Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Starting a new life, 100 years later.

When its red brick was new, the old store faced out into a dirt road and over a railroad track. Clients visited in buggies and on horseback, or traveled on foot to make it into town. The big building echoed with voices of farmers and railroadmen.

The building still echoes, but the clientele has changed.

This is the old Kocourek and Sons Hardware store in Hazen. John Kocourek himself started building in 1906, as a new location for his business. He'd started in the hardware business back in 1892. Kocourek, a Grand Prairie developer, had big plans for his store.

Shortly afterward, the store opened, with a variety of sale items available. This is where Hazen residents came to purchase buggies,tractors, small appliances, furniture, farm implements, guns, clothing, and fishing tackle. And if you needed hardware -- well, you'd come to the right place.

Time passed. Eventually, John passed the business along to his son Frank, who eventually passed it on to his son Dink. Now, Dink managed the store for a while, but he fell into ill health, and in 1980 he sold the store to his friend, Conley House.

House ran the business until it came time for him to retire.

Fortunately, he met Greg and Barbara Rawn, who were interested in the store. They took over and started changing things.

By this point, the building was in ill repair. but with a lot of hard work, dedication, and a little craziness -- the Rawns were able to restore and revitalize the store itself. And today you can see it, too.

The Rawns found a lot of weird stuff during the renovation -- some cool stuff, like antiques -- some not cool stuff, like things that had seen better days -- and some things that were unidentifiable or just beyond the scope of reason.

They also took note of such unusual pieces as this almost ancient hardware cabinet. This six sided hexagonal rotating cabinet still bears the individual marks for each nut and bolt stored within its triangular drawers. I've never seen anything like it. It's in fine condition, and is actually for sale.

There were a number of odd tools and implements among the collection of items at the store -- and more farm and woods equipment donated from around Hazen. These items have been elevated to museum pieces, proudly displayed in antique cabinets on the east wall. On other walls, you'll find fine examples of taxidermist art from decades past.

The old cash register is still here, though you'll check out with a more modern system. The shining register is kept by the front door, just as it's always been. The floors have been restored, and the building still boasts its original tin ceiling, 14 feet off the ground!

The store is filled with antique pieces of every sort -- and every sort of price range. A set of fine cloisonne plates went for about $10 apiece, while this antique soda fountain cabinet goes for a bit more. There are all sorts of cola and product memorabilia from the 20th century around.

Another unusual item -- this optometrist case. This was a portable set that an eye doctor could take to a patient's home or business, to figure out what sort of glasses to make for them.

A sink from the past... this unusual wall sink may have been used in a public facility. Its flush to the wall mount could keep most of it out of the way of passers-by.

And who wouldn't need this authentic bank safe? A product of the Wells-Fargo company, it's supposedly dynamite proof. For those extra special documents, there's an extra safe within the safe. It might be overkill now, but it makes one nifty and unusual item.

The building boasts something extremely unusual for the area -- a working elevator! But don't expect a ride. This is a mechanical hand elevator, operated with a pulley. Greg Rawn managed to get the mechanism to lower just a bit so I could see it in operation.

The shot is dark, but if you look hard you can see the pulley up above. This elevator was used to load stock up to the second floor for storage. And it will also be a big help as the Rawns take on their next project -- turning the old second story into a large loft apartment.

You see, this isn't just a business for the Rawns. It's a home. A small corner kitchen and bath have been built into the back of the store for their convenience. They live here with their faithful companion Mulligan, an oversized German Shepherd who's just as much wag as bark.

It's been a lot of work for the Rawns, but it's also been very fulfilling. They reopened the store quietly in 2006 and then gave it a Grand Opening celebration in early 2007. Greg and Barbara know they have a lot of work ahead on the loft, but this is a dream come true, and they're going to savor every bit of it.

You can visit Kocourek and Son Hardware at 56 East Front Street in Hazen. The store is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5pm on Sunday. For more information, call the store at (870) 255-DINK (3465), or check out the Kocourek and Sons website.

Catch this story, along with other Tie Dye Travels, on by listening to the Tie Dye Travels podcast.

UPDATE: 9/5/17. Kocourek and Sons today has its own Wikipedia page, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, has a Facebook page and a mention in Wish You Were Here: Arkansas's Postcard Past 1900-1925.

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