After 39 years, blind vendor at Statehouse calling it quits, citing competition of free food provided by lobbyists
Topeka ? One of the best-known and beloved fixtures in the Kansas Statehouse has announced he is going out of business, effective Aug. 31.
Don Wistuba, who has provided concessions in the Statehouse since 1976, said Monday that there are no longer enough people working year-round in the Capitol to keep the business afloat, and even during legislative sessions he can’t compete against all the free food that lobbyists serve up to lawmakers.
“It takes customers to keep this thing going,” he said. “When 90 percent of the people get in the free food line and get free food, that affects my sales.”
Wistuba, who is blind, began operating a snack bar in a state office building near the Capitol in 1974. But that building was later torn down, and he was relocated to the Statehouse in May 1976.
Under a 1936 federal law known as the Randolph Sheppard Act, blind individuals are given first priority in the operation of vending facilities in federal, state and even some local government buildings.
Gov. Sam Brownback, who has become close friends with Wistuba since taking office in 2011, said he was disappointed to hear the news, and he acknowledged that the amount of free food being given out to legislators has increased in recent years.
Brownback said he hopes to find some other option, such as possibly relocating the snack bar, before Wistuba closes for good.
But Wistuba said even with the increased business during legislative sessions, there is no longer the kind of foot traffic in the Statehouse during the rest of the year that there was when he first started.
“When I started here at the Statehouse, they had the secretary of state’s office here in this building year-round, the attorney general’s office, the budget office, Supreme Court personnel. I mean, this building was packed full of people year-round,” Wistuba said.
“And I had enough business that I could pay somebody to be with me all day long. And then when they started moving everybody out to make room for House and Senate members, I had to start making adjustments,” he said.
The Supreme Court and all of its personnel moved out of the building when the Kansas Judicial Center opened across the street to the south of the Statehouse in 1978. Other state agencies were moved out of the building starting in the 1990s to provide more space for legislative committee rooms.
Today, the governor’s office is the only nonlegislative state agency that is still located in the Statehouse.
Wistuba said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do after closing the snack bar.
“Just asking for God’s direction on what the next step is, you know,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of prayer in trying to figure out what the next step is.”