Caraway landmark soon to be history
Sept. 17, 1947, was the day a new store, Western Auto, opened its doors in Caraway, Arkansas.
Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Haag moved their family to Caraway where Mr. Haag opened Western Auto and the rest is history.
The family business has expanded through the years but the original store has remained on the same site for 66 years on Kentucky Street (main street) of Caraway.
Present owner Lynn Haag grew up working in the store with his Dad. He and his wife, Betty, were co-owners in the business until 1980 when they purchased the store from his dad when Mr. Haag decided to retire to Cherokee Village where he enjoyed retirement and golfing for 20 years.
"It took only seven seconds to change our future plans," Lynn said.
He is referring to the Oct. 31 tornado that came through Caraway leaving behind damage to many businesses on Kentucky Street as well as the surrounding area.
Lynn said they were content with their business and had no plans to retire but the tornado forced them in another direction.
Mrs. Haag had established a real estate next to the store in the building that once housed the old telephone office. They also owned and operated Haag Furniture Store across the street. Another building on the south side of the street was filled with area memorabilia including history of schools, businesses, people, and much more.
"We planned to be here for at least 15 more years," Lynn said. "Retirement was not in our near future. We had dependable employees and we could get away occasionally when we wanted to."
The tornado damaged all of their buildings. The buildings on the south side will be taken down within the next couple weeks and the one on the north side will probably be coming down in mid-February. They are selling down the items and closing the books.
Lynn, who has enjoyed compiling and saving area history through the years shared a little history of the business that has been such a part of his family for over a half century.
His Dad was teaching school at Pleasant Valley and in his off time enjoyed working in the Western Auto Store. He was making $60 a month teaching school and the owner of the store offered him more pay to work full time.
Nelson left Arkansas to serve in the military. He moved his family to California where they stayed during his service.
They returned to Arkansas in 1946. Mr. Haag was offered his own store. They gave him three choices. Lynn said he was offered Caraway, Manila and he could not remember the third location. Caraway won out and Mr. and Mrs. Haag, their two young sons, Preston and Lynn, along with their baby daughter, moved to Caraway.
"Dad said they had moved 21 times in their marriage and he was ready to put down roots," Lynn said.
He put the roots deep and the Haag family has remained part of Caraway throughout the years.
Caraway was booming in 1947. They had a total of 73 businesses which included 11 grocery stores.
"They were small but there were a lot of businesses," Lynn said. "The county had been dry for about six months when they moved there."
Lynn remembers their first trip to Caraway to see how the construction of the new store was coming along.
"We left the pavement at Black Oak and we ran into some rough, unpaved roads," he said. "It took us about an hour to get from Black Oak to Caraway. I remember there was a Ford tractor sitting on a pile of dirt where the store would be."
The first thing Nelson Haag did when he came to Caraway was join the Methodist Church.
His first customer was Wilson Dallas. Mr. Dallas needed tire and Mrs. Haag got him one.
"He and Dad became best friends," Lynn said. "They did a lot of fishing together through the years."
Lynn said many people tell him they got their first television or their first bicycle at the Western Auto Store.
"Televisions were a competitive business," Lynn said. "There were at least three stores in Caraway selling televisions. My dad would load his truck and go out to the houses. We got one channel out of Memphis. My dad got a call from Memphis and said the network was going from Channel 4 to Channel 5. All of the antennas had to be cut off one inch for reception. My brother and another employee went out and had to climb back up on all the houses and make the adjustments."
Lynn was in the graduating Caraway High School Class of 1957. Betty was born and raised in Caraway. Caraway has always been their home.
Lynn looked around the store and said "this is what I've always done."
The business started as Western Auto and through the years they have had other associates but through it all, good customer service has been their goal. They have tried to meet the needs of the community.
"We have been blessed with good employees," Lynn said. "I have counted 61 people who have worked in the store. Some were part-time working until they went to college or to the service.
"We are not going anywhere, we will be around. Caraway is our home. I have confidence in Caraway. It is a great community and we are just a few miles from Jonesboro."
Lynn said they are not closing because of lack of business. He said he feels there is an opportunity for young people who want to open a business in Caraway and put their own roots down.
He expressed his appreciation to all of his customers through the years.