50 Years And Counting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2013

COOLEEMEE – George Jordan graduated from Cooleemee High School in 1949. Like many others here, he went to work at Erwin Mills. By 1962, George was reporting at 3:45 every morning to fill food vending machines before first shift mill workers showed up.

Then, right before Christmas, turmoil and rapid change came to this small mill town.

Bulldozers showed up and razed the 60-year-old J.N. Ledford Company Store, including its hardware department. Erwin Mills had been purchased by Burlington Industries, the nation’s largest textile giant. No one knew it then, but in six short years, Cooleemee would no longer be a textile town.

And, the next year, George Jordan would team with Terry Dedmon to start a new business venture that is now happily celebrating its 50th year of operation – the Cooleemee Hardware store.

Jordan had already married the love of his life, Delores Cook in 1952. “My father-in-law pointed out that our town had no hardware store and it needed one. That got us thinking. We took a chance. That’s what you have to do,” Jordan said.

“Evans had a hardware in Mocksville that went out of business and we bought out his stock. We were given a year’s free rent in the old White Eagle to keep that hardware. We borrowed $3,000 and took a mortgage against our house.” The first Cooleemee Hardware store was established in the shopping center where the auction house is today.

Cooleemee’s biggest strength has always been its people. The hardware store would not have survived its first year, says Jordan, had it not been for Company Store veteran June Jarvis.

“He was my Sunday School teacher. Mr. Jarvis was already retired but he came in and worked every day for us. He knew hardware and knew how to order small numbers of stock, in twos and threes – and that kept us going. After a year, I could quit my job at the mill.”

Terry Dedmon worked at the hardware store part time, sometimes on Saturdays. Terry remained a business partner until the last decade.

The store’s contents have changed over the years. It used to sell galvanized pipe and now sells PVC and all kinds of technology has changed. The store used to sell lots of bicycles and toys, doing a booming business Continued From Page 1

at Christmas. One Easter in the 70s – no one remembers which one – it moved to its present location at the end of the Cooleemee shopping center.

Jimmy Hampton has worked at Cooleemee Hardware since he was 15 years old, coming in after school, on Saturdays and in the summers. After he graduated high school in 1971, he has never worked anywhere else. Jimmy says he will retire soon. “This job has been very enjoyable,” says Hampton. “It is different every single day.”

What makes it different, he says, is the people. Hampton especially remembers those he refers to as “the old-timers” like Charlie Bean and others who sat on the “Liar’s Bench.”

Most people are satisfied with their personal customer experience at the hardware store, although that isn’t always the case. One irate fellow, Jordan remembers, brought in a lawn mower that wouldn’t work. “What are you going to do about this?” he demanded.

Jordan told him, “Probably nothing, it was purchased at Western Auto.”

People have always brought strange items into the store. Maybe that’s because it has always been a neighborhood gathering place where things could be shown off. The store has a set of state certified scales that are handy for weighing a prize cabbage, tomato, cantaloupe or a big fish. But, then there’s the weird hornet’s nest that ends up hanging from the ceiling – who knows exactly why.

More people used to spend their mornings hanging out around the hardware store, a tradition that has never been discouraged – but one that has been literally dying out. At one time Tom Ridenhour would cook everyone a chicken stew on the cook stove in the back of the store. Bill Cranfill regularly cooked pintos or a stew on it before he passed away.

Long gone employees include Dennis Page and Carmel Kerley, who loved to fish. When he hired him, Jordan knew that Kerley loved to fish. “You can fish whenever you want.” But, “Carmel came to love working at the store and he became a very steady worker.” Bob Cope worked for a time. Although he never was paid a dime, George’s cousin, Ray , used to open up every morning for years and move wagons and wheel barrows outside before he moved to Florida. Ray passed away last year and is greatly missed in Cooleemee.

Many years of service to Cooleemee Hardware customers were given by employees who have now gone in other directions. Aaron O’Neal runs a furniture store in North Cooleemee. Jan Ledford farms with her husband Stewart on Pine Ridge Road and tends to grand-young’uns.

The current list still includes Carl Barber, who work some mornings and covers at “dinner time” (that means noon). Jonathan Durham is the youngest of a long list of Cooleemee True Value employees. Evidently, the interview process has never been a lengthy one. “George basically asks if you want to work here,” says Durham. In a small town like Cooleemee, Jordan has probably done a thorough background check.

Cooleemee True Value Hardware will hold a 50th Anniversary Celebration Customer Appreciation Day Saturday, Nov. 9 starting at 9 a.m. They hope their loyal patrons will come enjoy a good time with them.

What’s the secret to making a business last 50 years?

“Be honest and treat people good,” says Jordan.