The old time country store, usually found at a crossroads or off the side of a long, winding road, is fast becoming a thing of the past. With fewer of these relics remaining, the few left standing tend to have a history behind them that not only involves the communities they serve, but is common ground among families for several generations.
Barney B’s Convenience Store, located at the intersection of KY 72 and KY 1216 at Gulston, has served the residents of that area since 1954.
Harry Gibson, son of original owner Barney Gibson, who passed away in 2007, has kept the store running the last several years.
“My grandfather on my dad’s side, Mark Gibson, came to Harlan in 1937,” Gibson remembers. “He brought his family with him, two older girls and three younger boys.”
Gibson said when his grandfather passed away, that left Barney Gibson and his two brothers in business together. Barney Gibson purchased the land where his store stands in 1954.
“At that time, he had married my mom (Anna Lee Gibson), and she was John Meyers’ daughter,” said Gibson. “They (Barney Gibson and John Meyers) were competitors, across the street from each other. It was sort of a Hatfield-McCoy situation.”
According to Gibson, the marriage of his parents tied the two families together.
“In later years, they all were in harmony,” Gibson said. “But in younger years, after my mom’s mother found out my mom and dad got married, she said ‘I’d rather bury you than to see you marry one of the Gibsons.’ My dad’s oldest brother, Ed, called my dad and said ‘I can’t believe you married John Meyers’ daughter. Dad would turn over in his grave.’”
Gibson said at that time there were several thriving coal companies in the community.
“Those people that chose not to spend their money at the commissary came to this independent community where they could buy goods at a cheaper price,” Gibson said. “So my mom and dad stayed in this business.”
The current building was constructed in 1970. The store stayed in business at the same location from 1954 until he passed away in 2007.
“The mark that my dad left here is wonderful,” Gibson said.
An article in the Enterprise highlighted Barney Gibson in June 2005 as one of the area’s “Local Folks.” At that time, he described the community surrounding his store as having been a lot “like a western town” in the early days of the store’s operation, with five saloons being located within 100 yards of each other.
“Every weekend, we’d want to know who was killed last night or who got shot,” he was quoted as saying in the 2005 article. “We had a big pot-bellied stove in our grocery store for heat, and many times there’d be shooting in the street. We’d all run behind that big stove thinking that was going to protect us.”
According to the 2005 article, Barney Gibson said the wild days came to an end when a temperance minister named W.W. Nails began holding revivals in the area.
“Brother, he really put the screws to people,” Barney Gibson said, referring to the minister.
The store’s time is ending soon, though. In just a matter of days Barney B’s will be no more. The store is being demolished to make way for a wider road, according to Harry Gibson.
“This is a road project coming through,” Harry Gibson explained. “They’re going to straighten that curve out and build a new bridge. They’ve already torn down three houses on the other side.”
The end of Barney B’s signals the end of an era for a lot of area residents like John Smith, 49, who grew up nearby and has been patronizing the establishment his entire life. He has more than one memory connected to the store and its namesake owner.
“Once I come over to pick up some lunch meat,” Smith recalls. “One of his fingers was missing on one hand.”
Smith said Barney Gibson told him he lost the finger because a customer saw him with his finger on the scale while he was weighing meat and the customer cut it off.
“He said a customer said he was charging him too much. That was so funny,” Smith said with a smile.
Barney Gibson was, of course, joking.
Smith remembers Barney Gibson fondly.
“Barney was always real nice to me,” Smith said. “I remember I was standing outside next to the road and Barney was closing the store. He asked me did I want to go get something to eat. I told him I didn’t have any money on me. He said ‘I’ll pay for it.’ I thought that was pretty nice of him. He was in pretty bad shape at that time. He’d already been through a hip surgery.”
Harry Gibson says the store will end its run on or about April 1.