Zapfs say "good-bye" after 37 years

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Joni and Mike Zapf are retiring after owning and operating their Elkader business for nearly 40 years.

By Pam Reinig

For the first time in nearly four decades, Mike and Joni Zapf’s daily to-do list is a blank slate. There’s no mention of writing out employee work schedules, contacting vendors, checking inventory, stocking shelves, or anything else related to the operation of their Elkader gas station and convenience store. And that’s because as of today the Zapfs are officially retired. After 37 years, the Littleport couple doesn’t have a schedule that hinges on the day-to-day demands of running an established and popular business.

“We’re going to miss all of our employees and customers, for sure,” said Joni. “People come in here with their kids who were kids themselves when they first started stopping in her. And we’ll also miss the good times. We laugh in here all day long, and I’m going to miss that. But it’s time—it’s time to do other things.”

The store’s new owners are Tammy and Joe Sylvester, who for years ran CJ Lanes. They are renaming their new business CJ Convenience Store but few other changes are planned. “We’re so happy that someone local bought the store and will operate it,” said Mike. “We couldn’t have asked for better new owners. We’re excited for them and their customers.”

The Zapfs built their business at the corner of Mulberry and 1st Street SW in 1983 as a full-service DX station. When convenience stores appeared on the retail horizon, they torn down the old station to make way for Pronto.

“We saw it as a good opportunity to expand services,” Joni said.

A loyal customer base was soon established. In recent years, that has grown to include a small but loyal cadre of folks who are waiting at Pronto when the doors open at 5 a.m. “Each one seems to have their own little job like getting the coffee started,” said Joni. “It’s something that just sorta’ fell into place.”

It’s that sort of familiarity and family feeling that’s hard to leave behind.

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