Speculation grows that Casey’s General Store will open in Lawrence

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

In small towns all over the state, one of the best places for gossip and speculation is the Casey’s General Store. You can usually leave with doughnut crumbs in your beard and juicy information in your ears. Well, in Lawrence we don’t have a Casey’s, but one of the more interesting pieces of speculation is we’re soon going to get one.

Two property owners along Sixth Street confirmed to me they have reached tentative deals to sell their properties to Casey’s General Store. Both property owners, though, also stressed the deals haven’t been finalized. Casey’s, though, sure looks like it plans to build a store in Lawrence. It has sent out a city-required notification letter to some surrounding property owners.

The location is the site of the College Motel at 1703 W. Sixth St. and the Action Automotive garage that is just to the west of the motel.

“It should happen in the next 60 days or so, if it is going to happen,” said Jim Vantuyl, who owns the property that houses Action Automotive. “Hopefully it happens.”

Harold C. Shephard owns the College Motel location, and he also confirmed he has a tentative deal with Casey’s. He said the convenience store chain is one of several entities that have been interested in buying the 1950s-era motel property since he put it on the market about seven months ago.

“It could still end up being somebody other than Casey’s,” he said.

If you are not familiar with Casey’s, you maybe haven’t spent enough time in small towns. The Iowa-based company has about 2,000 stores, and most of them are in small communities. The company’s original strategy was to locate in towns of 5,000 or fewer people, but it since has modified that approach.

This would be the company’s first store in Lawrence, although it kind of has the town surrounded. There are Casey’s locations in Eudora, De Soto, Tonganoxie, McLouth, Perry, Ottawa, and several on the outskirts of Topeka.

All the stores sell gasoline, and many of them sell an ethanol-free version that some people like for their older or smaller engines.

But, perhaps surprisingly, pizza is a big part of the company’s business. I read a 2016 article that reported Casey’s was the fifth largest seller of pizza in the U.S. and that pizza sales account for about 70 percent of the company’s annual sales. The company’s pizza menu includes custom-made pizzas that you can order ahead and pick up for carryout, but the stores also sell a lot of pizza by the slice.

The company also believes in the well-tested mantra that pizza is great for breakfast. The company makes several varieties of breakfast pizza. That is a concoction that eliminates the marinara sauce and replaces it with a cheese sauce and eggs. Toppings include bacon, sausage, diced ham, or green pepper and onion.

In addition to the pizza, the stores also sell doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches, sub sandwiches, hamburgers, a lot of grab-and-go finger food, plus all the normal convenience store items.

As for a timeline, that is still a guess. The deal is still tentative, as the company has not yet filed official plans with City Hall. However, the fact that they have sent a letter to surrounding property owners seems to indicate the company is serious about moving ahead.

The new Casey’s stores are pretty large. De Soto may be the closest location with a newer model store. The project presumably would require the removal of all the existing buildings on the two sites. That means Lawrence would lose a bit of a unique building. The College Motel — which, I guess could be described as a budget motel currently — has that old roadside motel look, featuring a stone-cottage design.

Shephard told me the hotel dated back to the 1950s. Vantuyl, whose family has operated a car dealership along Sixth Street for more than 50 years, had more specifics. He said the hotel was built in 1954. His family’s car lot came along in 1963. At that time, there wasn’t much around the site. Sixth Street was better known as U.S. Highway 40, and the roads that shot off it were gravel.

“We were the last thing on Sixth Street for quite a while,” Vantuyl said.

Eventually some development happened, and I wonder if some of you remember this one: a structure called the Super Slide. Vantuyl said it was located about where Jayhawk Pawn and Jewelery is today. He said it simply was a large slide that people would go down on a gunny sack.

“I remember we used to go out there as kids and they would give us pieces of wax paper to make the gunny sacks go faster,” he said.

I wouldn’t look for a return of the Super Slide, but that area along Sixth Street is changing. A relatively large piece of property remains on the sale block. The Eagles building that is just behind the Dollar General store is being marketed for redevelopment.