When Lora Wiley was 21 and a student at the University of Kansas, she spent two semesters in France. She loved it, but part of her missed the familiarity of home. One day, while on vacation in the south of France, she came across a tiny store that sold American items like Skittles, Oreos and Snapple. “I just felt my heart burst and was overcome with sentimentality,” she says. “It was so great because it wasn't fancy things, but regular everyday American stuff.”
Back home in Kansas, she knew she wanted to create that feeling for foreigners visiting and living here. “We have a lot of Europeans who live in Lawrence because of the university, and lots of students who come from Europe to study here. There are also people like me who went to Europe and are remembering things they had there.”
In August of 1998, Lora opened Au Marché in Lawrence. The market carries products from all over Europe, and she happily takes requests from customers, which keeps her inventory ever growing and changing. “We’re very lucky to have some really great local and regional vendors that really help us stand out,” says Lora. “One of the most respected chocolatiers in the United States, Christopher Elbow, is right in Kansas City.” For Valentine’s Day, his delicious confections will be available on their own or in traditional heart shaped boxes as well as rectangular boxes beautifully done up in ribbons.
“We also work with Cocoa Dolce, which is a chocolatier in Wichita. We have this really excellent guy named Paul Harper O'Connor too who owns Paul’s Better Bakery and makes the most fabulous macarons, and he's just a few blocks from us.”
Some of the most popular food items all year round, she says, come from Germany, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. “Those are regions that are well represented here at Au Marché because we have so many people from those areas living here. Americans are enthusiastic about these products as well.”
There are mixes for making wiener schnitzel and bami goreng, an Indonesian noodle dish popular with her Dutch customers. There’s a nice variety of candies, cookies from Germany and cakes from the Netherlands. There's also a particular kind of cracker from Sweden called knäckebröd. “It's a big round cracker with a hole in the middle that our Scandinavian customers buy all the time,” says Lora.
There are lots of cheeses, German sausages, and meats available by the slice. There are about eight different kinds of high-quality herring from Sweden, Poland and Germany as well. “Having these things available just makes people happy and makes them feel a little bit like they’re back home,” she says. “It gives them that sense of familiarity and our customers really appreciate it.”
In addition to food, Au Marché sells other European merchandise. “We have soaps from mainly France and Sweden and sell a ton of that,” says Lora. “We also sell a lot of socks and have one line that people just cannot get enough of.” There also kitchen items like beautiful aprons, dish towels, bowls and mugs too.
“There are a couple of things that are really important to me,” she says. “First is keeping with the idea of trying to sell everyday items rather than fancy boutique items. We're really looking for merchandise that reminds people of home and are things that they would find in their local grocery store.”
Another, she says, is having a good array of items from all over Europe. “We're trying to find things from all the different countries that our customers are from, or countries that people have visited and really have an affinity for.” For people who aren’t near the market or even in Kansas and who want to purchase these items, they can order online and have them shipped anywhere is the U.S.
When she’s not busy searching for all these European goodies, Lora makes time for family. She and her husband, David, live in Lawrence and have a 16-year-old son named Asa and a 12-year-old daughter named Elise. “My husband, who’s from Swedish descent, and I met at the store in 1999; he was a customer. He would come in all the time to buy Swedish products.”
To find out more and see products from this unique market, go to aumarche.com.