I didn’t let the rain deter me. Hoping tourists might consider this weather a good shopping day, I happily straightened up the displays in the store, put on the background music and unlocked the door. A young couple, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, came in almost immediately and took a keen interest in the Granny Chicken paintings. We chatted for a while and they said they’d be back later.
When they returned, they asked what kind of deal they could get if they bought all of her paintings. It added up to thousands of dollars (primitive art does not come cheap), so to show some goodwill (and because Granny Chicken had made most of the frames), I gave them a framing discount. A year later, we visited them in Carmel, California, and were awestruck as to how beautiful her art looked, professionally framed in their all white home and art gallery. (with even higher price tags on them).
Mr. Wiz* and I discovered some local, handmade iron products, tracked down the owner and set up a meeting. We negotiated to carry their product line on consignment and Mr. Wiz struck up a friendship with the owner. They started discussing him joining the company and soon after, Mr. Wiz became a partner. The joke around town was that he was the only partner that actually owned a suit. This came in handy when Mr. Wiz successfully secured the company’s first bank line of credit.
This was a real American success story. Stone County Ironworks was a one-man operation started in an old gas station. David, the owner and a self-proclaimed hippy (if you ever wondered where all the hippies went, it was Arkansas) slowly grew the company and was able to hire more blacksmiths. This was tough work and his staff looked like a group of Hells Angels, though they were the sweetest guys. In time, the company became the largest production blacksmith company in the United States and was listed in the Inc. 500, a listing of the top 500 fastest growing U.S. companies.
If all of this wasn’t exciting enough, after five years of married life and wondering if we’d ever become parents, I became pregnant. For this reason, Arkansas will always have a special place in my heart. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 1 ½ ounces, I found out later that if Big A* had been born in Baylor University Hospital, he would have received a full football scholarship.
I had a big decision to make. I loved Mountain View Mercantile, but realized that working 10 – 12 hours a day and motherhood did not mix. We wound up selling the building and the store to Stone County Ironworks and I began working for them part-time in public relations and marketing. My first assignment was to interview the owner, David, in order to enter him in the Arkansas Small Business Person of the Year contest. Very shy and close mouthed, it wasn’t easy to get him to open up, but in the end, he shared just enough so that his story won him the honor. Soon, he’d be off to Washington, D.C. and return home with the second runner-up national award.
With products too heavy for shipping, the Ironworks had a fleet of trucks to travel to trade shows. The blacksmiths welded a special seat up front for Big A’s car seat and off we’d go together, traveling across the United States. Mr. Wiz laughs now to think how he would set up the trade show booths with Big A on his back in a baby carrier.
It was when Big A turned two that we started thinking of the future. The Arkansas schools were rated No. 48 and though we got our fill of traveling and dining out on the road, there would probably come a time when we’d have to settle down. Mountain View had no restaurants to speak of, even the little movie theater closed up in the winter and Little Rock was two hours away.
After many family meetings, we decided to head back to a city, but rather than let a job lead us, Mr. Wiz suggested we chose the city first and then he’d find a job there. We settled on Chicago and as luck would have it, his first phone call to an old friend landed Mr. Wiz a position helping him run his new company.
Though that was so many years ago, I never forgot that little town and still keep in touch with some of the people there. It was small enough so that I wasn’t intimidated to follow my dreams, large enough to show me how important living in a close-knit community was and just quirky enough to make for some great memories.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.
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