- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

COMBS, Ark. (AP) - Wanda Kimball removed 200 pictures from the walls of B&M; Grocery and Cafe.

That included 83 pictures of country-music performers she has seen, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/25zw8vc ) reported.

The rest were pictures of kids. Some had bagged a first deer, a first bear, a prom date or a spouse.

Over 28 years, proud parents would drop pictures by and Kimball, 61, would put them on the wall. B&M; was the only store in the Madison County community of Combs and the town museum, in effect.

Last month, Wanda Kimball and her husband, Gene, sold the store to Carlos and Paula Mayo of Springdale, who are renovating and have renamed it The Combs Store and Cafe.

Kimball took her pictures with her, along with her quilts and 2,069 shot glasses. Kimball doesn’t drink, but people fetched her shot glasses from all over the world.

In some spots, the photos had been eight deep as children moved through school and Kimball posted new class photos over the old ones each year. Although they weren’t related, some of the kids called her Nana, a nickname for grandmother.

There were so many photographs and mementos in the store, it looked like a great-aunt’s closet exploded in the local museum, said Brooks Blevins, a professor of history at Missouri State University who specializes in Ozark Mountain culture.

Blevins said stores like B&M; were “rural supercenters,” providing a variety of goods ranging from groceries to hardware.

Built of cinder blocks in 1951, the store didn’t resemble early 20th-century wood-frame general stores — but its variety of inventory did.

Kimball’s husband told her it looked like a flea market.

“I never did feel that way,” said Kimball. “I told him, ‘I live here.’”

For most of those 28 years, Kimball spent 17 hours a day at the store, arriving at 3:50 a.m. to cook breakfast for farmers and hunters. During the slow times, she made quilts, some of which she sold for $400 each.

“I did a lot of crocheting and quilting and stuff,” she said. “When you have a store, you have to stay there. Sometimes you’re busy and sometimes you’re not.”

Eight years ago, Kimball suffered a bad burn when her dress caught fire from a heating stove in the store. She spent two months at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and another two months at home recovering. Kimball said her health has “gone down” since the fire.

“My leg swells bad,” she said. “It never has healed. It bothers me quite a bit.”

In August, the store was burglarized for the first time. A reserve deputy caught two teenage boys from Slow Tom Hollow, about 15 miles to the northeast. They are slowly repaying the Kimballs and the owners of a grocery store in St. Paul, 5 miles east of Combs, that was also burglarized.

“I knew the kid,” Kimball said of one of the burglars. “His dad brought him down there and I chewed him out so bad.”

In April, the Kimballs decided to sell the store. A for-sale sign went up out front.

The next morning, they got a call from Carlos Mayo, who wanted to buy it.

So the Kimballs sold the store to the Mayos.

The Mayo family has owned property in Combs for years. Carlos Mayo has hunted in the area since the age of 8.

“I didn’t know what would happen to it,” he said of the store. “I’d like to see it keep going. I’d just hate to see it get closed down.”

Paula Mayo said her husband had his eye on the store for some time.

“He always said, ‘If she ever sells I want to buy that store,’” remembers Paula Mayo.

Carlos Mayo, 46, is president of C. Mayo Inc., a metal fabrication business in Springdale. The Mayos are investing about $60,000 in the store renovation, including an air conditioner and a hood over the cook stove for ventilation.

They’re going to have soft-serve ice cream and free popcorn.

They’re even building a deck on the back for live acoustic music. On Friday evenings, they plan to serve fried catfish and boiled crawfish when in season.

The Mayos will be posting new photos on the walls. They’re interested primarily in historical and hunting photos. Last week, the only photo on the front wall was of Carlos Mayo’s grandfather holding a stringer of fish.

There’s more room in the store without Kimball’s quilts and other items.

“It don’t feel homey anymore,” she said. “That’s the sad thing. It won’t be an old country store anymore.”

Kimball said she misses her regular customers at the store, many of whom would stop by just to visit.

“It was pretty much the same ones every day,” she said. “I miss not getting to visit. That’s the hardest part.”

But Kimball said she’s glad the store was bought by someone who cares about it and has roots in the community.

“I’d rather see somebody change it as the doors being shut,” she said.

Carlos Mayo said he’ll carry some new items, including gloves for motorcycle riders. Mayo has 15 motorcycles himself.

Although the store is on the Pig Trail, Mayo said any T-shirts or other items he sells will promote Combs, not the 52-mile-drive from Fayetteville to Ozark.

“I’m here for Combs,” he said. “But in order to make some money, I’ll have to cater to some outsiders.”

Kimball sold beer and wine to go, and Mayo said he’s doing the same. He doesn’t want people drinking at the store and doesn’t have a license for on-premises consumption.

“I don’t want a sports bar and honky-tonk,” he said. “I don’t want to have to run off drunks.”

The next closest places to buy beer are 20 miles away in different directions: Elkins to the west in Washington County or south to Turner Bend, a store on the Mulberry River in Franklin County.

Sitting 28 miles southeast of Fayetteville, Combs is just within the northern boundary of the Ozark National Forest.

Carlos Mayo said he plans to sell hunting licenses and ammunition. Kimball did, too. She also sold guns.

Mayo’s family hunted with Kimball’s before Wanda and Gene bought the store from Charles and Carolyn Blevins in 1989. The Kimballs had leased the store for a year before buying it.

“I’ve known him since he was a little boy,” Kimball said of Mayo. “He’s been coming out with his grandfather since then.”

Since 1976, she has hunted deer with a Marlin .30-30 rifle.

Fayetteville District Judge William Storey has owned a cabin near Combs for the past 20 years. He said Wanda Kimball was sort of like the mayor of Combs. Being an unincorporated community, Combs has no official mayor. Kimball estimated the population at about 50.

“The store was an institution,” said Storey. “She was the center of that community. She kept up with everything that went on. It was just a good place to go, visit and catch up on what’s going on in that part of Madison County. She’s just a wonderful, delightful person who would do anything for anybody.”

Storey said he first went to the store in 1961, before the Blevinses bought it. He and some other high school kids were returning from a football game in Little Rock when they ran out of gas.

“We actually traded our hubcaps for enough gas to get back to Fayetteville,” he said.

Dennis Donahou of Combs said he remembers buying clothes at the store when he was a kid, in addition to groceries or whatever else the family needed.

“That’s where you visited with your neighbors,” he said. “That’s where you bought most of your supplies. It was a gathering place for the farming community.”

One day, Donahou’s father was having trouble helping a cow deliver a calf. Donahou’s mother mentioned it to Kimball over the phone.

“Wanda closed the store, came up and helped Dad pull a calf,” said Donahou. “That’s community service right there.”

Donahou said people will miss Kimball’s store, but the community needs some of the modern amenities the new store will bring.

“I think Carlos and Paula Mayo will do an excellent job with this community and that store,” he said. “Times change, you know, and people change with it.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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