A relic of the past
general store has been in the Henson family since 1940. The store
is located in Champion, a township along the banks of Fox Creek not
found on every Missouri map.
Among the rolling hills of
the Ozarks sits what some folks might say is a relic of the past. The
weathered and worn structure seems to have a personality all its own as
it sits there with a bit of a tired lean, waiting for friends to arrive.
Since 1940, the township of
Champion has served as home to Hensons General Store. And unless
youre looking for it, youll miss it. Its at the end
of a paved road, not particularly close to anywhere. Champion isnt
even on some Missouri maps, says store owner Betty Henson.
The old general store is located
in south Missouri, east of Ava or south of Norwood as the crow flies.
Raised in Iowa, Betty never
dreamed shed end up owning a tiny country store most of her life.
Her husband, Duane, told her about the general store his parents ran in
rural Missouri, but she imagined it a bit differently than he described.
He said there was a store
and a church, so I expected there to be a town, says Betty, 55,
But here it is, out in the middle of nowhere. And when I saw this
building, I said Thats a store?
Duanes parents, Ed and
Anna Henson, ran a service station in Ava back in the 1930s when some
neighbors approached Ed about buying the general store in Champion because
they thought it might close.
Ed and Anna came and
looked at it and thought they might like running a store, so they bought
In the early 1980s, Duane and Betty began helping his dad with the store
so Ed could care for his ailing wife. Gradually, the younger Hensons took
over the store.
There was once a time when
neighbors came to a store such as Hensons for all their needs, but
stores in bigger towns have all but wiped the rural countryside clean
of memorable places like Hensons. This store survives because the
closest alternative is a bit of a round trip for most neighbors. Norwood,
about 20 miles away, is the closest town with a big post office or large
stores to shop at, says Betty.
While the old store has never
been a post office, Betty does sell stamps as a convenience to her customers.
They can leave their letters for the postman to pick up when he drops
off mail and takes his morning break.
Henson catches up on the local news with a neighbor.
As rural as it is, Hensons
offers about anything neighbors might need until they get to town to shop.
Betty stocks food staples and sundries, sells livestock and pet feed and
local produce when its in season. She sells propane and gasoline,
too. For the thirsty soul, she offers a variety of chilled pop. And for
snackers, there are candy bars and chips.
Its like were
the local neighborhood convenience store, says Betty. I try
to carry just about whatever a customer requests.
This past January, Bettys
husband, Duane, passed away suddenly, leaving folks to wonder if the store
would stay open. But Betty never once thought about closing. I
need the people and they need the store, says Betty.
Betty keeps Hensons open
from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, but shes been
known to open earlier and stay later if someone needs something.
The stores particularly
busy this late summer morning. An old pickup rolls to a stop by the door
and a farm dog hangs his head out the truck window while his owner picks
up a few sacks of feed. Another farmer stops by to fill his tractor with
gas. And then theres the businessman who, obviously lost, buys a
cold pop and asks for directions.
Like clockwork, postman Bob
Cardwell arrives with the mail, offers a cheery hello to Betty and gets
a soda. He and patron Jack Coonts sit on the liars bench, made from
old wooden pop boxes, and discuss politics and the economy. I
think people like coming here because its old and has history,
says Betty. It reminds them of someplace they knew back home.
As remote as it is, Hensons
has been a resting stop for many visitors. Betty has kept a log over the
years, noting where folks are from. National Geographic even gave it a
mention in their 1982 Americas Hidden Places book.
store attracts visitors despite its remote location.
Weve had visitors
from as far away as Rio de Janeiro, Peru and just about any state you
Betty drives into town once
a week to restock her stores shelves. When shes heading to
town, Betty calls the potato chip delivery guy on his cell phone and lets
him know shes headed his way. They arrange to meet at whatever store
he happens to be delivering to and Betty buys her potato chips. The only
delivery trucks which actually stop at Hensons General Store are
the gas man and the Pepsi man. And she says its quite a sight to
see Pepsis semi make a delivery at her little store.
One patron, C. D. Upshaw, has
been coming to the store for what seems like ages. He was the mailman
on Hensons route for more than 40 years. Old
timers used to stop by the store whether they needed anything or not,
he says. It was a place where people loafed a lot and socialized
to keep up on what was going on.
While peoples schedules
are more hectic these days, many people still make time to stop in and
chat with Betty and visit Boots, one of the stores three cats.
There are some people
who come in here two or three times a day, says Betty. If
they dont come in some day, I start wondering whats wrong
and then Ill think, oh, thats right, they had a doctor appointment
in Springfield today. We all keep up with each other. Thats nice.
About the only thing you wont
find at Hensons General Store at the moment is a public rest room.
We used to have an outhouse, says Betty, but the flood
this past May took it somewhere down Fox Creek.
If you would like to visit
Hensons General Store in Champion, call (417) 948-2259 and ask Betty
Henson for directions.