Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — A 52-year fixture of the Benton retail community will close its doors as its owner retires.
Verenda Johnson said she co-owns Benton True Value hardware with her sister Martha Davis of Cadiz. Her parents A.B. And Emma Jean Rhea started the business in 1960, according to a 1989 Tribune-Courier article. It became a True Value-branded store in 1964.
“I’ve worked at the store forever in different ways. I did the books for my dad, and have been in the store constantly since 1981,” Johnson said.
Johnson assumed operation in 2000 with the death of her father.
“When Dad was living people used to say they were going down to A.B.’s store,” Johnson said. “I still hear that every once-in-a-while.”
Johnson said the decision to close was prompted by her readiness to retire. The business changed over time. She described the early model as an open marketplace of wholesalers. She went with her father to see vendors in a warehouse where peanuts were eaten and hulls discarded on the floor. Now she purchases online or at glitzy conventions.
She recalled one True Value convention where the Energizer Battery Company debuted a new marketing campaign. Johnson was one of the first to see the pink Energizer Bunny prance across a stage beating a bass drum. Instead of a toy or a cartoon, the first rendition was a man in a costume.
“We have employees that have been with us for 30 years. Some of our customers say that they are mad at us,” Johnson said with a smile. “They have said they are going to start a petition for us to stay. I wish I could do it longer, but it’s time to step away.”
Johnson said she will miss her customers most and will miss being busy at the store. After her retirement, she is hopeful she will be able to travel.
“I want to thank everyone for their business, and support. They’ve been good to my family and accepted me as well as they did my Dad. I know it was unusual to have a female running the store after he died,” Johnson said.
Johnson praised her five employees for their long-term loyalty.
Dan Woods said he has worked at the Benton True Value for 40 years.
“It’s heartbreaking the store is closing,” Woods said. “It’s going to affect my life, my family’s and a lot of other people. I’ve known customers that have come in for years to shop. Other stores just aren’t as handy.”
Woods said the community has been very supportive.
“It’s the only job I’ve ever had,” Woods said.
Johnson began liquidating her inventory Monday. Her store will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. All merchandise is marked down 40 percent.