He left me a message, so I called him back.
It's funny how, even if you haven't talked to a childhood friend in a long time, the conversation picks up as if you had just spoken earlier in the day.
"Remember that location you always said you'd like to buy one day?" he asked me.
He was referring to a store in our hometown of Ashdown, Arkansas. For some reason back then, I felt I had a calling to be the proprietor of my own business.
I'd sell my wares, and the people of the town would rush in to buy them.
At least, that's how it worked in my minds eye.
My minds eye saw a lot of things when I was a kid. And the visions were pure. They weren't bogged down by thoughts of taxes, keeping inventory, competition, or other realities of what it takes to actually make a living when you own your own business.
This I would learn about later when I opened a recording studio, published books to sell, and wrote a newspaper column.
But in the early years, my buddy and I dreamed. It's what you did back when America was thriving because of small town businesses.
And Ashdown had lots of them.
The Ben Franklin five and dime was the Dollar General of the day. You really could go in with a nickel or a dime and walk out with treasures.
The man who owned Ben Franklin lived at the end of our street. The tallest man I'd ever seen. When you went into his five and dime, he'd ask if you needed any help. His height made him seem intimidating, but I know he meant well. He was very nice and seemed to love children.
Across the street from Ben Franklin was the Western Auto. Western Auto was a favorite destination of dads and kids. While your father was having a set of tires put on the family car, the children could eye the latest Western Flyer bicycles.
The hope of course was that pointing a bike out to dad would result in him sharing that information with Santa.
Even though it was a national chain, Western Auto was a franchise and provided local ownership. The company actually pioneered the franchise model.
A model that Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company (OTASCO) adopted. Ashdown's OTASCO store was down the way from Western Auto and was owned by the Russells. They were a wonderful family with three sons, all of whom attended school with me. Mrs. Russell also served as mayor.
OTASCO was like a small Sears. You could buy tools and household items, but auto accessories were the allure for me.
They sold me a set of mag wheels there for my 1972 Olds Cutlass Supreme. On credit, since I didn't have the $500.
I paid them back early and was grateful to them. That one gesture of trust and kindness helped me establish credit in my name. Credit that I still use today.
That's what small town businesses do. They help others in their town and in turn create trust and repeat business for themselves.
Such was the case with Shur-Way, a home-owned grocery store in Ashdown. They carried all of the brand names you wanted, but also offered an excellent selection of meats.
The father and son ran the meat department and could cut steaks or chops any way you wanted them. They also sliced some excellent bologna.
We gauged bologna quality by whether it bowed up evenly when you were frying it in a cast iron skillet. Shur-Way had good bologna.
Another location that helped build my hometown, and there were many, included Herb's Creamland. My cousin Herb started this roadside burger and ice cream stand in the mid-50s.
Herb was a big supporter of sports and other hometown activities. Almost all of the other business owners did the same thing. They gave back.
I'm too far away now to go back and buy that business that's now available. But I do have a request of the person who does.
Please keep it hometown. Keep it local. Give back. It's what works. And you won't find better happiness.
For you and everyone else.
John's latest book, "Puns for Groan People," and volumes 1 and 2 of his series "Write of Passage: A Southerner's View of Then and Now" are available on his website, TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.
©2022 John Moore