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MOVE TO TINY TOWN A BIG IMPROVEMENT

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From here it's 15 miles to Holden, about the same to Harrisonville, 12 miles to Garden City.

So LaTour, long ago a bustling little place with a grocery, bank, post office, even a railroad, would seem an opportune place for a convenience store, one carrying bread and milk, beer and chips, canned goods and eggs.One drawback: population. At 90 or so souls, LaTour isn't exactly high on the list for such franchises as Coastal or Casey's.

And the road through here, Missouri 2, is hardly jammed with traffic.

No matter. Charlie and Arlene Lemka, transplants from Kansas City, have run the County Line Shop convenience store for the last year.

"All the time people are coming in and saying, `I'm sure glad you're here,' " said Charlie, 57. "You know, for milk or bread or whatever. Saves them on gas and time."

The store is just west of town and east of the Cass-Johnson county line. Thus the name.

And it's in the house the Lemkas first lived in when they moved down. In fact, a neon beer sign now graces the window of their old, upstairs bedroom.

"I was going to bulldoze it down," said Charlie. "The windows were gone. I'd stored hay in it. It wasn't much.

"Then Arlene and I got to talking. She'd always wanted a store and a place she could sell her crafts. So this is what happened."

As such places go, County Line is a little more homey than your run-of-the-mill convenience store. There's wood paneling, an absence of fluorescent light, and Arlene's crafts - music boxes, dolls, bric-a-brac. Naturally, there's a table at the front for the morning coffee drinkers.

Arlene, who's 53, said business is all right. She and Charlie aren't making a killing by any means.

"What you need is patience," she said. "If you think you'll make it overnight you're dead. Right now, we're plowing everything back into the business."

Patience. There's a trait in seemingly short supply. Instant gratification, the quick fix, get it now, seem to be more apropos, modern terms.

Not here, Charlie and Arlene are plugging away.

But then they're not your ordinary folks. Back in the 1970s, living in the big city, they concluded there had to be something better. When the couple found LaTour, Charlie was working at a quarry in Lenexa.

"I timed it and found I could commute almost as fast from LaTour as I could from where we lived in Kansas City," he said.

Of course, Arlene said, the kids put up a fuss. Move to the country? What about their friends in Kansas City. And what'll there be to do?

In 1974, the family moved, and for two decades Charlie made the long commute - 68 miles one way.

Last year he retired. And he and Arlene opened the store.

"I'm not happy with my sign," said Charlie, referring to the black and white painted piece of plywood that stands out front. I'm working on that, though."

But that may be down the road a way, Charlie and Arlene said. But then, they're in no hurry.

Meanwhile, they're meeting all sorts of nice people who stop in - farmers, highway crews, people going to the Lake of the Ozarks, even cross-country bicycle riders. For now, they've found a niche.

And the kids? Was moving the absolute end of the world?

Hardly. All live in little LaTour. And believe it or not, one of the daughters, Lisa, is married to Jim Beeman, LaTour's mayor.