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Luckiest businesses in Wichita tell all

Although Tony Wynn, a manager at Lucky Market sells fortune cookies, he doesn’t believe in luck because he is Christian, he said.
Although Tony Wynn, a manager at Lucky Market sells fortune cookies, he doesn’t believe in luck because he is Christian, he said. The Wichita Eagle

Friday the 13th is for most people a silly superstition at best. But for some Wichita businesses, luck is not something to be dismissed: It is the very name of their business.

The Eagle stopped by every store in Wichita that is or was recently called Luckys to see what they could teach us about luck: a bar, a print shop, a smoke shop, a private investigation firm, a tattoo lounge, a vape shop, a pawn shop, an Asian grocery and a car dealer.

Only the car dealer, Lucky 7 Used Cars, was scared away from talking about luck on Friday the 13th.

The idea of studying luck isn’t just a fool’s errand: Several recent studies have shown that people who attribute their success, at least in part, to luck tend to be more civic minded.

But many small-business owners, in particular, forget about the lucky opportunities that helped them achieve success: It’s easier for people to remember all the hard work and struggle it takes to run a small business than the random connections or fortuitous turns of the market that paved the way.

Some of the businesses put luck in their names because they described the business, such as the gaming machines at Lucky Smoke Spot. Some just thought it sounded cool.

Lucky Market, which sells Asian specialty foods, has done well, according to Tony Wynn, a manager, but that’s due more to their hard work than luck, he said. He is Christian and doesn’t believe in luck. However, Wynn said he did agree with the general sentiment of a fortunate cookie sold at their store this week: “Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.”

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Although Lucky Market sells fortune cookies, its owners don’t believe in luck because, they said, they are Christians. Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

Lucky’s Everyday (Bar on Douglas)

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Crystal Harper worked at Barleycorn’s for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until last month, as a relatively new bartender at Lucky’s Everyday, that luck struck and she met a guy: “I was sticky and hadn’t showered and hadn’t shaved. I was disgusting. I guess those sweaty pheromones worked for me.” Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

Crystal Harper has been working in bars for years, but she said it wasn’t until she started work at Lucky’s Everyday that she got the kind of luck that many people go to bars looking for.

Harper worked at Barleycorn’s for more than 10 years, but had to start at Lucky’s after an ownership change.

About a month ago, she decided to stop in at Lucky’s for a shot, after running three miles at the gym. Harper had finished her shot when a cute guy walked in and started playing pool by himself. “I had already paid and everything, and was getting ready to go. And luckily I hadn’t left yet,” Harper said.

She had seen the guy working at Fork and Fennel and wanted to play pool with him but she was smelly and unkempt. The bartender on duty asked Harper if she wanted to take the man home that night. “No?” the bartender said. “So then what does it matter? “

She and the man played pool and talked all night until the bar closed. They went to coffee the next morning and have been inseparable ever since, she said.

“I haven’t had a boyfriend in years,” Harper said. “I was sticky and hadn’t showered and hadn’t shaved. I was disgusting. I guess those sweaty pheromones worked for me.”

Lucky’s Vape (Four smoke/vape shops across the city)

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Braydn Bouddhara, an employee at Lucky’s Vape on Hillside, shows off his ability to blow smoke rings in front of the owners, Kevin Nguyen and Matt Powell. Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

Back in 2013, Kevin Nguyen and Matt Powell, the owners of Lucky’s Vape, had all the luck.

Nguyen had persuaded Powell to transition his convenience store-style shop into the nascent vaping industry. Nguyen is from California and had seen the industry already explode there. Soon, they expanded to a second, third and recently fourth shop, and vaping products account for 80 percent of their sales, according to Nguyen.

But in the last couple of months, things have changed. “It looks like our luck might be running out,” Nguyen said.

Just last week the FDA came out with new regulations that limit vaping. Most of the media focused on how they restrict vaping for minors, but in Kansas vaping was always limited to adults, they said.

The regulations that will hurt them the most are more complicated. “You wanna read the 499 pages or should we break it down?” Nguyen said this week in their vape shop on Hillside.

“Every single variation of every product will have to go through a $1 million FDA screening process to see if they choose to allow it to be available,” Powell said. “We have at least 500 different products, 200 of which are manufactured by ourselves. Each of those would require a $1 million application.”

But it will be a little over two years until the new FDA regulations take full effect. So Powell is hopeful their luck could change again: “There are some lawsuits and protests and two years to go,” Powell said. “So it could easily change.”

Lucky Spot Smoke Shop (A gaming/smoking room)

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“My philosophy is that if you have a clean desk you’ve got nothing to do,” said Bill Corteville, owner of Lucky’s Smoke Spot. “I could have this desk cleaned off and it would be spotless, and in a day it would be like this again. That’s the way it goes around here.” Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

The ban on smoking at bars has been both a blessing and a curse for Bill Corteville, the owner of Lucky Spot Smoke Shop. He has spent most of his career fixing and servicing pool tables, jukeboxes and vending machines.

At first the ban cost him business. A lot of small shops in town, which used to carry his machines, had to close, he said. But now, in addition to his machines, he owns Lucky Spot Smoke Shop on South Broadway. Customers come to him because it’s one of the few spots left where they can smoke in public.

He came up with the name “Lucky Spot” because of the connection to dice and gambling. People come hoping for good luck.

He fell into the industry with a bit of luck. He wanted to get into computer repair out of school, but said nobody would hire him without experience, and he couldn’t get experience without being hired. But he could get a job with Coin Machine Distributors. After he worked in the industry awhile, his former boss let him buy up some of his own machines.

Now he’s trying to expand his smoke shop into two more businesses in the same building. He opened a restaurant in April that also has a stage for a band. And, if he can get the insurance to help fix a leaky roof, he’s going to add a medieval times gaming shop called “Ye Stumble In,” for people who like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering.

He lets his son close up the smoke shop at night, and another family member will run the card shop. He has hired his sister and her husband to help manage the restaurant. He supports one brother and his mom, who are on disability.

He recently hired his ex-wife to work in the new restaurant. She’s started acting nicer to him, he said, after he got out of the hospital. He spent months recovering from open-heart surgery and was “touch and go,” he said.

“I’m lucky to be alive, you know,” Corteville said. “Lucky that I still have a house, still have a family. I’m lucky that I am able to help support my family, my mother and brothers and sisters, and help them out when they need it.”

Lucky’s Bail Bonds

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Mike Ward and M. Thomas wanted to fight when they first met. But a tragic accident from which Thomas miraculously recovered led him to join Ward in the private investigation business, he said. Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

For a long time Mike Ward did his investigations for other people, so when he finally started up his own bail bonds business in Wichita, he felt fortunate to be doing work he loved on his own. He named it “Lucky Bail Bonds” because “Fortunate Bail Bonds” didn’t have the same ring, he said.

According to his partner, M. Thomas, Ward may be the only punk rocker turned private investigator in Kansas, if not the country.

Thomas doesn’t want his full name used because he’s currently working a couple of big cases. “If I am trying to process information, trying to dig into this guy’s life while he is plying himself with alcohol, I am not going to remember that my name is ‘Darnell Whitaker,’ ” Thomas said. “So you use your real name.”

When Ward and Thomas first met, they hated each other, they said. They met through their girlfriends and said they were ready to fight.

But a few years later Thomas was run over by a 2-ton SUV and survived, had an epiphany, and joined Ward in the private investigation business. Ward sold and repurchased the bail bond business, and now it’s called Anchor Bail Bonds.

All seven private investigators who work on the top floor of their small building downtown on Topeka Street are former military. The military trains them in situational awareness, which comes in handy. And it makes it easier to put into perspective the angry, threatening spouse who doesn’t want to sign divorce papers.

“You’d be surprised how many people don’t want to get divorced,” Thomas said. “If somebody hates you, why don’t you just sign the paperwork?”

Sometimes, they’ll spend hours sitting in a tree in camouflage, peering out of binoculars and a video camera, because in certain parts of rural Kansas none of their carefully chosen surveillance cars would fit in.

Ward keeps his grandpa’s fedora on the wall and a poster of “Casablanca” on the wall of his office.

Ward’s specialty is finding people. Sometimes he’ll be working a case for a while and then, out of nowhere, someone will tell him exactly where the person is. It’s a bit of luck, he said, because that doesn’t happen very often.

Lucky Devil Tattoos

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Heather Reiter gets her 12th or 13th tattoo from Matt Eli at Symbolic Tattoo. “We tattoo doctors, sheriffs, corrections officers, lawyers, scum bags, motorcyclers, college students, soccer moms. You’d be surprised who has a tattoo,” said Joshua Allen, another artist. “Just because they have a robe and a gavel, well, you don’t know what’s on that ankle underneath.” Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

Joshua Allen feels lucky to be working as a tattoo artist. He’s been drawing since he could hold a pencil, he said.

But he had to spend years in construction and landscaping before he got a job running the front door at a tattoo shop, and only later did his boss happen upon his artwork and give him a shot.

But with great luck comes great responsibility, he said. It’s not like other kinds of art, Allen said, where mistakes sometimes lead to inspiration. “There are no happy accidents in tattooing,” he said.

“Your job is to make people happy. And it’s not easy to make people happy. It’s a lot of weight to carry,” Allen said.

In the lobby of his current tattoo shop in Delano, several koi fish swim below the sign for the new shop name: Symbolic Tattoo. Allen has so many tattoos, he doesn’t remember which of them were done at Lucky Devil Tattoos, the previous name.

Many people get tattoos that have symbolic meaning, but customers can also be superstitious. He knows never to draw a koi fish facing downward because, he said, it’s bad luck to have the fish swimming against the stream.

Lucky 7 Pawn Shop

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“I was scared of white people,” said Wesley Mann, left, of Lucky 7 Pawn Shop. When Mann was little, his parents would not let him cross the street and told him to say “yes, sir,” and “yes, ma’am,” and not look white people in the eye. Oliver Morrison The Wichita Eagle

Greg Barnes and Wesley Mann have been sitting and waiting behind the counter at Lucky 7 Pawn Shop for a lot of years.

Pawnshops are one of the riskiest places to work, they say, because they’re always getting robbed. But in nearly 30 years, Lucky 7 has never been robbed.

They sat nuzzled in between ladders and horse saddles, bikes and lawn mowers, Barbie dolls and old saws this week. Every 30 minutes to an hour, a customer walked in, pitched them a wrench or a weed-eater and left with $10 or $20 in their pocket.

When Lucky 7 first opened in 1989, Barnes only worked part-time, because he was in his early 30s and couldn’t sit still that long. He liked to drink, smoke and gamble, he said.

He used to keep a rabbit’s foot in his pocket when he gambled. But now, Barnes doesn’t count on luck. He doesn’t even call it luck anymore. He calls it being blessed.

“I’m a Christian. I believe whatever is for you is going to be for you,” said Barnes, who attends Tabernacle Bible Church. “If you drop something and you lose it, it wasn’t meant for you. If you found a girl you really love, and she leaves you, she wasn’t meant for you.”

“I used to gamble, and now being 58, once I wake up in the morning and I have my health and strength, I’ve already been blessed,” Barnes said. “Everything else is just extra. If I make it through the day, I’m blessed. If I wake up, I’m blessed. Why am I going to go out to the casino and mess my money off and you already won already?”

People always say they are going to come back and retrieve their pawned goods, Mann said, but he has become jaded. “The answer is nobody knows what the next minute, day or hour holds,” Mann said. “You can’t convince me that you’ll be back. Nobody can say for sure.”

But the biggest change to the business is that, in the past, when the business was on 21st Street rather than 13th, all of their customers were black, like them. Now they say, two-thirds of their business is from Hispanics and whites.

When they were younger, they said, the neighborhood around the 13th Street location was all white. Mann’s parents wouldn’t let him even cross the street. He wasn’t allowed to look white people in the eye.

“We knew if we got in the car to get out of town, you had to sit down and be quiet,” Mann said. “You didn’t want to draw any attention and be pulled over, in other words. I was scared of white folks.”

Mann didn’t like that the schools were integrated. He wanted to finish high school in a segregated school.

But Barnes said integration eventually helped him to realize that everyone is the same. Before, the only time he saw a white person was when the milkman came by or if an insurance salesman showed up at the door.

He said he was blessed to be born when times were changing. “Our world is a rainbow, and I never seen nobody but blacks until sixth grade,” Barnes said. “And that isn’t how life is. You have to learn to get along with everybody.”

God has given him what he deserves, he said. Everything else is just magic.

“If a black cat runs across the street, I’ve seen people walk across the street,” Barnes said. “I don’t believe in all of that. It’s like fortune tellers. If you can tell the fortune, why didn’t you win the lottery?”

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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