Bitler’s closing; Hallmark store changing focus
Neil Bitler has toyed with the idea of closing his barbecue restaurant for some time.
Now, he's made a decision.
"Sunday, the 14th of May will be our last day," Bitler said. "I'm tired of fighting the help situation in this town. We don't have any help. This is not a career move for anybody. I'm just tired of fighting it. I've been here 14 years, and I'm tired of being here all the time myself."
Bitler's business is for sale. If he doesn't receive any offers by next Wednesday, an auction will be conducted on May 23.
George Anton, who's owned the building that houses Bitler's and two retail shops for about 15 years, said he's seeking another restaurant operator.
"We'll give that a good try because I think Tonganoxie needs another fine restaurant," Anton said.
Bitler's isn't the only business in the building at the northwest corner of Third and West streets that's planning a change.
Patricia Anton, George Anton's daughter-in-law who's operated Anton's Hallmark since 1992, said that by fall she hopes to convert her business into a full-time photography studio and one-hour photo business. She will move her studio to the store.
"I'm dropping the Hallmark," she said. "I'm going to concentrate on portraits and the one-hour photo."
Although that line won't be available in her store any longer, Anton plans to retain Tonganoxie, University of Kansas and Kansas State University memorabilia. And she plans to add other photography supplies, including more picture frames and albums.
"We'll be having a clearance this summer," she said.
By fall, Anton hopes to have the conversion complete.
By fall, it's possible that Neil Bitler and his wife, Joyce, will be in Colorado.
"I've wanted to go there for years," said Bitler, 58, a former machinist with Trans World Airlines. "Now's a good time to do it."
Another possibility, he said, is for the couple to open a barbecue carryout business.
"That's something that just the two of us can do," he said.
Although the Tonganoxie restaurant scene has changed during the past few months with the opening of Sonic Drive-In and Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse Bitler said they had little effect on his decision to close his 14-year-old business.
"That's not the problem," he said. "When they open, they always take customers away for awhile. I already made up my mind to do this before anybody else opened."
Bitler isn't optimistic that his business will sell.
"We've had a couple of nibbles on it," he said. "I don't think there's been anybody serious enough to do it. I don't think they're going to pan out. Somebody's missing a good deal because the price I have on it is a giveaway."
Melanie Starcher, the owner of the third business in the Anton building, said she's taking a wait-and-see stance to determine how Bitler's closing will affect her business. She's hopeful George Anton can attract another business that will help pull customers into her gift shop, Backporch Friends.
"I'm not panicking or anything," Starcher said. "I'm just riding this storm out and seeing what happens."