CATEGORY: Itawamba County




By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

MANTACHIE -Reaching past the honeybuns and powdered doughnuts, Gordon McFerrin pulls out a framed photograph of a class in front of the old Mantachie school.

Looking at the picture, McFerrin believes this class may have been one he was in, but he's not really sure. The photo is one of several that can be found tucked behind smaller food items on shelves in McFerrin Brothers Store in Mantachie.

Warmth from a gas heater wards off the cool, damp air that whisks into the small store as a customer comes in to pay for gas. Even though the McFerrins' general store is small in size, there's a large selection of items for every type of customer. Plumbing supplies - both metal and plastic - hardware items and kitchen gadgets all can be found along with several different types of foods. A bag of white onions rests among hardware.

There is no modern cash register - only the old-fashioned, manual push-button model with a long pull handle. No digital scanner is used to scan or weigh food.

Setting up shop

Since the early 1920s, the McFerrin family has offered general store fare to the residents of Mantachie. But their start in operating a store began before that with John D. McFerrin, who ran a store in Mooreville. He also operated a woodshop, casket company and a post office. John D. McFerrin and his wife, Sarah Whiteside, had two sons, William Magers McFerrin and Thomas L. McFerrin.

It was Thomas L. McFerrin who made the move to Mantachie in 1919 after the death of his wife, Inez. In the new location, the family continued to sell general merchandise items. Residents depended on the store for everything, including seeds, farm supplies, clothing and dry goods.

After Thomas L. McFerrin's death, his sons took over the business and one son, Gordon Marlin McFerrin, continues to run the store with his nephew, Arthur Kermit McFerrin, today.

In 1942, the McFerrins moved their store to a two-story red brick building on the corner of Mustang Drive and Church Street, where they continued to sell the same types of items they carried in the older store, plus a few others. For example, Gordon McFerrin said they used to keep in stock about 200 pair of overalls to fit all sizes.

Before the state required books be provided for children, the store sold textbooks. During the Depression, it was hard for some children's parents to purchase books, he said.

From the time he was little, McFerrin said working in the store was all he knew. "I was born into it all," he said. The family also operated a cotton gin just down from the store.

The McFerrins operated out of this building, which was built in the mid-1930s, until a fire destroyed all but the brick shell in 1988. The 86-year-old McFerrin said April 8, 1988, was a day he would never forget. "I thought it was all over. It is sort of like losing your friend," he said.

Operating the store

McFerrin still goes to work early every morning and works most of the day. By his side, as he has been for the last 50 years, is been his nephew, Arthur Kermit McFerrin, 65. It was his nephew who decided after the fire to continue the store across the street in a small white one-room building that served as a storage place.

"We did this at first on a temporary basis," said Arthur Kermit McFerrin. He said once they reopened, customers began to come back to the store. The burned-out store now serves as a place to house outdoor items such as fertilizer and plants in the summer. Gas pumps also are available in front of the old store.

Gordon McFerrin said residents are respectful of the items that are left outside, and if customers take a plant or a bag of ice after hours, they usually come in the next business day and pay for it.

Throughout the last 75-plus years, the McFerrins have seen many changes in their community, from Depression to drought. And it's the store's steady presence and the McFerrins' willingness to help others that's kept the customers coming, said Arthur Kermit McFerrin, who has worked in the store since he was 12. He said a lot of the customers remember how the store was there for them during the Depression and other hard times, when customers sometimes put items on account and paid when they could.

More than businessmen

But Gordon and Arthur Kermit McFerrin are more than just store owners. The two were among 23 other charter members of the Mantachie Lions Club. When the town of Mantachie reorganized in 1969, Gordon McFerrin served as the town's mayor until 1970. His father, Thomas L. McFerrin, also once served as the town's mayor.

The McFerrin family has leased a home to the Itawamba County Historical Society for $1 a year to house a large collection of historical artifacts from throughout the county. The McFerrin family also has donated the land for Mantachie's baseball field.

Both McFerrins said their customers are more like family than customers. "I think we are successful because we are honest and fair and we treat our customers like family," Gordon McFerrin said.

Curtiss Aldridge of Mantachie said he has been a customer of the store since he moved to the area 10 years ago. "They are friendly and nice and easy to get along with," Aldridge said.

For other residents, going to McFerrin Brothers Store is a tradition.

"When I was a kid, I thought I had to go to McFerrins' Store," said Darrell Cooley of Mantachie. "Now that I'm grown, I still think I have to go to McFerrins' Store."


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