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Treating customers like family

                                                                                                                                      Photo by Shari Harris
From left, Phillip, Melvin and Liz Porter offer a smiling face and helpful attitude to their customers.
By Shari Harris

For generations, customers have enjoyed their shopping experience with Mel Porter and his family at the Lucky Dollar Store in Licking. Melvin and Mary Porter moved their family to Licking on eldest son Patrick’s 13th birthday in July of 1975. Two days later, they began operation of the general merchandise store in the Friendly Village Shopping Center, which Mel had purchased from his brother.
Licking had two factories, three grocery stores, a shoe store and clothing stores at that time. Large box stores and chain discount stores did not dominate the general merchandise market. The Lucky Dollar Store offered quality merchandise at affordable prices, filling a need in the community. But it was more than just a store. The customer service the Porters offered made their customers feel special. A childhood memory involves Melvin Porter asking for change to be counted out when making a purchase, then giving praise when it was counted correctly. The few extra minutes spent waiting on a child to slowly count out correct change instilled a sense of confidence one can’t get at a box store.
Now, 45 years later, the emphasis of the store has changed to remain relevant to the community, but the Porter brand of customer service continues to thrive. A small variety of general merchandise continues to be offered, but the Lucky Dollar Store is known now for its fabric, memorial floral arrangements and rugs. They serve a large customer base, with people driving from out-of-state to shop their quality merchandise. And that extra time is still spent with customers, matching colors for fabrics or flowers, helping people carry items to their cars, and more.
Melvin Porter drives across many states to find the best affordable fabrics and rugs he can find. He’s done business with some of the same vendors for 35 years. That gives him an advantage, with vendors setting aside items they think he will want. Most people recognized the white pickup with the large camper he used for buying trips; when it was parked in front of the store, you knew he was there. Melvin has outlasted his truck, and a white cargo van is the newest addition to the business.
In addition to Melvin and Mary’s involvement in the store, son Phillip and daughter Elizabeth (Liz) have worked there since 1984 and 1985 respectively. Mary worked at the store and enjoyed traveling with Melvin on buying trips until 1989, when she lost her battle with lung cancer. Other long-term employees whose contributions to the business are appreciated have included Deanna Cooper, who worked for 15-20 years, Janet Turner, who worked about 15 years, Carolyn Wilson, who worked about five years, and Shirley Davis, who helped out when Mary was fighting her cancer. Phillip’s wife, Bobbie, also works at the store when she can.
May is the busiest time for the Lucky Dollar Store. Their handmade floral arrangements are unbeatable in appearance, quality and price. Melvin Porter was self-trained in their assembly and now is training Phillip in their design. In November or December they begin to make the 1,000 or more arrangements in preparation for Memorial Day. Phillip Porter’s color blindness makes it more difficult, but he assures us that his family tells him if he has a wrong color combination. Supplies were scarce this year due to tariffs and a change in suppliers, but they continue to have beautiful arrangements throughout their store.
Liz Porter is known to have an eye for matching fabrics. She describes the store as “a happy business.” Their fabric and quilting customers “are doing what they love” when they come in. “People feel comfortable in the store,” Liz says. Her brother, Phillip, enjoys joking with customers, and she recalls once when the tables were turned. She and two customers plotted against him, with one of the customers pretending to go into labor in the store.
But Phillip takes it all in stride. He feels the comfortable, welcoming family atmosphere is what makes the Lucky Dollar Store special. Furthermore, he says, “I’ve been fortunate to work with my dad for as long as I have. I feel lucky.”
Running a family business, Melvin Porter says, “knits the family together.” But he also says, “The people are like family.” Quilters and sewers are their customer base and he recalls fondly the beautiful, detailed needlework people have brought in to show them.
The ability to assess the needs of their customers and to change their stock to meet those needs has resulted in their longevity. The Porters continue to anticipate changes in types and patterns of fabric and focus on quality niche products that are difficult to find elsewhere.
If you haven’t been to the Lucky Dollar Store, gather your quilting friends and make the trip to Licking, Mo. Or if you’re traveling across the state to Branson, a small detour south will take you right past them. And don’t forget their rugs, memorial arrangements and other general merchandise. You’ll find them on the north side of Highway 32, in the shopping center located about a block east of the Highway 63 junction. They’re open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. You can call them at 573-674-3820, or email portersluckydollarstore@gmail.com.


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