City Lumber and Massey Hardware: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

There were several lumber and hardware establishments in downtown Conway at one time but two of the most memorable were City Lumber and Massey Hardware. City Lumber closed its doors in 1989 after 62 years while Massey Hardware closed in 1998 after 56 years.

City Lumber was the smallest of about five lumber companies in Conway. Ed Halter, Sr. Felix Balmaz, and his brother, Gabe Balmaz, opened the business at 1311 North Street in 1927. In 1962, Ed Halter, Sr., the Balmazs’ brother-in-law, sold his interest to his son, Ed, Jr. who co-owned the business with his uncles until it was sold to Jim Balmaz, Gabe’s son, and Dean Guenrich in 1979.

Felix primarily oversaw the lumber yard and the deliveries while Gabe and Ed mostly wrote tickets and kept the books. The Balmaz brothers were married to sisters. Felix married Rose Enderlin while Gabe married Rose’s sister, Emma. Rose and Emma’s father, Amos, owned a cotton farm and a gin in the area.

Jim Balmaz and Dean Guenrich took over the operation of City Lumber in 1979. Balmaz also opened City Paints and Interiors across Locust Street in 1987. By this time, larger builders’ supply stores were moving into Conway and it became harder for the small lumber yard to compete. Balmaz ended up putting all of the stock on the auction block and closing the doors of this 62-year-old establishment in 1989.

The building that housed Massey Hardware was originally built and owned jointly by two Conway men, John Grummer and Adalbert Lachowsky. Grummer used the front part of the building for his hardware business and Lachowsky used the back portion for his tin shop. Grummer sold his stock of hardware merchandise to Walter Massey in October, 1942, and Lachowsky retired, but both men retained joint ownership of the building. Upon their deaths, the building was willed to their widows who shared ownership.

Massey changed the name of the hardware store but the Grummer name still remained in the tiles at the front door. He also lowered the display shelves so they could be reached more easily. But he kept the wooden floor and the single bulb lights dangling from electric cords. He also kept the three-foot high swinging pendulum clock.

The original pot belly stove, too, remained in the corner. The building never had heat and air. In the cold winter months, men would gather around this stove to warm themselves and “swap the spit” i.e. exchange local gossip and hunting stories. In the summer, the stove was dismantled to allow more display space but men often congregated there anyway.

In 1944, Massey hired John Henze, a World War II veteran. When Massey died four years later, his widow sold one-third of the business interest to Henze. In 1952, Henze’s ownership portion grew to half interest. When Mrs. Massey died in 1956, her half-interest was inherited by her sister, Mrs. Willie Smith, who passed away in 1963. Her two daughters sold the rest of the business to Henze the next year.

Finally, as sole owner, Henze was able to make some changes. He acquired a Browning Arms franchise and replaced the old wooden floors with concrete. He also modernized the stock and improved the window displays. Old hunting trophies were displayed. When Henze retired in 1968, Jerome Moix, originally hired by Massey in 1947, bought the stock and continued the business.

Farmers could find virtually anything they needed in Massey Hardware. The store kept a full stock of farm utensils, home and garden supplies, leather goods and livestock supplies. For the sportsman, the store had hunting and fishing equipment as well as apparel. Hunting and fishing licenses could also be purchased there.

In the springtime, many visited Massey’s to purchase bulk seed. Bulk seeds for any type of vegetable or fruit were displayed in open rows of bins. The seeds were measured out in whatever amount the customer wanted, whether it was a nickel’s worth or ten dollars’ worth. Customers returned year after year, feeling that Massey’s was the only reliable place to get seed.

Massey Hardware closed its doors for the last time in 1998. For many people, it is the smell and feel of Massey’s that they remember the most. When you left the busy sidewalk of downtown Conway and walked through the doors of Massey’s, you were transported back to a simpler time.

Some of the material for this column came from Kenneth E. Moix, son of Jerome Moix, who published a paper on Massey Hardware in the Spring, 1974 Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings.

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