IOWA CITY — Paul’s, an Iowa-owned discount store selling everything from boots and board games to trivets and trailer hitches, will close its Iowa City location in July.
The store has been a landmark on Highway 1 West since 1981, when the Cassidy family of Clinton bought out the previous owner, Ken Ranshaw, and made Ken’s Auto and Farm Store into Paul’s.
“We have operated in the Iowa City market for more than 36 years with great success,” Rob Cassidy, president of Paul’s, a two-store chain based in Clinton, said in a prepared statement. “Much of this success is attributable to a dedicated team of employees, a loyal and passionate customer base and a great location.”
Cassidy’s grandfather, Paul “Parker” Cassidy, opened the first Paul’s Discount Store, in Clinton, in 1964. That store will continue operations.
The Iowa City Paul’s has 44 employees, which includes seven managers, 10 full-time employees and 27 part-time employees. They will be laid off unless there are openings at the Clinton store, Cassidy said.
The Cassidy family decided not to renew its Iowa City lease, which ends July 31, amid competition from national chains such as Wal-Mart and Target that can purchase inventory in bulk and the increasing trend toward online shopping, Cassidy said.
Cassidy tried to find a buyer who would invest in technology for the Iowa City store and gain operational scale, but the “acquisition market for retail is tepid and no such buyer has been found,” he said.
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Paul’s motto has long been “if you can’t find it at Paul’s, you don’t need it.”
A walk down the crowded aisles shows wide-ranging inventory including tulip bulbs, potting soil, patriotic dog sweaters, fishing lures, bike helmets, pet food, Christmas lights (in April), board games, greeting cards, muffin tins, Carhartt coats, Under Armor running tights, canning equipment, vacuums and night crawlers $2.79 for a dozen.
Paul’s still has a small-town feel, despite being in a town of 74,000. A community notice board has posting for flea markets, 5Ks and fundraisers and employees wearing burgundy-colored T-shirts or polo shirts help customers find what they need.
Some of that flavor goes back to the store’s origins.
Ken Ranshaw opened Ken’s Auto and Farm Store in 1962 in an old block building on the south side of Highway 1 West. For the first five year’s of the store’s operation, Ranshaw and his family lived in the attic above the store, according to a news release from the Ranshaw family.
Inventory was piled high on shelves or sometimes hung from the ceiling and shoppers had to turn sideways if they met someone else in the narrow aisles.
The Ranshaws moved their store across the road in 1975. Ranshaw developed a close relationship with the Cassidys and they often ordered inventory together to cut costs.
Ken and Shirley Ranshaw sold their discount store to the Cassidys in 1981.
Dick Davin, of Iowa City, said Paul’s has “just about everything I need at 87 years old.”
Davin’s three oldest daughters worked at Ken’s and then Paul’s in Iowa City during high school and college, he said. His oldest daughter, Cindy Haugland, faced an armed robbery her first day at work, Davin said.
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“The first night she worked there a guy came in and said ‘Stick ’em up!,’” Davin said. Haugland gave the man the money from the cash register, but was able to push a button alerting the police and the robbery was thwarted, Davin said.
Paul’s survived the opening of Iowa City’s first Walmart in 1991, despite the national chain outlet being less than a mile west of Paul’s. A Walmart Supercenter replaced the first Walmart in 2011.
Paul’s has hired Wingate Sales Solutions to help with closing the Iowa City store, Cassidy said. The sale will begin April 12 and end around July 4.
The store will close from April 9 to 11 to prepare for the sale.
The Ranshaws, who continue to own the Paul’s building, have plans to update and remodel before splitting the space among six to eight tenants, according to Realtor Ryan O’Leary.
More details will be available about the new tenants in coming months, he said. Some space still is available for restaurant, retail or office space.
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