The First Convenience Store Belonged To ‘Mr. Will’
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone. Hope you’re having a good week. I’d like to thank those of you who emailed me about the last two columns as I was afraid that some of you might think I was becoming too political. Let me make it clear that I’m not expressing a political opinion but rather my take as a concerned citizen.
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, and I’m paraphrasing, “all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” I am humbled by the fact that this is the beginning of REFLECTIONS’ tenth year and the largely positive acceptance from you readers. I was so glad to hear from Cathy Ward the other day. As I remember, Cathy was the first reader to write me after I started the column.
Also Glenda Griffith sent me a long email thanking me for writing about Jimmy Buford. She said she knew him over the years and was horrified about his brutal murder. Glenda, I don’t know how long you’ve been reading the column but don’t wait so long to write me any time you have something to share with us. I’m sorry I never met you but if you spot me any time I’m visiting the Valley introduce yourself to me. I’ve made so many friends over the years that I’ve e never met but I feel that I know all of you. Also I’ve connected with so many old friends that I haven’t seen in years, so as I’ve stated so many times before, it’s really been a labor of love. As I’ve had a tendency to do in the past, I sometimes revisit previous columns.
I was in the Valley during the holidays and as I passed the gas station and store next door to the Bank, I thought about how Mr. Will Crews had the first quick stop grocery at that same location over seventy years ago. There was a Lion Oil gas pump in front and in good weather Mr. Will would sit out front in his rocking chair until a customer came by. It was really a semi-self service as most people picked out what they wanted and Mr. Will would operate the cash register. Sometimes his daughter, Vera or her husband, Joe Feeney would help out when Mr. Will wanted to run errands.
He was a short stocky individual with a large hump on his back. He spoke in a rather high pitched voice and underneath his blunt exterior was a kind gentle man who believed in taking care of his family to the extent that it sometimes included grand-children and his daughters and their husbands. He was the first grocery store to stay open late during the week and open on Sundays.
This brought down a lot of criticism but if it bothered Mr. Will he didn’t change his practice. It wasn’t that he was greedy, but rather if you needed something he was available. The only time he was ever robbed was when he went back to open the store after hours for what he thought was a customer. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt and was never heard to bemoan his loss.
Mother told me that his first store venture was on the Delay road in sight of Jumper’s Chapel Church where he and his brother, Sam had a building not much larger that a broom closet. It was said that the two operated their partnership with nothing more than a hand shake and they were never heard to say a cross word to each other. As a small kid I remember Mr. Will sitting in his truck on Main Street near McLarty’s store with apples that he had bought in Arkansas and Missouri.
He was of a generation that worked hard saved his money and treated everyone fairly. I never heard anyone ever accuse Mr. Will of shady dealing or cheating any person in a business deal.
When his son, Vernon, got sick and required oxygen around the clock for several years until he died, Mr. Will took care of it, When he died his will made monthly payments to his surviving children rather than a lump sum.
His daughter, Vera, called Attorney John Horan to her house and showed him a fifty gallon lard can filled with silver coins that Mr. Will had thrown in over the years.
They counted it together and it was over five thousand dollars and Mr. Horan told her that if they could divide it amiably, he saw no reason to probate it. He was a remarkable individual who with limited education showed the shrewd manner of doing business and disbursing an estate.
I’m proud to have known him. Let me hear from you either at my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great year.