STATE OF THE CITY 2000 (Service Businesses): Eating options expand, retool for residents

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY LINDSAY NUSZ
Change was a predominant theme among Hillsboro?s service businesses in 1999. Perhaps nowhere was change more evident than among local restaurants and eating places.

Eating establishments

This past year saw significant changes in the local dining scene. Sonic Drive-In opened its new store in Hillsboro Heights, Pizza Hut replaced their facility, McDonald?s added on, Subway hired a new manager, and Daylight Donuts came under new ownership?twice.

Sonic Drive-in officially opened its doors to the public Oct. 20, and response from the public was overwhelming, said supervising partners Jason Jorland and David Green, as local eaters tested new convenience-food menu options such as Conies, onion rings and cherry limeades.

The store includes 21 drive-in stalls, a picnic area, a ?hop-through? drive-in and a playground area.

Sonic?s 35 employees intends to offer quality food and fast service according to Green, one of two supervising partners.

Business has been steady after the first two months.

?It was pretty crazy here when we first opened in October,? Green said. ?Business was great. November was very strong for us, too.?

Lunch is prime time for workers and passersby on U.S. Highway 56 while the dinner hour caters more to families, he said.

Green said their goal for 2000 is attract more of the soft-drink business.

?We have a lot to offer, especially drinks,? he said.

Last spring, after 22 years in Hillsboro, Pizza Hut reopened with a new facility. Business continued to be strong for the restaurant in the ensuing months.

?Locally people in the area seem to be our main customers,? said Toni Williams, manager. ?We have many repeats.?

Local events generate the most out-of-town business.

?Tournaments bring a lot of business, but the Arts & Crafts fair is our most successful weekend,? she said.

At McDonald?s, sales were up and so was customer count, according to owner Dan D?Albini.

?I was fairly pleased with our year as a whole,? he said.

The store?s facelift was a highlight in 1999. Additional seating for 40 customers was added to the east side of the store.

?We now have a total of 92 seats available for customers,? said D?Albini. ?It was a very wise investment.?

The store is experimenting with new winter hours, staying open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

After the modifications made last year, D?Albini does not foresee any significant changes in 2000.

?The Arts & Crafts Fair probably brings the most out-of-town business,? he said. ?I would say that on that day, 75 percent of our customers are from out of town.?

Subway hired a new manager, effective Dec. 30. Jenni Goebel has taken over the Hillsboro store since moving here from Hutchinson.

?Subway gets most of it?s business from locals who are working in the area,? said Jennifer Ginest, regional manager.

The opening of Sonic hasn?t seemed to affect Subway, Ginest said, but business did drop off slightly at Subway from the previous year.

Subway?s convenient proximity to Tabor College continues to be a positive asset.

?I like to know that I can just walk over and get a sandwich anytime I don?t feel like eating cafeteria food,? said Jessica Tatro, a Tabor freshman from Buhler.

Daylight Donuts has taken a new approach since Dan Janzen took over ownership of the establishment last June.

?I came from nursing and needed a break, so I took this opportunity, and I?d really like to see it work,? he said.

Janzen hasn?t made major changes, but he has tried a few new ideas. Daylight Donuts is serving lunch and staying open from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Janzen has also tried having late-study nights for Tabor students and serving fresh bread and offering delivery service.

?We deliver to seven local communities in the mornings and serve fresh soup and bread over the noon hour,? he said.

He said the ?Tabor Night? idea started well when it was launched in early November, but sales have since slowed.

?We just need more sales consistently to make it work,? Janzen said. ?Anytime Tabor kids want to come we are open for them.?

One of the mainstays of the local dining scene enjoyed a good year, in part because of a tragic fire in the fall of 1998, say Linden and Dorie Thiessen, owners of Olde Towne Restaurant.

?Our business has gone up,? said Linden. ?That is partly because of the Iron Kettle and partly because of our increase in hours.?

Olde Towne?s menu, which features Low-German cooking, continues to draw people from around the state to Hillsboro for their cooking.

?Our most successful work weekend is always the Arts & Crafts Fair,? Linden said. ?We probably served over 1000 people.?

Looking to the coming year, Thiessen plans to offer more homemade soups and keep their hours the same. Soups are sold by the cup, bowl or even in a bread bowl.

Financial institutions

Hillsboro?s five financial institutions?Central National Bank, Commercial Federal Bank, Emprise Bank, Great Plains Federal Credit Union and Hillsboro State Bank?experienced both stability and change during the past year.

In 1999, Central National Bank acquired some new banks in northern Kansas and one in Superior, Neb. Economically, the bank?s last two years were very comparable, according to Mike Padgett, CNB marketing president.

?We aren?t planning any changes at the current time for 2000,? he said.

Emprise Bank is looking forward to 2000 after spending much time and money to prepare for Y2K, said officials.

In 1999, Emprise installed a new drive-up automatic teller machine on D street, Dale Rein was promoted to senior vice president and bank manager of the Emprise branch in Council Grove and Brad Bartel was hired to take his place in Hillsboro.

In 2000, the bank?s operations department will move to new offices in the bank basement. The bank also plans to install handicap accessible doors at their front entrance.

Emprise is also preparing to provide Internet banking and will continue to provide 24-hour banking through two ATM?s and the Emprise Access services in their lobby.

?We plan to continue to be a strong supporter of the Hillsboro community,? said Robert Watson, senior vice president.

Kathy Decker, branch manager for Great Plains Federal Credit Union, said, ?Economically speaking, 1999 was a very good year for us. Loans and savings were up this year.?

The financial institution didn?t make any physical changes, Decker said, but did install an automatic phone system.

In 2000, the institution will be able to allow their customers to bank online.

?Hopefully by April or May we will be able to offer Internet banking,? Decker said.

Hillsboro State Bank reported a steady economic year with no major changes. Carl Long, bank president, expects the same for 2000.

?It was a very good year,? said Carl Long, bank president. ?We met all budget projections.?

Long sees business as usual in 2000. ?If we do make any changes, they will be in the technology range,? he said. ?We have a few options coming down the pipe. We will be discussing various new technology opportunities.?

Vehicle care

The biggest challenge in the field of vehicle care for local independent service stations owners in 1999 was whether they would be selling gasoline during the year as the result of Environmental Protection Agency mandates about underground fuel storage tanks.

Lowell Foth, owner of Foth?s Service Center, decided he could not justify the expense of replacing his tanks. Losing the gas business was a significant economic setback, said Foth.

?With out the gas business, our service station is in a whole different world,? he said.

Foth isn?t foreseeing any changes for the year 2000. He plans to keep his existing hours and continue his focus on vehicle repair and tire sales.

In his first year as sole owner of Jost Service Station, Lowell Jost was able to satisfy EPA standard without major expenditures. His business is the last full-service service station in Hillsboro. He also services vehicles and sells tires.

Jost became sole owner after buying out the shares owned by his brother, Jerry, effective Jan. 1, 1999.

?Business was pretty good this last year,? Jost said. ?It has gone up.?

Competition in the tire business heated up considerably in 1999. First, Rod Koons opened Rod?s Tire & Service last January.

?It has always been a goal or dream of mine to own my own business, and luckily we got things started on the right foot,? he said.

Temporarily located on North Main, Koons plans to relocate in Hillsboro Heights. He hopes to be in his new location as soon as early summer.

?Moving will allow us to serve our customers better,? he said. ?It will be a better location and the facility will be more customer friendly.?

Koons is pleased with his venture so far.

?Starting from zero, we had a great first sixth months,? he said. ?We would like to thank the community and surrounding areas and businesses. I am very much looking forward to the future.?

Later in the year, Hillsboro Ford followed the lead of Ford dealers around the country to offer tire sales and service to their customers.

Building & remodeling

Construction-related companies maintained a strong but comparable economic year in 1999. With Hillsboro Heights opening and new housing developments adding homes, businesses involved in construction had another busy year.

?As far as new customers and overall sales, we were about the same as last year,? said Terry Bruton of The Lumberyard in Hillsboro.

?Building was up in the area, but as far as dollars, we were basically the same as the past year,? Bruton said.

Hillsboro Heights has taken root beyond local expectations. When the project was first proposed, only one business was seen as a likely candidate to locate in the light commercial development.

?We expanded much further than planned,? said Mike Kleiber, president of the Hillsboro Development Corp. ?We have lots sold to at least six businesses at this point. Everybody is pleasantly pleased with the activity.?

One local contractor to benefit from Hillsboro Heights was Larry Bartel, owner of Bartel Construction. His company helped construct the new Country Haven Inn.

?We added a few employees and our payroll is up 25 percent,? he said.

Business was up in 1999, and Bartel isn?t expecting any changes in 2000. ?We did about all we could do in ?99,? he said.

The local construction did see some change with the emergence of Kunkel Construction, who not only is building in Willow Glen, but accepted several other jobs around the community. They opened an office on North Main in 1999.

Also, New Covenant Builders, a mainstay in Hillsboro for more than two decades, was terminated when owner Dave Kroeker moved with his family to the East Coast.

Printing and publishing

The local printing scene took on a new flavor when the city?s longest established full-service printer, Baker Bros., formed an alliance with Print Source Direct, the city?s newest provider of printing services.

The two companies remain separate entities, but with complementary strengths, they coordinate their efforts to better serve a broader range of customers.

One of Print Source Direct?s enterprises, the Hillsboro Free Press, completed its first full year of publishing in August 1999.

The Free Press, a total-market-coverage publication, added an on-line edition in summer, and launched two new subscriber-based publications late in the year, the Hillsboro Free Press Digest and Courthouse Records.

Meanwhile, the city?s other weekly, the Hillsboro?s Star-Journal underwent a major staff change when Bryan Maier resigned as publisher. He was replaced as publisher and editor by Troy Wedel, a partner in Wedel Publishing, which purchased the newspaper in 1998. Keith Lippoldt of Pratt was hired as managing editor.

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