A week ago, Hazel's store in Mintonville, Kentucky (now part of Bethelridge) was sold at auction. The new owner made a successful bid on the property by 11am on Friday, November 20. [I would have posted sooner but wanted to wait, first, to see if the article that I wrote would appear in the local paper. If it does, I will eventually link to it here, so check back within the week. In the meantime this is a modified photo essay in tribute. UPDATE: The article appeared today, December 2, in The Casey County News–click here for the on-line article.]
The auctioneer from Godby Realty recalled, growing up in nearby Nancy, when there were thirty-two small country stores in Pulaski County. These wood-framed structures, often with tin roofs, front porches and original fixtures and shelving, were once the only places in the country to buy agricultural supplies, basic foodstuffs and other necessities and also provided news, gossip, and sometimes a post office, as the civic heart of a small community.
There is also a lunch counter and a gas pump at the Mintonville Store. As it was an "Absolute Auction" all contents, inventory and equipment were sold along with the building and its footprint. It also meant that the lowest, or only, bidder would get it for the offered price. Two bidders competed, slowly, for the final prize. [As the auctioneer added, "an auction is always only about two bidders."]Owner Hazel Wesley, daughter Cassie Haste, and granddaughter Hannah wait for the auction of their store. Wesley is ready to retire from her 13-year run as owner of the Mintonville Store in eastern Casey County, Kentucky.
Joberta Wells, local writer and columnist for The Casey County News, wrote about the store for the 200th anniversary coverage of the Liberty area in The Casey County News: “Hazel Wesley said that behind the Mintonville Grocery there was a blacksmith, a sawmill, and a grist mill where corn was ground. ‘We traded chickens and eggs at the store when I was a kid,’ she said.” Hazel and her husband Bobby purchased the store from Gary Harness in 1996 and noted that the building has been in operation since the 1930s. She also remembered three local stores at one time. Gary Thompson, who was one of about twenty people attending the auction proceedings, told Wesley that he had fond memories of coming in the store as a child when visiting his grandparents.
The store’s new owner is Rayburn Keltner of Science Hill in Pulaski County, whose winning bid was just over $20,000. A real steal, but he offered significantly more than the lowest bid because he didn’t want to see it go for any less. He expects to reopen next spring after doing some work on the building. The original country store is fast becoming part of Kentucky’s rural past so it was a relief to many that the keys have been passed, but most of all to the Wesleys. When asked what she was going to do after her retirement from store keeping, Hazel Wesley said, “I’m going to paint the inside of my house. I haven’t exactly had a lot of time to keep up with it.”
Bobby Wesley, co-owner of the Mintonville Store with his wife Hazel for the past thirteen years, looks on after their store was sold at auction on Friday.
Hazel Wesley talks with her last customers after the Mintonville Store was sold at auction to Rayburn Keltner of Science Hill.
So again, here's to Hazel Wesley and to everyone who has kept alive the tradition of the small old-time country store in America. Their atmosphere and charm is what Cracker Barrel® has been able to successfully market all over the country, but the difference is that these stores are the real deal.