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In retailing, Columbian was decades ahead of Sam Walton

Old Massie barn on Merchant ST would have been founding store
Two photos accompany this story

By Ed Waggener
Everyone knows that Wal-Mart stores are headquartered in Bentonville, AR, and that they were started by Sam Walton.

But did you know that the one-stop shopping center was invented in Columbia, KY, one quarter of a century before Mr. Walton opened his first Wal-Mart?

Grover Gilpin recalls a trip across Merchant Street with his father-in-law, Tyler Furkins, when it happened.

Tyler Furkins has a chain of stores in Adair County

Tyler Furkins was one of the most entrepreneurial men in Adair County. He had a chain of stores in Adair County at one time, including the predecessor store to the great White Cash Market before he sold it.

As Grover Gilpin and Mr. Furkins passed what is now the big blue barn--it may have been red way back when--on Merchant Street, Mr. Furkins said, "Grover, if I were 20 years younger, we'd buy that building. We'd have plenty of parking. We'd have the biggest line in of groceries in town. We'd have dry goods and shoes. We'd have a section for cars and another for hardware. We'd have gasoline and auto service. We'd have a drug store. We'd have a lunch counter."

"We'd have one-stop shopping. We'd offer everything anyone in Adair Count could want to buy--all under one roof."

Would get all the business in the county

"We'd get all the business in Adair County, and then we could branch out with stores everywhere," Mr. Gilpin remembers.

Mr. Furkins was describing a Wal-Mart Store

When Grover Gilpin recalls the conversation, he says, "What Mr. Furkins was describing was a Wal-Mart store. And that was in 1937."

Mr. Walton did not open his first small--by today's standards--Wal-Mart in Rogers, AR, until 1962.

Granted, Mr. Walton had the same concept a few years prior to opening his store, but it is doubtful he had dreamt it up in 1937, when he was only 19 years old.

Columbia, not Bentonville, might have been capitol of the world, if only . . .

One can only wonder what Columbia would be like today if Tyler Furkins had been 20 years younger in 1937. Or if Grover Gilpin had taken his idea and run with it instead of distinguishing himself in the G&M Grill, as a dairyman, and as a Democratic political leader.

If, as some believe, the world of the future will be run by corporations and not governments, the capital of the world might rightfully be in Columbia, KY, USA, not Bentonville, AR, USA, one day.

Many of us remember Tyler Furkins as Julia Furkins' husband. After the other businesses were sold, the Furkins ran the Little Store, also known as "Miss Julia's." Thousands of Columbia High and Grade Center graduates ate over a thousand noon meals, each, over the course of their 12 year education there. The Little Store was located right off the high school property on Frazier Street, on the Mont Willis, John Lee Akin, Edgie Howell, Bill Downs, Billy Wilson, and U.L. Rogers end of the Frazier. Toward the Town Creek.

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This story was posted on 2006-04-06 11:32:41
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An Adair County invention?

2006-04-06 - Columbia, Adair CO, KY - Photo Ed Waggener. Stores such as this one in Columbia, KY are quite familiar across America. But did you know the concept was an Adair County idea?
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The Tyler Furkins super store

2006-04-06 - Merchant Street, Columbia, Adair CO, KY - Photo Ed Waggener. The store the late Tyler Furkins was described for this building on Merchant Street was a Wal-Mart store,, his son-in-law, Grover Gilpin, remembers. That was in 1937. The Columbia Southern States store now uses the building as warehouse. Back then, the big building was part of the Massie Place.
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