Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 24, 2014

Convenience stores way too convenient

By Jeff Wilson | May 19, 2011

A nice lady put $2.88 in neatly organized piles on the Casey’s South check-out counter to pay for chips and a drink. One of the coins looked like a Canadian quarter and confused the clerk. All of us in line were patient as she scooped up all the change and just gave the clerk a $20 bill.

“I was just trying to get rid of some change,” she said with a hurried smile.

It was just another normal night at a Fairfield convenience store. Even if I run in for a couple of minutes and pay for $20 in gas, it seems like there is always something weird happening.

Almost five years ago, I moved out to the South Gate Condominiums and too frequently I fight the urge to stop and buy something I don’t really need. The other night I walked out with a box of Good & Plenty and a small bag of Sterzing’s potato chips. What the heck was I thinking?

People are usually cordial, friendly and talkative as a line forms. Everyone with one goofy purchase after another. I’d be a little self-conscious about buying a slice of pizza, a Yoohoo chocolate drink and Hostess cupcakes. At Casey’s South it’s no big deal.

While the lady with all the change was completing her transaction, a truck driver came in to ask for directions.

“How do I get to Performance Pipe from here?” he asked.

I immediately thought about Jerry Long and Mike Brouwer. Jerry was the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce president and Mike the executive director when Fairfield’s bypass controversy was taking shape. Their major case for a northern bypass route was for the convenience of truck drivers going to and from Fairfield’s north side manufacturing area.

The drawn-out bypass battle was with Maharishi International University officials who didn’t want the university cut off from early Vedic City development.

So when the truck driver showed up at Casey’s South wanting directions to the northwest corner of town, I tried to wind him down Highway 1 to Burlington Avenue and north on Fourth Street to Stone Avenue. It was precisely what Mike and Jerry were trying to guard against.

The driver nodded like he understood my directions. The guy behind me in line thought otherwise.

“I wonder where he’s going to end up?” he asked, holding his string cheese, pretzels and a quart of beer.

I gave the clerk my $20 for gas and almost wanted to hang around to see what was going to happen next in the Casey’s twilight zone. Back when the Fairfield bypass initially opened, confused travelers would wander into Casey’s South asking where they were. GPS systems hadn’t recognized the new route.

At some point, I think rural America is going to cycle back to neighborhood grocery stores and taverns. Driving through Wisconsin, it’s not uncommon to see a neon, Leinenkugel or Old Style beer sign in what looks like someone’s picture window. It’s really a neighborhood tavern. I assume people are just socializing at a convenient location. Maybe I should walk over to the Eagles Lodge. That’s close.

I asked Gene Luedtke and Vicki Tillis about Fairfield’s history of neighborhood grocery stores. They said Handy Pantry near Fourth Street and Madison Avenue held on until the 1980s and Parcell’s near Kirkwood Avenue and B Street closed up a little before that.

There was another store north of Washington Elementary School on D Street. I would have enjoyed Fairfield during that era.

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out at Casey’s South searching for another winning combination. The strawberry Twizzlers licorice and a 20 oz. RC Cola is always a good choice. 

Jeff Wilson is publisher of The Fairfield Ledger.

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