Casey’s opens its first store in Lawrence; plans for second store still moving forward

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Casey's opened its first store in the Lawrence market on Aug. 1, 2019. The national chain that sells gas, pizza and traditional convenience store items has also filed plans for another location in south Lawrence.

Beginning on this rainy Thursday, Lawrence residents looking for a tank of gas for their car — or maybe their ark — have a new national chain to choose from. The convenience store chain Casey’s officially opened its Lawrence location today.

We’ve been reporting for months that Casey’s had decided to break into the Lawrence market. The store at 1703 W. Sixth St. — where the College Motel used to be — is the company’s first in town. But it already has filed plans for a second location, slated for the former Steak ‘n Shake restaurant spot just west of 31st and Iowa streets. City planning officials tell me that project is working its way through the approval process and has not yet encountered any major hurdles.

The company likely will be a major player in the convenience store market in Lawrence. For one, its stores are bigger than many of the older locations in town. This new store is just under 5,000 square feet and plans for the south Lawrence store check in at just under 6,000 square feet, according to documents filed with City Hall.

The locations have full kitchens, and food is more than an afterthought at the chain. Pizza is a big part of the company’s business. Really big, in fact. An article I found from 2016 reported that Casey’s was the fifth largest seller of pizza in the U.S. and that pizza sales accounted for about 70% of its annual sales. Casey’s pizza menu includes all the traditional offerings, available both in full pies or by the slice. But it also includes a breakfast pizza — think of a layer of scrambled eggs on a crust covered in cheese sauce instead of tomato, plus toppings like bacon or sausage — that it now serves all day.

The new Lawrence location also has on its menu sub sandwiches, wraps and salads. Fresh doughnuts also are part of the menu, along with a variety of coffees and a cappuccino offering. Soft-serve ice cream and frozen drinks also are on tap.

I’ve a got a call into a representative of the company to find out more. Local officials weren’t allowed to talk to the press, a reminder that the Iowa-based chain is a big company. Casey’s is traded on the Nasdaq exchange and has about 17,000 full-time employees, according to its stock listing profile. It has a little more than 2,100 stores in 16 states, primarily in the Midwest.

Talking about the food offerings is fun — I really did eat a breakfast pizza this morning — but the more important thing to watch will be whether the new player in the market has any impact on Lawrence’s gas prices.

We’ve reported many times over the years how gas prices in some surrounding communities — some as close as Eudora or Tonganoxie — have been significantly cheaper than in Lawrence. One of the differences is those communities have a Casey’s as a major player in the gas market. We will see soon enough whether Casey’s puts downward pressure on the prices in Lawrence.

Today, standard unleaded was selling for $2.44 a gallon at Casey’s. That’s below the Lawrence average of $2.51 a gallon listed on the fuel tracking site run by AAA. Casey’s also offers an E-85 version that is ethanol-based fuel that can be used by certain vehicles. On the other end of the spectrum, it also offers a high-grade gas that is ethanol free, which some people find appealing for smaller engines, boat motors and lawn mowers that sometimes have problems with the ethanol blend.

Casey’s entry into the market also may get at least one other national chain in a more competitive mode. In case you have forgotten, QuikTrip has filed plans for its second Lawrence store. It would be at Ninth and Iowa streets at the former Zarco-owned convenience store locations. I need to get an update from planning officials how those approvals are coming along, but there are signs of progress at the site. A construction barrier has been placed at the smaller of the two Zarco sites — the one closest to the Ninth and Iowa intersection. The pumps already have been removed from that location and some other site work appears underway.

That location is basically just around the corner from the Casey’s store. Perhaps a gas war will be coming to the central part of Lawrence. That would be good because if I keep eating breakfast pizza every day, I’m going to have to buy a bigger truck to carry the load.

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