OVERTON — Johnny Wright has worked from the same desk and chair at Pope & Turner Inc. for nearly 46 years.
Since Jan. 5, Pope & Turner has been selling all of its merchandise for at least 50 percent off and will close the doors once they sell out “to the bare walls,” Office Manager Johnnie Thomas said, adding that they are looking to possibly shut the doors at the end of March.
Wright said everything is for sale, even the building. But they won't sell his desk and chair. “They're giving it to me,” he said.
Mrs. Thomas recalled the owners trying to give Wright a new chair once, but he wouldn't have it. “You might say we're kind of set in our ways,” she said laughing.
Vicki Morgan, 52, of Arp, received her first housewarming present – a rocking chair – in the early 1980s, and her wedding gift from her parents was a mattress set from Pope & Turner. She said she and her husband, Jamie, have been shopping there for as long as she can remember. They special ordered all of their flooring in 1982 and have bought just about all of their appliances there throughout the years.
“Pope & Turner has been a cornerstone of that literal corner down there,” said Mrs. Morgan, a teller at First State Bank in Overton. “Everyone has depended on it.”
From needing a screw or a nail or the two recliners she recently bought there, Pope & Turner has just about everything. When they needed to run to town to get a commode flap, they would drive to Pope & Turner instead of having to travel to Tyler or Henderson, Mrs. Morgan said.
Those who couldn't drive called the store and Wright had a replacement appliance delivered – no questions asked, she said. And the store has been good about letting people hard on their luck make monthly payments, she added.
“It's a tried and true business leaving,” Mrs. Morgan said. “It's just sad … An old friend is leaving.”
Rogers Pope Sr., 75, said in 1938 his father opened the John L. Pope Feed & Farm Implements & Hardware Store in a 2,500-square-foot building where a 20,000-square-foot store now sits. Judson “Judd” Turner joined Pope in 1941, and the store became Pope & Turner.
“They went into business on a handshake,” Wright said of Pope and Turner. “That's unheard of now. It would take a string of paper from here to Arp.”
That's the same way Wright was hired. He said he told John Pope he wanted to work and was hired without even discussing his salary.
“We handle complaints with the same intensity as we handle sales,” he said. “That has been a trademark of this store.”
At one time, Pope & Turner offered a service department for appliances and had five warehouses. The business was added on to several times, Wright said.
In 1957, they opened Pope & Turner Furniture Co. in Tyler at the corner of Fifth Street and Beckham Avenue. In 1967, they relocated that store into a larger space at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Front Street.
In the 1970s, they sold the Tyler store to the owner of the building, Harris Fender, who shuttered it years later, Rogers Pope said.
Rogers Pope, chief executive officer of Longview-based Texas Bank and Trust, began working in the Overton store when he was 10. He swept the store, made deliveries, sold hardware and did “a little bit of everything,” he said. He now co-owns the business with his older sister, Jerry Pope Bynum.
“It's kind of an icon in East Texas because it's been there for so long, and we pulled customers from all over East Texas, not just there in Overton,” he said.
Rogers Pope said the store has been very profitable. But in the last few years it has become harder to compete with bigger, national chains.
“My sister and I decided it was time to close the store,” he said. “It is bittersweet because we both have so many fond memories of the store, but we both recognize the time has come.”
Pope & Turner is reportedly the second oldest business in Overton. R.A. Motley, John Pope's father-in-law and Rogers Pope's grandfather, founded First State Bank on Feb. 15, 1912. Rogers Pope said it is still a family owned bank.
Wright and Mrs. Thomas are self-proclaimed “country folks” who have been friends as well as co-workers through the years. “He's also my pastor,” Mrs. Thomas said of Wright, who pastors at Grace Herald Baptist Church in the New London area.
“We both agree this has been a great place to work,” Wright said. “We're a team.”
Mrs. Thomas said they had a lot of customers call Pope & Turner when they found themselves in a jam. She recalled a woman locking herself in her home bathroom and couldn't think of who to call but Pope & Turner. “And we went and got her out. We've had a lot of that,” she said, adding that instead of looking it up in a phone book, people would call the store asking for someone's phone number.
“We will miss all of the people we've known over the years,” Mrs. Thomas said.
She said there are a lot of people who drop by the store just to visit and ask if they need any help on their farms.
“We've had three generations and sometimes four,” Mrs. Thomas said of customers. She said they enjoy seeing kids grow into adults and where their lives have gone.
Rogers Pope said Wright and Mrs. Thomas have been outstanding employees throughout the years, and he believes they wouldn't have been able to keep the store going as long as they have without them.
“It makes us proud that we work for Christian people. They've been very good to us. We're going to miss them,” she said. “We feel like we're family.”
Mrs. Morgan said Wright and the women who worked in the office at Pope & Turner were always more like family than employees.
“It was relationships that were built more than just business,” she said.
When Mrs. Thomas started working at Pope & Turner, there were five women working in the office: Wright, three salesmen and five people in the hardware department. Now, only Mrs. Thomas and Wright remain, as well as Annita Bates, who has worked in the hardware department for 15 years, and two delivery men.
“I guess it's just the changing times,” Mrs. Thomas said of why the store is closing. “A lot of people go out of town to shop … It's just the economy I think, and the competition.”
As merchandise is disappearing a little more each day, walls and shelves are becoming bare. “We're becoming more aware every day,” Wright said. “It's happening.”
After the store closes, Mrs. Thomas plans to keep up her mowing with her two tractors and 20 acres of land in the country. She also wants to volunteer at the library or hospice. “I want to keep busy because I've always worked,” she said.
Wright, who has been a pastor for 55 years, said he has hayfields and pastures for his cattle. He plans to keep up the fences and roads. “I'll have a lot to do,” he said.
Pope & Turner also offered free gift wrapping in the past and was the place for young couples to register for their weddings. Through the years, they always have sold quality merchandise, she added.
Not a lot has changed at Pope & Turner.
Years ago, an old bank vault from First State Bank was brought in by an oil field truck through a window. After the “hunk of metal” fell through the floor, it had to be picked back up and the floor rebuilt. “We still use it to put our money in every night,” Mrs. Thomas said, estimating that the vault is at least 75 years old.
Wright said Pope & Turner had a lot of kids work there over the years.
“They didn't make much money, but they did learn,” he said. “And they got jobs making more money than I do.”
Clarence Beekman, 84, of Overton, worked there for about seven years as a clerk in the hardware department after he returned from serving in the Korean War. He has worked for Insurance One Agency in Overton since 1968 but remained a customer of the store throughout the years.
“To me, it's the biggest thing in Overton,” he said. “You never met a better bunch of people to either do business with or work for.”
Claude McAfee, 94, of Overton, worked at Pope & Turner for about six years in the 1980s. “I did everything everybody else didn't want to do,” he said.
McAfee also continued to be a longtime customer.
“Just about everybody in Overton has been to Pope & Turner,” McAfee's son-in-law, Jerry Clark, said. “It has been the only hardware store we had.”
Clark, 72, of Overton, recalled being 7 or 8 years old and going to the store with his dad or by himself. He said the store had balloons with prizes in them, and he and other children would jump on cars trying to catch them before they escaped into the air. As an adult, Clark shopped there mostly for fishing lures.
“It was the only hardware store; it was the only furniture store we had,” Clark said. “It was pretty important to the city.”
Clark said everyone in town knew the Popes and the Turners and the store was also a meeting place for people to socialize.
“Overton is kind of drying up,” he said. “It's just another store that's closing down. It's a bad thing.”