Cooleemee Hardware celebrates 50 years
COOLEEMEE — A crowd of customers and friends gathered around the cash register to get their free RC colas and Moon Pies being given away to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cooleemee Hardware Store Saturday morning.
The store’s owner, George Jordan, was beaming, as was longtime-employee Jimmy Hampton. Jordan’s wife, Delores, was on hand. Jordan’s brother, Kenny (known as “Ears”) was there. Newer hardware purveyor, Jonathan Durham, was on duty and his family was there to celebrate with him. It was a community affair.
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 3:45 a.m. 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 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 company.
No one knew it then, but Cooleemee would no longer be a textile town within six years.
The following year, George Jordan would teamed up with Terry Dedmon to start a new business venture that is now celebrating its 50th year of operation — the Cooleemee Hardware store.
George 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 believed.
“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.
The hardware store would not have survived its first year, Jordan said, 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,” Jordan said.
Terry Dedmon worked at the hardware store part time, sometimes on Saturdays. Dedmon 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 at Christmas. One Easter in the 70s, 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.
Hampton said he will retire soon.
“This job has been very enjoyable,” Hampton said. “It is different every single day.”
What makes it different is the people, he said. 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 very satisfied with their personal customer experience at the hardware store, although that wasn’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.
“Probably nothing,” Jordan told him. “It was purchased at Western Auto.”
People have always brought strange items into the hardware store.
The store also 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 ended up hanging from the ceiling. No one knows exactly why.
More people used to spend their mornings hanging out around the hardware store — a tradition that has never been discouraged — but this tradition is 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, Jordan’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.
Many years of service to Cooleemee Hardware customers were given by employees who have now gone in other directions.
Aaron O’Neal who runs a furniture store in North Cooleemee. Jan Ledford farms with her husband Stewart on Pine Ridge Road and tends to grandchildren.
The current list still includes Carl Barber, who work some mornings and covers at “dinner time,” which means noon.
Jonathan Durham is the youngest of a long list of Cooleemee True Value employees. “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.”
What’s the secret to making a business last fifty years?
“Be honest and treat people good,” Jordan said.
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