Archive for Thursday, October 5, 2000

Out with groceries and in with Hot Rod Mall

October 5, 2000

The former Country Mart grocery store in Bonner Springs opened this week as the "Race and Hot Rod Mall."

The business, which is a half-mile south of Interstate 70 on Kansas Highway 7, will be similar to an antique mall, said owner Dale Wilch.

"Except that instead of antiques, there will be race car and hot rod parts," Wilch said.

He expects to appeal to racers, fans and other hot-rod enthusiasts.

Wilch who lives in Kansas City, Kan., has taken an eight-year lease on the 30,000-square-foot building.

Moreover, in a 1,200-square-foot area in the northeast corner of the building, Neil Bitler, former owner of Bitler's Barbecue, Tonganoxie, is setting up shop.

Bitler plans to be open on the first Tuesday of every month when the car mall is open. He also plans to use the kitchen for his catering business.

Wilch expects his one-day-a-month mall to be a success. Further, as the demand increases for booth space, Wilch plans to increase the rent from the present $50 a month. This, he said, will help insure that high-quality products are sold.

"The quality dealers will be able to make it work for them financially," Wilch said.

Wilch from 1981 to 1990 operated a consignment auto parts business at 49th Street and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kan. Since 1994, Wilch and his wife, Denise, have operated a race car and hot rod parts business over the Internet.

"We sell classified ads for racers to sell and market their used cars and parts," Wilch said.

However, some items aren't conducive to Internet sales. They may be too bulky to ship, or they're car parts that prospective buyers need to see in person.

Also, Wilch said, not everyone likes to shop on the Internet, meaning they may not even know that Wilch's Web site exists.

"This, hopefully, will fill that void," Wilch said.

Wilch, who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., said he's had a lifelong interest with car racing.

During the 1970s, he drove, the "Jayhawker," a top-fuel dragster owned by Don Baxter, Lawrence.

Also, he has participated in National Hot Rod Association races at Topeka's Heartland Park.

With next year's highly publicized opening of Kansas Speedway, there's been an increase in racing in the Kansas City area, Wilch said. And that's partly why he's decided to open the mall.

"Kansas Speedway has caused a tremendous amount of attention in this area that I'm trying to capitalize on, too," he said. As part of his promotion, Wilch plans to offer in a drawing, he said, "four dynamite seats for the Speedway races next year."

With Dennis Boettcher, Tonganoxie, doing the electrical work, and Neil Bitler opening the kitchen, Wilch last week said he expected to have everything ready to open this week.

And he expects, over time, the business to be a success.

"Because of my Internet experience, I want this to be a nationally known facility," Wilch said.

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