Department and five and dime (5 & 10) stores like Woolworth and J.J. Newberry were plentiful during the coal boom days in Harlan County. A booming town in its day was Evarts. Even today, Evarts has businesses in nearly every building in town.
Kilgore’s in Evarts is one of the oldest department stores still in business.
Sidney McLain Johnson operates the business that offers clothing, shoes, UK merchandise, a book nook with several books about Harlan County, rental of cartoon character costumes, coal figurines, all sorts of sewing notions, antiques and glassware.
Johnson said she has several pieces of Bybee Pottery for sale for collectors.
She said she is uncertain how long the store has been in business, but she knows it was in business as far back as the 1940s. She said the store used to be called Appleman’s and her great uncle, George Kilgore, named the store Kilgore’s.
The store also sits beside one of the oldest store buildings in Evarts, which was once the Pierce Drug Company. The building now is home to Two Friends Collectibles, and is filled with many antiques.
Johnson said her mother, Marie McLain, bought the Kilgore’s store from her aunt Ena and George Kilgore in 1969.
“I started working here when I was 13 years old and came back to work here in 1987 after my child was born and he went to school,” Johnson said.
With the off-road park in the area, Johnson said she sees a lot of tourists in the summer.
“I love the tourists. I love to hear where they’re from – what they’re in here on. Some of them are in here to see their people or genealogy,” she said.
Johnson said back in the day the store had “seven-times the business than it does now.”
She said the owners would go out and buy toys wholesale at Christmastime and line them around the shelves of the second floor of the store.
Johnson said she enjoys working every day and she is “totally satisfied” with the amount of business she has.
The store is filled with a lot of history and antiques are still sitting about. Some antiques include sewing machinery, a pricing stamp machine, adding machine, cash registers and a sliding rail ladder.
Keeping the store going, Johnson said she feels she is continuing a legacy.
“I really don’t feel like the store is mine – I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition,” she said.
Reach Debbie Caldwell at 606-573-4510 or on Twitter @raiders42.