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Trinity Standard - Local News

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Beloved local family closes well-known store
Trinity Standard -


The Wilkison family is wellknown in Trinity, TX for their hard work, charity, and of course, Wilkison's Hardware Store. As of Monday, July 10, the beloved Wilkison family will retire from the family business, and a new company will take over their store in Trinity. The Wilkisons are from Missouri, where Oren Wilkison got his start at Belknap Hardware. His work at Belknap eventually resulted in the family's move to Lufkin, TX in 1955, where Oren continued his work. By 1971, Oren began leasing a building from Leroy Hardy in Trinity where he sold his own hardware. Wilkison's Hardware was started with a $10,000 loan, a line of credit from Belknap, and help from family friend, Leroy Hardy. Oren's wife and eldest son, Rudy Wilkison, ran the store during the day while Oren worked for Belknap, but Oren was always around to help manage the store at nights and on weekends. Oren's youngest son, Kelly Wilkison, was twelve at the time and did his best to pitch in. "I probably helped a lot, I thought, when I was 12," Kelly said. "I didn't know working was work – I thought it was fun." The hardware store quickly expanded, moving from the old Brookshire Brothers building to the area where the Liberty Christian Center is now in downtown Trinity. It wasn't long before the store had taken over the shopping area in that strip. In Spring of 1998, the store moved to its current location on South Robb Street. Wilkison's Hardware had numerous employees over the years that helped the business grow, but two of the most notable are John "Booger" Bruce and Gail McAlexander. Bruce, Rudy explained, came in the store one day in 1971, began working, and never left. "I guess he'd talked to our daddy, I don't know," Rudy said. "I'm sure our daddy had offered him a job." Bruce was an employee until he died in the early 2000s. "One of the things that's made us successful over the years are employees, and he was a key employee," Kelly said. "He worked here almost his whole life." Another key employee, McAlexander, still works at Wilkison's Hardware and is a favorite for customers who drop by. She has lived here her whole life, Kelly explained, so a lot of people come in and like to see her. "Her grandfather, Tommy Strong, was a plumber," Kelly said. "He came in and bought his plumbing parts here. He came in one day and he talked to my daddy and said his granddaughter needed a job. So my daddy said, 'send her up here. I'll put her to work.' So he drove her up here, and she'd only been out of high school a couple of days. She's been here since June of 1980." Rudy explained that Gail thought she was going to help her grandpa with plumbing that day, so when she came out of the house in old work clothes, Strong told her to go back inside and put on something better. "Her grandpa did not even tell her that she was going to work," Rudy explained. "She got in his truck that morning and he drove her up here, and said, 'you're going to work at this hardware store'". The Wilkisons have played in an integral role in the community since moving here by supporting events, T-Ball, high school athletics, animal projects at the community and county fairs, and more. "This is a hardware store, yes . . .but we did a lot more than sell hardware," Kelly said. They were also part of countless organizations, including but not limited to the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. "We've been a big supporter of the community, and they've supported us well," Rudy said. During their time in Lufkin, Oren sold hardware to a man -- Rufus Duncan Sr. -- who was affiliated with a successful chain of hardware stores called, "Higginbotham Brothers". Duncan's son, Rufus Duncan Jr., currently owns Higginbotham Brothers, which is the chain taking over Wilkison's Hardware. Higginbotham Brothers began in late 1880 when J.M. Higginbotham and family moved from Water Valley Mississippi to Dublin, TX. "According to recorded documents, the trees were just being cleared for the town-site and the Central Texas Railroad had just made its advent in the area, when two brothers decided to open a General Mercantile in Deleon, TX," according to a press release from Higginbotham. "So began the first link in the Higginbotham Brothers chain." By the early 1900s, the brothers and their relatives opened eight other general stores in Texas towns. "In the early years, the stores did a tremendous amount of credit business, the press release states. "Many times they would carry the farmers from early spring to fall when the crops were harvested. The stores either bought the crops or saw to it that the farmers were paid full market prices for what they had to sell. There were some notably tough years with drought, the Great Depression, and boll weevils, but the company adjusted and continued to prosper." Today, Higginbotham Brothers has 38 locations in Texas, and have changed components of the business to suit the needs of their communities. For example, they've replaced dry goods with a hardware department, and they've added lumber and building materials, and lines of merchandise from Husqvarna, Stihl, and Bass Pro, which includes hunting and fishing supplies as well as guns and ammo. Higginbotham's largest Bass Pro department will be added to the Trinity location. Rudy and Kelly are confident in Higginbotham Brothers and believe they will be a good fit for Trinity. "We've enjoyed being in business and we want to thank all of our customers over the past 46 years," Rudy said.


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