there. The ONE person I met in KC who was friendly? She was from Lawrence. We talked about Lawrence vs KC and how much better Lawrence is. We hugged. We’re now Facebook friends. That’s freakin’ Lawrence for ya. We’re FRIENDLY here.

    Also, back to the high school bit: LHS has a fantastic art program and the major art schools send representatives to LHS to recruit students. We’re that good 🙂 But it’s not just art – our music and our sports and our everything rocks here.

    • I have lived in Lawrence more than half of my life, and I love it! That being said, we still have plenty of issues surrounding our disability community. My daughters para at LHS use to call me in tears when she would push my daughters wheelchair up to a lunch table, after asking the students who were sitting there if they could join them, and as soon as they sat at the table, the students would get up and move to another table. It was very hurtful.

  8. Love this article, great description of what it’s like to be on Massachussets Street on a Saturday. I’ve lived in different cities and different countries and nothing compares to Lawrence.

  9. You didn’t even mention The Merc, which is not only full of friendly hipsters, but full of some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered.

  10. I lived in Wicker Park and Logan Square about 10 years ago. Def miss Chicago at times, but the hipsters were sometimes insufferable. I now live in Lawrence, and it’s rad. It’s definitely a hidden gem. Nice always wins!

  11. Lawrence is full of music, art, live theatre, and friendliness. It’s a sea of political sanity in the ocean of madness that is Kansas.

  12. I like to visit Chicago, but I love to come home to Lawrence..You can find great shopping and friendly people all over town.

  13. Hey hipsters, a kid named Bruno from Belgium (who might also be a hipster) is moving to Lawrence for an internship. I met him on the subway in NYC. So show him a good time and let him know how friendly Kansan’s can be.

  14. Lawrence has always been one of those places no matter what you are into or what your personality is… you fit in and feel at home. I went to college at KU and from the moment I stepped in the town, I knew this was somewhere special. ive travelled all over the US seen so much but when I think of home I think of Lawrence. Great places to eat, fantastic cultural events, sports for everyone, interesting shopping, and small town feel who could want anymore! im glad you discovered the hidden jewel of Kansas. Now you can understand why so many of us who came but had to leave, whether we be urban professionals, or research scientist, or big time athlete, find ourselves yearning for the pulse of Mass street and always consider Lawrence home!

  15. Lawrence is a magic place. Another place to see the dream alive and thriving is our Community Mercantile at the crossing of 9th and Iowa streets. Grab a perfect coffee and stroll around.. The young ones (and old ones) who work there are some of the most creatively charged–yet amiable–folks I’ve met anywhere.

  16. Lawrence KS is very close to my definition of heaven on earth. Went to school (and subsequently hung out there) for many years. Yes, we had hipsters even back then and, even then, they were friendly. In fact, being unfriendly was very… well… unhip.

  17. I’ve lived in Lawrence ever since I started college several years ago. I’ve never been in a place that I’ve been happier. Seriously, it’s the best place in the world.

  18. I’ll be on the lookout for a surge of curious hipster-watchers spurred by this post. We have a great town here. The Happy Hipster phenomenon is nothing new to Lawrence though. If you engage with the adult population of Lawrence you’ll often find kind, genuine, happy individuals who have spent a lifetime pursuing the things that they love and that make them and the town unique and interesting. This sentiment is engrained in the town, passed down through the generations, and inevitably absorbed by those who choose to make Lawrence their home. Ours is a town with a proud history of being defiant to the sometimes negative mentalities and ideals which surround us geographically and standing up for what we believe is right and for the things that we love. I think what makes Lawrence Hipsters so happy is that there is little to no pressure here to “prove” your hipsterism; you really just have to do what makes you happy and you’ll fit right in with the culture and mentality of this great town.

  19. Take prairie can-do gumption, filter it through 1970s enviro-hippiedom, throw in a dash of 1980s punk energy, add contemporary media savvy, mutiply that by a heaping helping of straight-up artistic creativity, raise that to the power of Midwestern wholesomeness, serve it with a side of organic micro-greens and a craft beer, and TA-DA — You’ve got the Lawrence mojo!

  20. Going to design school in New York right now, and this is making me so homesick.
    Love you Larrytown, miss you almost infinitely!

  21. Here’s the deal: “hipsters” in Lawrence are really just townies. They’re happy because they have a constant supply of Freestate beer and good buds (yeah, good smoke, kids). They’re happy because they have a thriving local music scene and they’re all making some kind of art. I lived in Lawrence for 10 years and just recently moved to Kansas City and realized that most hipsters outside of Lawrence are dicks. I have since come to realize that most hipsters are dicks because they are crippled with insecurity and low self-esteem. They make up for their insecurity by being standoffish dicks and telling you how over it they are and over-identifying with some band you’ve probably never heard of.

    • Hallo Baerbel!! Hier ist Timur, habe es erst jetz gesehen das du in Esslingen wohnst. Ich bin in Berlin, wir mussen uns umbedingt mal irgendwo bald treffen. Du warst die tollste T.A.!! 🙂

  22. “L-Town,” as Lawrence is sometimes referred to in these parts, is a great confluence of old and young, left and right, Jayhawks and others, and now, I suppose, hipsters and those of us middle-aged fans of the midwest town who don’t really know exactly what “hipsters” are (and aren’t worried about it). Maybe that’s a future post … What the Hell Are “Hipsters?” Glad you like the people and friendliness of Lawrence. RCJH!

  23. Oh man where to begin..? I’m from Istanbul, Turkey and moved to Lawrence, KS in 2006 with the influence of my brother to study film at KU. Eventually felt a bit jaded from all the film classes and learned how to sew at Sarah’s fabrics on Mass street from the sweet sister duo Sarah and Kathy.(a great selection of fabrics as well!) Three years into living at my house on 17th and Tennessee unfortunately my lovely sanctuary burned down to the ground and lost all my stuff thanks to my wonderful neighbor! But even that did not change how much I love Lawrence itself and quite the opposite… I’ve made some fantastic friends that I continue to cherish who made my time there truly unforgettable. I would not change my experience in that wonderful little town for anything!!!

  24. I would love for you to review this novel set in Lawrence in that turbulent spring of 1970: “Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All.” If interested, please contact me for how to get a free download of the ebook. Also east to find on Amazon. Randy Attwood

  25. i was born and raised in lawrence, and after leaving for about 4 years for school, moved back. it was great…at first. when i left for college (outside of ks) at 18, everyone in my new city called me “hippie” and then later “hipster,” when that became a thing to call people. i didn’t know i was dressing or acting anything other than normal. but apparently outside of lawrence, that was considered “hipster.” moving back to lawrence after school felt good…at first. then i realized that if you’re older than 25, you will be outcast by all the “too young and cool for you” hipsters that flood the city for KU. especially if you do not currently attend–or did not graduate from–ku. you will forever be shunned as that “one” who isn’t obsessed with ku and all things ku and ku basketball and rock chalk ku ku ku ku ku kuuuuuuuu. (barf!) there’s nothing for people between the ages of 25-35 AT ALL unless you just want to get married and start popping out babies. if you want a real LIFE that doesn’t consist of going to “i’m too cool for you” parties in the student ghetto with 18 year old kids, you have to LEAVE lawrence. i’ve gladly traded the “friendly” hipster scene of lawrence for the real world, where there are actual adults who know how to talk about real life events other than trying to prove they listen to more obscure music than me. do i miss my family and the friends i managed to make who weren’t obsessed with ku and being too cool for everyone? you bet! do i miss lawrence? nope!! not one little bit.

    • Wow Jen, You just didn’t find your peep’s. I hope you find them elsewhere 🙂

      • Lawrence doesn’t work for everyone–I like living here, but I have found that “finding peep’s” isn’t easy if you don’t fall into the right demographic group. For all its wonderfulness, Lawrence is stratified: the professorial class, the student class, the young married with children class, the commuter class (Topeka and KC metro), the retired class, and the business class. Those groups have different priorities, and they don’t overlap well. If you don’t fit into those categories, finding your peeps will take some work, and Lawrence might not be the best place for you.

        • That’s true of every community, isn’t it, Jennifer? Making friends takes effort wherever you are. Very, very few people on the planet share our philosophies, likes, dislikes, goals, preferences, politics, and attitudes. So our “peeps” will, more than likely, be scattered around the far reaches of the globe, and we need to learn to embrace the people around us by celebrating the fact that they’re not exactly like us. Don’t you think?

          • Yes that is true. And I would add it takes time to find your people. In my longish life (56) having experienced different moves, “I” have found it takes 2ish years to find your community. That can be a long 2 years.

            -Just thinking: 2 years seems to be a key length of time for humans . Seems like it takes about that long to quit cigarettes, get through a breakup, divorce, new job, or even coming out the other side of a death…. point being- time.- my thoughts.

            • Amen, Retta, two years sounds about right to adjust to big changes. Fritz, it takes time to find and make friends, but locales and atmospheres differ, and some places are better than others for different personalities. A place that works for one might not work for another. Lawrence is great, but not for everyone, as Jenn found out, and I’m glad that she’s found a place that is better suited for her.

              • I love Lawrence for all kinds of reasons, so don’t get me wrong. It’s a wonderful community filled with wonderful people, it’s like slipping into an old pair of Levi’s after you’ve returned from hiatus. But I find it amusing when I come across blogs or posts like this and people get defensive about their town if someone disagrees with them. It’s a big juicy world out there, and Lawrence doesn’t fit the bill for all. Thankfully.

                  • I moved here a year and a half ago from Philadelphia and totally love it. Granted, I met a bunch of cool friends and my new wife, so I’m a bit biased. As an ex-hipster (I’m 40+ and was probably more eccentric than hip during my bohemian days), I can say that Lawrence has been very welcoming to me. It’s true that the older you get, the harder it is to find your circle. But it’s also true that Lawrence is about the easiest place to do it. Laidback, friendly and fun loving with almost zero pretensions. My advice if you’re having trouble, take classes at the arts center, a theater group or some other small group activity. They’re filled with people looking to meet people.

                    • Sweet guys, I’m not sure if you’re talking to me or Jenn, but just in case, I’m not asking for help finding friends! And I don’t think Jenn was, either. We were both pointing out that Lawrence is not for everyone. Jenn has found a place that works better for her, and I was pointing out that there are actually reasons that Lawrence might not be a good match for everyone. Me, I’m good, this is where I want to be. But thanks for the advice–and you can always be my friend, too!

  26. Chicago hipsters are so unbelievably friendly because they say hello and mean it and ask where you are from and how you are liking your visit !!!!!!!!!!! …compared to Los Angeles where no one wants to look you in the eye or say hello.

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