But for the longtime general manager of the Westport burger institution, who had spent all day answering questions about Hooters, it seemed as if getting out of this sometimes godforsaken town couldn't come fast enough.
That morning Joyce Smith, the Kansas City Star reporter who covers the comings and goings of metro businesses, had reported that Hooters officials had met with the Plaza Westport Neighborhood Association about tearing down the Flea Market and replacing it with one of their fine, upstanding restaurants. Smith quoted Tom Brenneis, head of the Westport Community Improvement District, as saying "a couple of people" in the neighborhood "would rather not" have a Hooters around. "But I think as a whole everybody's OK with it. Several merchants think it wouldn't be a bad fit," Brenneis told Smith.
That got customers yapping. All day, people had been asking whether the Flea was going to stay open, whether it was moving, what the deal was. By the time lunch was over, Cornelius sounded as if she'd been repeating the same spiel for hours.
"He has talked to them [Hooters]," she said of Flea Market owner Mel Kleb (who apparently wasn't interested in discussing the question himself). "They have not decided to buy it -- but the place is on the market. It's been on the market since 1996."
That was a revelation. It's not as if there's a big "for sale" sign on the familiar blue-and-white awning. Near as most people know, the only thing in the building for sale -- besides the burgers that have earned it a wall full of best-of plaques -- is the crap in the junk-sellers' booths that line the dining room.
"The bottom line is, he said it's a rumor," Cornelius repeated. "There have been talks, but nothing came out of it. It's just a rumor. But he is looking for a buyer."
He must not be in much of a hurry. Cornelius said she knew the building had been on the market for nearly a decade, but to her knowledge no one has ever put in a serious offer. She said business has been good -- OK, a little off over the past few years, like anywhere else. But anyone hardened by 30 years in the bar business -- 20 of them at the Flea -- understands that the world doesn't always go the way you want it to.
"Like any boss, they have a right to do what they want," she said. "I think he's just getting tired, wants to enjoy himself. Trust me, you can't enjoy yourself with this kind of business. Even with someone reliable like me to run it." (She wasn't being humorously self-deprecating about that last bit, either. She was dead serious. And in need of a canoe trip.)
In her absence on Saturday night, the place was packed. Many of the customers had obviously come to vote with their wallets, having heard the disturbing news.
At the next table over, a loud six-top full of middle-agers was griping about Hooters. "Imagine how the theme song of Petticoat Junction would sound if they were telling us to come on down to Hooters," sneered one of the men. The observation didn't make much sense -- that's one of the dangers of eavesdropping -- but in its own beery way, it sounded true.
At one of the high bar tables, country singer Mike Ireland and Beck Finley waited for the kitchen to call out their names. "I feel horrible," Ireland said about the Hooters news. "Of all the things in the world someone thinks we need to have instead of this place is a Hooters."
"I hate it. There are so many Hooters, and there aren't any more of these," Finley said. Then she conceded: "I heard Hooters had good wings, but they're probably not as good as the Peanut's."
Ireland predicted that Hooters would probably buy the Peanut, too, and the suburban homogenization of midtown would be complete.
"All just to bring people from the suburbs into town," Finley said.
But hold it right there, midtown cowboys. Folks from the suburbs come into town to get away from places like Hooters.
Over by the dart boards were a couple of families. In fact, the place was crawling with kids that night -- sitting with their folks near the jukebox, running around the shuffleboard tables and banging on the pinball machines near the back door. Hell, a couple of boys were even jostling with each other to play Ms. Pac-Man.
Jeanette Billeter and her husband, Steve, were there with their two kids, ages 3 and 8. They'd heard the Hooters news, too.
"That's why we came here tonight -- because we don't want it to be a Hooters," Jeanette said. "We come here a lot because we live in Lenexa. The food here is awesome." When her relatives come to visit from out of town, Jeanette said, she brings them to the Flea Market. "Part of the uniqueness of Westport is that it's not a bunch of chains."
All good sentiments, and predictable ones from the Flea Market faithful. But they're also evidence of how much people are willing to overlook in their efforts to avoid the city's ever-increasing, soul-numbing sameness.
Across the street from the Flea Market sits a Sonic. Right next door is a Holiday Inn. Just to the west there's a strip mall with a Blockbuster, a Subway and a Radio Shack. A few blocks east, in the middle of Westport, there's a Hollywood Video, a Panera Bread and a Starbucks. All thriving, from the looks of things.
So unless someone's willing to buy Mel Kleb's building from him soon and let Barbara Cornelius run it the way she has for the last 20 years, we might as well get used to a Hooters.
It wouldn't be as out of place in Westport as some people like to believe. After all, now that Johnny Dare's is closed, those mudflap naked ladies adorning the old Stanford's building need a new home.