Don Wistuba didn’t want to do it — post a “going out of business sale” — not after 39 years operating the snack shop inside the Kansas Capitol.
But while the 59-year-old, who has been blind since birth, still loves the job, he lacks customers. Barring a new plan of some sort, he’ll shut down Oct. 31.
Wistuba’s shop has been hit by a double whammy.
“Now lobbyists bring food,” he said. “House and Senate members can get in line and get a plate of food for free. I can’t compete.”
That’s during the legislative session from January to June, when he said he’s feeling a serious pinch. The rest of the year is worse.
Many offices that once were housed in the statehouse are now in nearby state office buildings, leaving only the governor’s staff and a few other state workers as potential customers from July to December.
Plus some tourists: This week, on a typically quiet morning, a visiting family stopped for sandwiches and drinks.
“I’m a blind person, so just tell me what you’re buying,” Wistuba said.
Wistuba has relied on the honor system with his customers — they also tell him the dollar denominations of the money they hand him — since he began operating the shop in 1976.
Shelf labels in both script and Braille identify the merchandise. Wistuba uses a slate and stylus in the shop for making labels. His white cane rested against the handle of one of the shop’s two doors.
Wistuba said he arrived prematurely as a baby and has been totally blind since birth. He grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and attended the Kansas State School for the Blind, where he was a wrestler and ran track. He speed-walks now for exercise.
“They did an outstanding job training me for everyday living,” he said about the school.
Wistuba has been honored by legislators for his long service, and the wall plaque outside the room doesn’t say “Capitol Snack Shop.” It says “Don’s Snack Shop.”
He knows many regular customers by their voices, but it’s not always easy. He admits to confusing a senator and representative both with the first name Nancy.
“They sounded alike, so I didn’t know what Nancy I was talking to,” he said.
Despite the political atmosphere at the statehouse, Wistuba keeps the conversation light at the shop. Weather and sports are acceptable topics, particularly Nebraska football. His mother was from Nebraska and he got hooked on the Cornhuskers.
He’s a Chiefs fan too. And the Royals?
“Baseball kind of puts me to sleep,” he said, “but I might get caught up in it when the Royals gets to the playoffs.”
Wistuba announced earlier this week that he planned to close Aug. 31, but he has postponed the date two months after hearing from “friends” who said they’d like to help.
He declined to name the friends, but word is that the governor’s office and concerned legislators are looking for options.
“I’m hopeful we can stay open,” Wistuba said. “I’m healthy. I’m not ready for the rocking chair.”