By Stephen Dawkins
Should a customer at Jones Feed & Seed not find what he is looking for—an unlikely scenario given the range of merchandise lining walls and shelves, on the floor, outside the front door and even hanging from the ceiling—chances are the store right across the street will have the needed item in stock.
But Duane Jones wouldn’t have you walk over to Chilton County Feed and Seed, oh no, because of the relationship between the two competing businesses in downtown Clanton. Instead, one of Jones’ workers will go get the merchandise, if it’s available, and bring it back to the customer, whose money will go into the Jones Feed & Seed cash register.
Jones and Chilton Feed manager Eddie Lockhart will settle up later.
“I think it’s a positive thing, especially for the customer,” Jones said about Clanton’s two feed stores being located right across the street from each other. “We get along good. It’s not like you would think it would be.”
The two actually depend on each other, especially during the busiest time of the year, in March and April, as farmers are planting vegetables.
“Just one of us couldn’t handle it during the spring,” Lockhart said.
The history of the businesses is as interesting as their relationship today. The building occupied by Chilton County Feed and Seed was a post office around the turn of the 20th Century, as evidenced by the skylight in the middle of the building that used to allow postal workers the means to process letters before light bulbs were installed.
Buck Bice bought the property, located adjacent to a rail line, in 1935, and ran the business as a farmers cooperative, where cotton was traded and dynamite could be bought. There are notches in the wood seed bin where a blade fell repeatedly after cutting sticks of dynamite in half.
“Feed was a big business then,” said Neal Bice, Buck’s son. “It came in hundred-pound cloth bags. “When a man came into the store to buy his feed, he would bring his wife with him, and she would often pick out the cloth pattern she liked and get five sacks or 10 and she would use it to make her dress or her children’s dresses.”
There was a bar in the basement, which is flooded now, and above the feed store were rooms for rent—rooms that, according to rumor, would include the company of a woman for a few extra dollars. Jones Feed & Seed was opened next door in the ’40s or ’50s.
A large depot sits falling into disrepair behind the store. Neal Bice bought the depot from the railroad company when he was running the feed store in the late 1970s or early ’80s. The railroad company required a 16-foot right-of-way, so Neal Bice had the depot moved back 17 feet from the rails to rest in its present location. It’s now used for storage.
Randy Burkhalter of Prattville purchased Chilton County Feed and Seed in February of 2010 and brought in Lockhart, who had 20 years experience of managing the county farmers cooperative. Lockhart, a Clanton native, graduated high school in 1988, and went to work helping his father haul pulp wood.
“I asked for a day off, and he asked me what I was going to do,” Lockhart recalls. “I said, ‘I’m going to find a job.’” Lockhart was hired to work in the warehouse at the coop and was promoted to clerk, truck driver, assistant manager, manager and then general manager before the business shut down.
His favorite part of the job is working with the customers. “Most of these folks have become my friends,” he said.
Duane Jones grew up in the business, too. His parents, Mavis and Ollie Clyde Jones, bought the current location of the business in 1977. They already owned a barber shop next door. “It’s all I’ve ever known, really,” Duane Jones said. “You grow up around something all your life, and that’s what you end up doing it seems like. You get to meet a lot of nice folks in a store like this. Some of them are just like family.”