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A story of Willfred "Skillet" Eudaly, Lawrence's first hamburger and the pending closure of perhaps Lawrence's oldest liquor store

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If the Kansas City Royals or the resumption of the Kansas legislative session doesn’t cause you to think of liquor stores, then you aren’t watching either close enough. Regardless, there soon will be one less liquor store to frequent in Lawrence. In some ways, Lawrence is losing its ultimate mom and pop liquor store.

The store that is named Mom & Pop's Liquor at 1906 Massachusetts St. is closing after the end of business on Friday. The store has been open since 1948, according to Mike Myers, the current owner of the establishment. There is some thought that the store may be the oldest liquor store in Lawrence. That is a tough fact to confirm, however. I don’t have personal knowledge of it, and anybody who has spent 70 years going to Lawrence liquor stores may not be the best source on a topic that involves the use of brain cells.

However, a 2011 Journal-World obituary for Willfred “Skillet” Eudaly did report that the liquor store at 19th and Massachusetts was the first liquor store in Lawrence. The obituary reports that Eudaly operated several businesses at the 1906 Massachusetts St. location. First it was Grover’s Market and then it turned into Skillet’s Tavern. Eudaly gained the nickname of “Skillet,” perhaps because he also operated in the late 1930s Snappy Lunch Restaurant in the 600 block of Massachusetts. According to the obituary, the restaurant was the first in town to sell hamburgers. (If Lawrence didn’t have hamburgers until the 1930s, can you imagine how often everybody had to eat frozen pizza for supper?)

But back to 1906 Massachusetts. According to the obituary, Skillet’s Tavern became Skillet’s Liquor Store in 1948. So, if it isn’t the oldest liquor store in town, it sure has to be pretty close. And now, it also may be a sign of the changing times. The store is small, and it appears that small may not be as successful in the liquor store industry as it used to be.

Myers, who has owned the store since 2005, said his business has been on a downward trend since the large On the Rocks Liquor Store opened just down the block in about 2010. Now, the Kansas Legislature has passed a law that will allow grocery stores in the future to sell full-strength beer, which liquor stores long have had a monopoly on.

Myers said he suspects that law will open the door for other changes to the liquor store industry, and it eventually will become more like it is in other states.

“It will be dominated by bigger places,” Myers said. “That has been the trend for awhile. It has both its advantages and disadvantages. But there won’t be as many of the small ones.”

Currently, the Kansas liquor store industry is dominated by small operators. Kansas law doesn’t allow for liquor store chains. The closest you can come to that is a single household can operate two stores — with each spouse holding a license for one. How the new liquor laws will shake out for the industry is still a mystery. While liquor stores lose their monopoly on strong beer, they still have it on other liquors. Plus, liquor stores now will be able to sell a larger variety of nonalcoholic items.

Myers said his guess is the new system will probably produce cheaper liquor prices for popular items, but it may become harder to find specialty items as smaller stores become less common.

Myers, though, isn’t bemoaning the changes. He said they played only a small role in his decision to close the store.

“The new law was a fairly minor part of it,” he said. “Being ready to retire has a lot to do with it.”

Myers was new to the liquor store business when he bought the shop about a dozen years ago. He said he does have mixed emotions about the closing.

“I probably didn’t learn enough,” Myers said when asked what the business taught him. “I learned a bit about the products, and I got to know a few people, and that was good.”

As for the future of the site, Myers did own the building, but said he has already sold it. My understanding is a group that has a connection with the Miller Tattoo shop next door bought the building. I’ve got a call into the tattoo shop and will let you know if I hear of any plans for the location.

Comments

Shane Garrett 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I used to work there back in my college days. Mr. Eudaly would pay 1.25 an hour. And to my paychecks demise he would offer store credit until payday. Mr. and Mrs. Eudaly were a wonderful couple. She did the paperwork. He made sure the store was stocked. Which for a someone lacking good sight was quite the accomplishment. He also had a few stories to tell about back in the early days. RIP.

Sean Williams 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The concept of the "oldest," or "first" liquor store after the repeal of prohibition in Kansas came up in conversation even before the sales of bottled alcoholic beverages were allowed. The first sales in Lawrence happened on July 19th, 1949, according to my family sources, but not exactly as planned. Dockery's (next to the Granada Theatre) and Eudaly's (in its current location) were scheduled to receive deliveries alphabetically, followed by Frey & Williams Liquor store, located in a stone building to the south of what is now Johnny's Tavern. Fred Frey, Odd Williams, & Skipper Williams tipped the delivery driver so he would abandon the alphabetic schedule and unload in North Lawrence on the way south on Massachusetts Street. They reasoned that it would be easier and more efficient to deliver the liquor in a systematic line rather than to adhere to the alphabetic order of the family name of the store. So, the truck braked at Frey and Williams store, THEN Dockery's, and finally, Eudaly's. Although all the stores opened on the same date, the Frey & Williams trio claimed the title of "Oldest" liquor store and claimed the "First" legal sale of liquor in Lawrence after the repeal of Prohibition and the Legislature's permission. Their claim was based on getting that initial order delivery and immediate sale. "Skillet" outlasted everybody, though. The Frey & Williams store was moved to the southeast corner of 23rd and Louisiana Street after the 1951 flood ruined its inventory and Rusty's IGA expanded to include new stores at 23rd and Louisiana and 9th and Iowa, both on "the edge of town." A few years after managing partner, Fred Frey, passed away, and deregulation opened the rules on pricing and larger inventory stores, the Frey and Williams store was sold for the expansion of Checkers in 1986. Deaths led to Dockery's shutting down, and "Skillet" Eudaly crowed that he had the oldest continually operated liquor store in Lawrence - and that was the truth! He was a great man, of solid character, and a leader in the liquor business in Lawrence, Kansas.

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