Paul’s is closing

Paul’s Discount in Iowa City, April 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Paul’s Discount is closing its store on Highway 1 after 37 years of providing Iowa City with everything from plumbing supplies to baseballs. The slogan “If you can’t find it at Paul’s, then you don’t need it,” is familiar to generations of Iowa Citians.

“It’s not your regular big box chain-type retail store. It has a special place in this community,” said John Balmer, who was mayor of Iowa City when Paul’s opened in 1981. “They had this unique ability to have the products that nobody else would carry.”

Paul Cassidy opened the first Paul’s Discount in Clinton in 1965. In 1981, he bought Iowa City’s first discount store, Ken’s Auto & Farm Store, making it his second store. Despite it’s name, Ken’s sold the same wide variety of items Paul’s does.

“Things were literally hanging from the ceiling. You could barely get through the aisles,” Balmer recalled, when asked about Ken’s. “It was quite a selling technique.”

Ken’s Auto & Farm Store, Iowa City — photo courtesy of the Ranshaw family

Ken’s, which opened in 1963, was owned by Ken and Shirley Ranshaw. It was originally located across the street from Paul’s current location, but moved in 1975 because the business needed more room.

Ken’s and Paul’s had a working relationship well before the sale. Because the two stores stocked similar items, they would often jointly order inventory, in order to reduce the cost of items. So Cassidy had a thorough knowledge of the Iowa City market by the time Ranshaws were interested in selling their business.

Plans for the future of the 36,000 sq. foot building call for the space to be split between six to eight tenants, according to Ryan O’Leary of the Lepic-Kroeger, Realtors. O’Leary is handling the building for the Ranshaw family, which still owns it.

“We don’t want to go into details at the moment, out of respect for the impact the closing of Paul’s, both for those who work there and for the community,” O’Leary said. “Paul’s, and Ken’s before it, were iconic parts of Iowa City, and this closing brings a 55-year chapter in local retail to an end.”

Plans call for Paul’s in Iowa City to close by July 4. The Clinton store will remain open.

“I suppose it’s a sign of changing times,” Balmer said. “There’s not many family-owned businesses like this around anymore, ones that have a local flavor to them like Paul’s has and Ken’s had.”


  1. So sad :( they couldn’t be competitive because all the bigger stores were cheaper. Such a sad thing seeing all these old businesses folding :(

    1. They *aren’t* cheaper, though. It’s a perception based on a few loss leaders and marketing. I have access to literally every big box under the sun and I still stocked up on (insert random combinations of stuff) at Paul’s every time back to IC.

      1. Agreed. Paul’s prices are often better. And their selection of unusual or hard-to-find items beats everyone else!

  2. When you shop local business you are supporting their owners, their employees, your community, and your country. Every time you shop at a chain store like CVS or Target or Walmart you are taking your money and giving the lion’s share to the same few thousand individuals who own most of the world. The money goes offshore where it is cosseted and nurtured and protected from taxes. 1% of the people own 80% of the world. Next time you decide to go to Bandana’s BBQ instead of the local place, be aware that you are one of the bricks in the wall between most of humanity and the very wealthy.

    1. I understand what you are saying but Bandanas BBQ is based in St. Louis (still in the region) and owned by people from Cedar Falls. So by knowing that your example is not as great as you thought

    2. Bandana’s BBQ is an odd choice to take shots at, given that 1) there are 2 Bandana’s in Iowa, the same number of Paul’s stores 2) the only Bandana’s in IC/CV/NL closed years ago 3) there are more Jimmy Jacks in IC/NL than Bandana’s in the whole state 4) there are only 27 Bandana’s, almost all of which are in Missouri (19 in MO, 4 in IL, 2 in IA, 2 in IN). Rick White growing a restaurant franchise from 1 location to 27 over 22 years isn’t exactly Walmart or Target.

    3. I agree shop locally if possible, however Paul’s discount imports products and clothes from all over the world; maybe a small percentage of their inventory comes from Iowa. I’d bet a fraction of a percent is produced locally in Iowa city.

  3. This is so sad, Paul’s is a long time favorite of mine you can find anything there. It’s a store with a lot of variety and good customer service. Sad to see them go.

  4. Will be so sad not to stop there as I have in all IC visits since moving away. Best of luck to the owners and employees on the next adventure.

  5. I used to live a few blocks from Paul’s and went there all the time for EVERYTHING. My husband and I even had a song about the store. Went something like this, “You can get most anything you want at Paul’s Discount Store. Lightbulbs and bird houses, pans and shovels, shoes, and slippers, gazing balls, and Drano. Chains and spray paint, toy cars and underwear, fishing lures, dog food, and all kinds of nuts. You can get most anything you want at Paul’s Discount Store.” Well, I guess we are gonna have one less reason to be sad that we moved to Cedar Falls. RIP, Paul’s, you Iowa City institution.

    1. Hell of a tune! Basically sings itself! You could’ve gotten a damn record deal and saved this business instead of sitting on these lyrics for years… Selfish!

  6. This is so sad for Iowa City. Paul’s is a
    unique store and one that will definitely be missed. Paul’s was always my first choice over Walmart or any other big
    box store. Very sad news!!!

  7. When my daughter attended U of Iowa, I rarely left Iowa City without checking out Paul’s. They most always had something I needed. Thanks for so many years of fun shopping.

  8. So very sorry to hear this! Such a fantastic store with good quality merchandise and a wide variety of things you can’t find just anywhere! My husband will be devastated to hear that his favorite store is closing and we live over 50 miles away. Best wishes to the owners and employees. This store will be very missed!

  9. When my daughter started attending U. Of Iowa, I rarely left town without stopping in at Paul’s. They always had something I needed. It was one of my go-to stores. Thanks Paul’s for the good deals for many years.

  10. I am so sorry to hear this. My Grandmother first took me to this store as she liked to shop there. Whenever I am in Iowa City I always go to Paul’s to shop. They actually had my pet supplies cheaper than anyone in the Des Moines area. Thanks for the memories Paul’s and best wishes to everyone from Paul’s in the future!!!

  11. I’m surprised and will miss this store. I personally knew 3 persons who have or are working there. Joel E., Dave I., Tom K. Thanks for your years of service, you made the store what it is.

  12. Sorry to hear about another family business closing. If I lived closer to IC, I would be spending more money.

    1. if only you were here you would’ve saved ‘em! Now I have to go buy my nuts at the grocery store!

  13. Destination shop for us. Sorry to hear this. But I wont miss that employee who followed me around and stared. He knows who he is.

  14. Sad news :( Paul’s was one of the few stores I was ever excited to go to with my dad when I was younger, and I’m fairly sure I bought my first baseball glove, fishing setup, and several other kid-things there. It was a staple of Iowa City to me and it’ll definitely be missed.

  15. Sad day. Paul’s is great! Always had what you needed. Growing up I bought my auto repair supplies, hunting gear, snacks, and the odd things nobody else had. It will always be good memories.

  16. Eagerly awaiting the crappy honey comb of homogenized $2,000 a month office suites this property will be turned into. Second floor? Fly hipster lofts that no one under 40 can afford.

    So fair thee well to one of the last local vestiges where one could buy stink bait and a 20 lb bag of caramel corn on the same trip. I had a good run.

  17. Iowa City is rapidly losing retail, first Kmart, now Paul’s. Paul’s was a locally owned gem, never fully appreciated by some people swayed by modern stores. Our premium dog food sold there for $11 less than Amazon prime. Sad!

  18. I love the variety of items that they have…reminds me of a store in New Hampshire where I visited my grandparents years ago. The one stop everything shop-clothes, pets, repair, toys, outdoor, sports, etc…I will miss milling around and always finding something! I am sad for the family business to be closing-for the people, the tradition, the originality.

  19. Kens and now Paul’s have been my go to store first to find different items I needed or wanted and seldom did I come out without finding it. Really going to miss the availability of so many different items at the same store and not have to travel so many isles to find them. Really don’t like going to the big box stores ——— so thanks for the memories! You will be badly missed!!

  20. Sad, so sad. I live in Benton County and if I went to Iowa City I stopped At Pauls. I even shopped at Ken’s. Been to Pauls in Clinton a dozen times too.

  21. I live in Burlington Iowa everytime I’m in Iowa City visiting the VA I stop by Paul’s I love that store the only place you can find car parts and anything else you want at a reasonable price I am going to miss Paul’s

  22. Kind of wish I hadn’t checked the mail today; got a letter advertising Paul’s store closing sale, I messaged my dad and he confirmed he heard they were closing. My favorite store in Iowa City from the time I went to undergrad and the last ten years since I moved back. My dad would always go there when he came to help me fix on the house or car. Got all my garden supplies each spring, clothes sometimes and of course odd things like the solar powered ornament for the yard and last week metal spinning target for the shooting range. The prices were good too, but I’d still use them if they were a big higher for the convenience and avoiding the hell that is Walmart on a weekend. As someone commented above, it’s only perception that Walmart or other places are cheaper, overall Paul’s has great prices, got my dog food there for years from the time I moved back to Iowa City. My dog died two months ago; I’m sorry if my sudden drop in business was the straw that broke the camels back:) Paul’s in Iowa City dying is a loss as well, for what it represents.

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