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, 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.”