Monday, March 7, 2011

"Going to Gobler": Before There was Walmart, There was "Missouri's Most Famous Country Store"

When I was a little girl, growing up in the bootheel of Missouri, I loved to hear the words, "We're going to Gobler."  Gobler Merchantile Company was a central location of commerce in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas from 1937 until 1956 and its success was nothing short of amazing.

Just a visit to the store was quite an event for a young girl.  I remember a huge (today, it might be called humongous) building that had grown from 30x60 corrugated tin structure containing $900 worth of merchandise.  It had grown into multiple buildings by the 1950's, housing everything needed by the farmers who were its main customers -- groceries, housewares, farm implements, hoes and other tools, and space for new departments and lines of merchandise.  According to Virginia Branch, who has written a tribute to Gobler Merchantile, it eventually covered about five acres and contained a grocery store and meat market, drug center and dry goods section, furniture, housewares, and hardware departments, a restaurant, television shop and lumber yards.

People came from miles around to Gobler; cars were often parked on both sides of the highway for almost a mile distant on the county line road.  Entertainment was scheduled to attract even more customers, which included the Slim Rhodes show and other fairly well known country and gospel performers.  Many families planned their Saturday afternoons around a 4:00 prize drawing.  Later, a drawing for a car brought the largest number of shoppers in Gobler's history.

Gobler Mercantile's popularity was largely due to business partner and proprietor, Dennye Mitchell, who was primarily responsible for building the store from one small structure to what was larger than many "superstores" today.  Its reputation also grew when Mitchell began advertising on KBOA radio in Kennett, Missouri; thousands of households regularly tuned in to "Old Camp Meeting Time" while eating their breakfasts and heard what the 18-wheeler trucks had recently delivered to "Missouri's Most Famous Country Store."

My stepmother told me that there was also a smoke-filled night spot called the B&B Club in Gobler, to which young couples in the area would go for entertainment.  Elvis Presley performed there twice early in his career.

The shortcut from my home in Kennett to Memphis took me by Gobler during my years of driving back and forth to the University of Memphis (then Memphis State).  There was nothing to remind me of Gobler Merchantile and the time I spent there because Missouri's Most Famous Country Store burned to the ground in 1956.  Today, the farm community has a population of fewer than 300.

If you happen to drive north of Blytheville on Highway NN, you may recognize the little town by "The Soul Shack", Ragins Salvage Yard and Trucking, or the Gobler Baptist Church.  Nothing remains of Gobler Merchantile.  If you stop and listen carefully, though, you may hear the country and gospel performers, The Slim Rhodes Show, or even Elvis himself entertaining hundreds of people there..  You may also hear the children, the young couples, and the old farmers sharing the excitement, their voices celebrating that special weekly event, "Going to Gobler."

Photographs of Gobler Merchantile and Virginia Branch's entire tribute, as well as a history of KBOA and its assocation with Gobler, by Joe Bankhead, are available on KBOA's website.


♥ Sonny ♥ said...

you are such a good writer.. you draw folks in with your words, inform them and keep them thoroughly entertained.. I always enjoy my visits here and I love it when you visit me..


peggy said...

I loved your story...shades of Fried Green Tomatoes....I grew up in Paducah and have been to Kennet, but when I was a child, everyone gathered at the Kresge's on Saturday morning. All the men would trade knives and watches while the family bought things that said "Made in Japan" in the store. We also ate donuts that were fried in a little booth-like glassed-in fry station.

It's fun to go back to those memories. Have a beautiful Tuesday.

peggy said...

P. S. I have also listened to KBOA and the Old Camp Meeting.

From the Kitchen said...

I love your story about Gobler. I didn't grow up with that sort of store but Walmart came to town and people were thrilled. There are now four Walmart stores in my hometown!! The first Walmart came to Chicago last year. Now they want to build another one. I didn't even realize there was no Walmart in Chicago before last year. Not so much of a fan.


Thisisme. said...

That was a lovely story of your memories, Annie. Amazing to think that Elvis himself played there very early on!

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

Annie Joy, I am so surprised that a visit to this store wasn't part of my youth! We owned farm land near Gobler, and my sister and I frequently rode up there with Daddy on Sunday afternoon to visit his farm renters. It sounds like it would have been an amazing place to visit. Maybe Daddy kept us away from there intentionally! Fun read! laurie

Bethany Love-Woods said...

Well as tears stream down my face, I say, THANK YOU! On a weird whim I decided to type into Google my Grandfather's name - Dennye Mitchell. What a surprise to see your article. I heard great things of that store but after it burned down my family headed west to California. I only knew my Grandfather as a quadrapalegic but here he walked with a jingle in his pocket and a smile on his face.

Now residing in Juneau, Alaska far from home and memories - today I was reminded how small this world really is (especially with the internet).


Annie Joy said...

Bethany, I am so happy to have provided information about your grandfather and about Gobler Merchantile. It's wonderful to get to know our loved ones better and I am blessed to have made that possible for you. I will mention your comment to my dad; he remembers your grandfather and will be happy to hear about Dennye's granddaughter. Annie


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