Reprinted from Mountain Times, February 2008
In memory of
Amid the changes of downtown Marlinton, a few things have remained constant, one of them being C. J. Richardson Hardware.
Visitors to this area are often surprised by what local residents have come to expect.
Upon entering Richardson’s, they are greeted with a smile and a quick “May I help you?”
C. J. Richardson Hardware was there when the railroad came and when the railroad was dismantled, it was there through the Depression years, it was there when our men and women went off to wars and when they returned, and it remains today, the cornerstone of stability in an ever-changing world.
The floor-to-ceiling shelves, oak counters and nail bins of the hardware store are as they have always been. The open freight elevator is still in service. This elevator was originally operated by “mule” power, then advanced to a system of belts and pulleys and, finally, to an electric powered winch. The original track ladder, which gives access to those tall shelves, succumbed to constant use and was replaced several years ago, but it, too, is still rolling.
Much of the merchandise of years ago is still offered today, although the demand for hand tools such as hammers, saws and hand sanders dwindled as power tools became the rage.
Throughout its history Richardson’s has repaired what it sells. Those items change with each generation, and today it is appliances, chainsaws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, micro-waves and vacuum cleaners.
The friendly service today is orchestrated by Charles McElwee “Googie” Richardson and his son, Terry, who left Marlinton to work in New Hampshire and “came home in 1984.” Their commitment to the community, now as then, extends beyond regular business hours. Many folks in the county have been helped out of a bind by an after hours phone call to Googie or Terry, or to Ira “Buck” Turner, who for 27 years has assisted those in need, both as an employee of Richardson’s and as a friend and neighbor. A few years ago, Buck’s wife, Cookie, joined him at Richardson’s and they make a very accommodating team.
The tradition of a Christmas drawing continues today with prizes such as guns, TVs and vacuum cleaners, but there was a time when the coveted prize was a new automobile.
Jewel Scott, who celebrated his 100th birthday this past July, was the winner of the last Ford car given away by the store. Scott and his wife, Nellie, had built a new house and all the materials came from Richardson’s. Selling their lamb and calf crop just prior to Christmas, they were able to pay off their account. When the winning number was posted in the store window, Scott went home to check his numbers. When he came across the winner he said, ‘Nellie, go get your car.”
Charles Johnston “C.J.” Richardson graduated from VPI as a civil engineer and headed to South America for his first job, opening a gold mine. He later worked for a friend in Decatur, Georgia, managing a hardware store. When he became quite ill with malaria, his brother, Dr. T. S. Richardson, recommended that he head for the mountains as a cure for what ailed him.
Finding that he loved what this area offered with its hunting and fishing, he decided to stay and set about building a hardware store and undertaker’s shop at the present intersection of Rts. 219 and 39. This was later the location of the People’s Store and Supply Company. In response to the news that the C. & O. Railroad would soon pass through Marlinton, Richardson made plans and began construction of the present day store and opened there around 1905.
Along the way, he married Annie Laurie Thomas, of Bath County, Virginia. As his business grew, his brother-in-law, Andy Thomas, moved to Marlinton to help with the undertaking portion.
Richardson’s grandson, “Googie,” said that “Uncle Andy worked for 50 years, opening the store every morning and never took a vacation or a sick day.”
C. J.’s brother, Ed, worked in the family business and added some spice to the atmosphere. Ed, who lived in a house in what is now Smith Addition, rode his horse to work, and was quite the fiddle player. Musicians gathered at the store every Saturday night to play and sing. Joining Ed were Whitey Daughterty, Charlie Lovelace, “Greenbrier” Dotson and others. Googie said that “Greenbrier” reminded him of Mahatma Ghandi, in that he was bald and had nothing to say, but smiled all the time.
Charlie Lovelace worked at Richardson’s as the repairer of gasoline-powered Maytag washers. Ralph Dilley was the full-time radio repairman. And speaking of radio, Googie remembers that all the stores stayed open late and every night “mostly the same people would come into the store to listen to ‘Lum and Abner’ and ‘Amos and Andy.”’ Jim Shinaut, who had lost his eyesight and whose grandson, Jerry Davis works at Richardson’s today, was “always posted at the radio for every baseball game.” Each night Shinaut walked, unattended, to his home on Jericho Road. When asked how he knew he had reached Jericho, he said he could feel a difference in the atmosphere at that point and turned toward home.
As the third generation, Googie began his career at the store right after WW II. He remembers that the business was still horse-oriented at that time due to agriculture and logging in the area; work that demanded collars, harnesses and all the “horse trappings.” There was a pipe that ran the full length of the store – front to back – with nothing but horse collars and “hardly a day would go by without selling a set or two of horse harnesses.”
Richardson’s still carries those “horse trappings” but today they are for pleasure horses, “nothing like back then.”
Back then, as well, Googie said, “it was just what the name says, ‘hard, hardware’ – nuts and bolts, lots of goods, bits and teeth for saw blades and a lot of items needed by sawmills.”
Osa Smith McLaughlin went to work at Richardson’s in 1965 as the first woman “on the floor.” As with all new employees, her first two weeks were spent dusting the shelves to “acquaint” her with all the merchandise. In her 21 years there, she was in charge of advertising and was the furniture buyer, taking an annual trip to the High Point, North Carolina Furniture Show each October. Under the management of C. J.’s sons Charles and Craig Richardson, her co-workers were her brother, Jack Smith, and John Quick, Tom Sharp and Jim McGraw.
McGraw, according to Googie, was the most “enduring” employee, having worked at Richardson’s for more than 50 years.
Osa remembers the 1906 Day Book, which recorded everything from caskets shipped by train to Cass, to newlyweds setting up housekeeping. At that time, $250 would get you everything you need –furniture to stovepipes.
Although Osa was the first woman “on the floor,” the bookkeeping department has always been manned by women. Craig Richardson’s wife, Gertrude, led the way, followed through the years by Elizabeth Kessler, Noble Moore, and Edith McCloud. Today, you will find Lana Clark at the desk, where she has been for the last 16 years. The original office was on a platform, six-to-seven feet above the first floor, but in 1948 the office was tucked in-beside and behind- the wide staircase. Walking up that staircase, you leave the nuts and bolts of labor behind and find on the second floor, a bright, light and airy room full of furniture, floor coverings and accessories. A service stairway will take you to the third floor where extra stock is stored and tucked in nooks and crannies is a bit of merchandise from the past.
As in the days of Ed Richardson, the store still carries a selection of musical instruments which can readily be seen hanging from a pipe suspended over the oak counter. The musical talent of this family has passed though the generations, as well, with fourth generation Terry, and fifth generation Annie Laurie Richardson, Ann Grace and Michael David Ferrell carrying on the tradition of old-time music.
When employees stay for 21, 27, even 50 years, it’s more than a business, it’s family.
In his 100 years, Jewel Scott dealt with them all, C. J., his sons, Charles and Craig, his grandson, Googie, and great-grandson, Terry. Scott summed this family up quite well, “Those Richardsons, they’re wonderful people.”
Through the households of this county, for 105 years, generation after generation has said, “I’ve gotta’ go to Richardson’s.”
And generation after generation has received the same friendly service from this unchanged corner of the world.
Editor’s note: C.J. Richardson Hardware is now in its 113th year.