Redbank Grocery has been part of Douglas County since the early 1900s. Soon, it will move to a new building.
REDBANK – Generations have shopped at Redbank Grocery, a little country store located deep in Douglas County. Come soon, however, locals won’t trade at the same store — because while the business isn’t closing, the building that’s housed it since forever can’t last any longer.
Due to structural issues and customer safety concerns, the store is moving to a new home and its original building will be demolished.
“It’s bittersweet. I love the store, you know, and everybody else does too. It is kind of sad,” says Karen Clevenger, the store’s owner, before amending her sentiment.
“It’s really sad.”
It’s believed that Redbank Grocery began around 1900.
Few details have been written down about Redbank’s past. The community isn’t listed in major Douglas County history books, nor do searches of various Ozarks newspapers find many mentions.
However, old timers tell Clevenger that the community was named for copious amounts of red clay. They also believe that the store began in the very early 1900s — theoretically to when the building dates.
One who remember way back when is 82-year-old Bill Harper, who lives a few miles from the store.
“I was raised up here as a kid,” he says. “As a little kid, I’d go down to the store all the time. I know a nickel would buy a bottle of pop and a nickel would buy a big candy bar.”
Some of his memories, starting in the 1930s, are of treks made solo. Others, however, featured family, who would take ponies to the store — shanks’s ponies, that is.
“We were about three, four miles from the store. We’d always walk up there to get what we needed,” he says, nonplussed about going by foot. “Walkin’ wasn’t an issue back then. You didn’t even think about it.”
If they happened to arrive when the store wasn’t open, that wasn’t an issue either.
“‘Course, anytime we’d go, … if they weren’t open they’d open up for you,” he says of the owners, who lived next door to the store. But the one greeting visitors wasn’t always a person: Sometimes, it was the pet parrot. “You’d go knock on the door and that old parrot would answer you all the time,” he says. “That was the funny thing about it, you know.”
Today, those happy memories make him sad.
“I hate to see the old store building torn down. I guess that’s what they’re gonna do. But, I mean, it’s been there for so long,” he says. “It brings really a great memory back.”
Outside the store, a sign proudly proclaims that Redbank has been family owned since 1945. It’s technically not the case these days, but the family it references was involved in the business longer than anyone else.
In 1945, it was Henry Hayes and Mazie Melton who purchased the store. They continued at Redbank for the rest of their lives: After Hayes — as he was known — died suddenly in 1962, Mazie continued its operation on her own.
“People would say she just mostly lived here,” says Clevenger of Mazie. “Instead of living in the house, she would just stay in the store.”
When Mazie passed away in 1982, her obituary included a simple sentence about her calling: “A lifetime Ava resident, she owned and operated a country store.”
That country store, however, actually shuttered for several years after her death. It wasn’t until 1986, when Sybil and Bill Holland, her daughter and son-in-law, relocated to the Ozarks from Chicago that Redbank reopened.
Like her mother, Sybil Holland was connected with the store for the rest of her life.
Redbank as it reopened in 1986. (Courtesy of Redbank Grocery)
Through those changes, an adolescent Clevenger lived right down the road. She moved to the area in 1976, and saw the Meltons transition out and the Hollands bring the business back to life. As an adult, she became involved in the management of other stores, prompting a constant question every time she walked into Redbank.
“I’d come in, and they’d always ask me if I wanted to work here,” says Clevenger. “And I’d say ‘No, but I’d like to buy it from you someday.’”
That day took years to come. It wasn’t until after Sybil died in 2002 that the wheels started turning. Ready for a change but unable to let the store loose, Bill decided to lease the store to Clevenger. She bought all the inventory and has operated the business ever since, officially purchasing it in 2013 after his death.
“It just worked for him and it worked for me,” says Clevenger. “I worried a lot about then when he passed away that I might lose it, but it was good to me all them years.”
Those years have brought success to the store, and reaffirmed its place in the community with younger generations.
“I guess it’s a good thing in some ways, but I like this place,” says John Webster of the store’s relocation.
A 34-year-old local who has been coming to Redbank since he was a child, Webster recalls days — similar to those experienced by 82-year-old Harper — where he’d come with family to find things they needed. His dad drove a dump truck, and would stop for fuel.
“Shoot, we might need a hammer and nails or a pair of pliers and this was a lot closer than going to town,” he says. “I’ll pay an extra dime or a quarter for convenience.”
With the nearest town miles away, convenience is indeed found on Redbank’s shelves. Some of the things folks shop for at the store include candy and canned goods and cat food. Small trinkets and toys tempt visitors near coolers filled with soft drinks, beer and wine. Tobacco products are behind the counter, and familiar foodstuffs like bread, baking items and other treats fill the shelves.
Some come in to buy the yummy homemade hand pies, made by a woman who lives nearby. Others seek made-to-order sandwiches, one of Redbank’s claims to fame.
“I have a lot of repeat customers just because of the sandwiches,” says Clevenger. “People that come from Mansfield and Springfield, and they’re like, ‘Anytime I come through here, I’m going to get a sandwich.’”
Wares of the store — and sandwiches
A glass cooler is chock full with great pick-your-own fixings. The selection prompts a question from an employee reaching into the cooler. “And what kind of cheese?” she asks, a couple of customers stopping for dinner.
At least one of those customers also grew up in the store. He recalls the time, when as a young teenager, he tried to buy .22 shells to go coon hunting. “(Sybil) told me I wasn’t old enough to have them,” he says, who wasn’t allowed to make the purchase that day. Another time, “I pulled a truck up here and I probably wasn’t old enough to be driving it.”
Other customers, time and again, ask about the new store. “When’s it going to be done?” they all want to know — but not necessarily because they’re happy to move.
Soon, they’re told.
John Webster is a lifelong shopper at Redbank.
And it will be soon. Work on the new building began in June, which is located just a few feet away from the current store. But the necessity of a new building has been evident for much longer than just a few months.
The current building’s electrical system is an issue. Its floor is falling in, a fact that was proven when they recently tried to repair it. “Well, when they cut it out to get ready to rebuild on it, there was nothing to stub it on because it was like dust,” says Clevenger. They had to bring in gravel and then lay concrete as an improvised solution. And besides those things, the building’s overall structure is bad, as is the roof.
“It’s just a hazard with the gas being right here, right up against the building,” says Clevenger. “And it’s hard to get insurance.”
Those factors made the decision clear — clear as a big, rolling teardrop. “So, it was like, it’s time to do something,” says Clevenger. “I didn’t want to, but it is time. It’s just not safe.”
Karen Clevenger has operated the store for nearly 15 years, and purchased it in 2013.
Though it’s unsure of when the new store will open, it will be soon. After the move is complete, the old, original Redbank Store will be torn down.
The people who are doing the work, however, aren’t going to get rid of it completely. The Barn Savers, a Cabool-based company that specializes in dismantling historic structures, will sell whatever can be salvaged.
“We carefully remove the loft boards and exterior boards of barns (and) any flooring,” says Joseph Neal, the company’s owner. “We then pull the building over using chains and typically a tractor or truck. After the building is down, we remove the tin and begin de-nailing the lumber. We do nearly all of our work with hammers, pry bars, chainsaws, and other simple tools.”
In Redbank’s case, the lumber will likely stay local — helping reincarnate structures through being repurposed. Saving those stories is a goal of Neal’s through all of his projects.
“In many cases, these are folks’ childhood homes, barns and buildings that their parents, great-grand parents, or other relatives built,” says Neal. “I am honored to be able to do the work I do and keep their stories alive.”
Treading time at the gas station
The store’s last few days now tick away, and its walls talk one last time. There’s the creak of the old-fashioned door and built-in shelves that support more than goods. They also hold history, as do slats in the ceiling. Out-of-sight hardwoods hide beneath the carpet, reminding of a different time.
On a day meant for window-down driving, a farm truck growls hello. Other passerby slow and stop at Redbank, seeking gas and conversation with those they know.
That sense of community is part of the store, says Clevenger — and it’s something, just like the old signage, that will move to the new building.
“There’s still the history here, even if (the building’s) not here any longer,” says Clevenger. “We still have the history of it.”
Want one last sandwich at the old store?
Hurry. The store is still open, but it’s not for sure on when its last day will be. Google Maps will get you there, but it’s located along State Route O near Ava. For more information, call the store at (417) 683-5641.