Widener General Store: More than merchandise
By Shari Harris, Publisher
When Winter Rabun and John Fluhrer opened Widener General Store August 20, a family tradition of operating a general store in Edgar Springs was continued. In the months since their opening, the store has quickly become more than just merchandise to the community, and if future plans are any indication, their importance will likely grow.
Their deli features luncheon meats and cheeses, and the return of the “JK Special” and other made-to-order deli sandwiches is bringing in generations of locals and travelers. Biscuits and gravy or waffles are available for the morning crowd that gathers for coffee and a chance to visit with neighbors. Deli trays are also available.
Some produce and grocery items, including candies, are available. John Fluhrer emphasized their desire to support local producers; area honey, molasses, candles and other items are available. They are seeking more local products to add to their unique collection of goods. Travel up a flight of stairs and you’ll find antique and craft booths from a variety of vendors. Because their stock is constantly evolving, it’s worth returning frequently to see what’s new in the store.
“We have something for everybody,” says Raybun. “You’re going to see something new each time.”
If you’re not familiar with the history of the store, a written account is posted inside the door. Many of the morning crowd could also fill you in on local history, though Fluhrer admits it might be embellished a little, depending on the one sharing it. A source of local news and/or gossip, the store also shares news of losses, resuming the community tradition of a flower fund jar when a local person has passed away.
It’s been nearly a century (with a few scattered episodes of inactivity) that a store has operated at the site. John Widener opened a mercantile there in the late 1920s or ‘30s. His nephew, John (JK) Widener, worked at the creamery, where farmers would bring cans of milk to be tested for their cream content before being picked up by dairies. The store would pay farmers for the milk depending on its richness. In 1944, JK bought the business from his uncle and, along with his wife, Maybelle Widener, became a nearly 40-year fixture in the lives of people in and around Edgar Springs. Though not the only mercantile in town, each had its unique variety of items and was equally important. JK Widener’s Store was a source of groceries, Wolverine boots, and odds and ends of mercantile.
One memory, recounted many years ago by a seasoned citizen of Edgar Springs, recalled a time when she was pregnant during World War II. A serious craving sent her to JK Widener’s Store in search of sauerkraut, but due to wartime rationing, she discovered she didn’t have the ration points to buy any. Even if she had, there were no more cans of sauerkraut left on the shelf. Nearly in tears, she explained to Maybelle Widener that she had eaten all of the ‘kraut she had canned, and the cravings had her desperate for more. Maybelle told her to remain at the store, and she hurried to her home to bring some of her own canned sauerkraut to give to her pregnant customer.
Maybelle Widener taught history at Licking High School for many years, including during the high school years of her daughter, Gayle Coverdell. When Maybelle became ill in 1978, her husband, JK Widener, sold the business to take care of her.
Several owners made the business uniquely theirs over the next several years. Rick and Mary Zika, Barbara and Jerry Lewis, and Cindy and Jim Walton each had the store. In the summer of 2002, disaster struck in the guise of a fire, nearly destroying the main part of the building.
Lynn and Gayle Coverdell bought the remains of the building, returning it to the family. Salvaging as much of the old building as possible and taking measures to build it back as close to original as possible, by the spring of 2003, the Coverdells were open for business. Even before they could open the main part of the building, they had turned the undamaged lower level, used for mercantile in JK Widener’s days, into a café. It opened in November 2002.
After several years in business, the Coverdells retired and leased the store and café, with a variety of people making their own history in the building. In February 2019, Gayle Coverdell’s son, John Fluhrer, and Winter Rabun bought the building. The years had taken their toll on it, and they spent the next year and a half restoring it.
Joyce Tiberghien is managing the store for Raybun and Fluhrer, who continue to work at their prior jobs. Raybun helps out at the beginning and end of the day and on weekends, and Fluhrer, superintendent/principal at Phelps County R-III School, is there to help after school and weekends as his schedule allows. Raybun’s mother, Susie Davis, works 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Fluhrer’s mother, Gayle Coverdell, comes in often to offer a hand. Both Raybun’s and Fluhrer’s daughters, Taylor Rabun and KJ Fluhrer, help as well. Laney Duval is also involved in making the business a success. All are kept busy, and the future promises to be busier still.
The café has been remodeled and is available to rent for special events. In a couple of months, Rabun and Fluhrer plan to reopen the café, making the business “Widener General Store, Antiques and Café,” according to Rabun. Many locals are eager for the opening.
Come by and experience what Raybun refers to as an “awesome atmosphere.” The Christmas decorating is well underway and, even if you’ve been there, you need to see what might be new. Come by 491 Broadway Street in Edgar Springs between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Find that unique gift, antique or decoration, enjoy a great sandwich or breakfast, or simply enjoy the hometown feeling of Widener General Store.