In the beginning, it was just a small hardware store, close by the stop sign that marked the intersection of Highways 16 and 73 in East Lincoln County. The year was 1975, and Joe Turbyfill was determined to start a small business. Working for himself, he thought, would allow him and his wife more time for their own pursuits.
Or so they thought. Thirty five years later, Turbyfill Hardware will soon shut its doors forever, and Turbyfill, now 76 years old and recovering from hip surgery, and his wife of 53 years, Shirley Imajean "Jean" Turbyfill, will finally have the leisure time that they originally envisioned.
Turbyfill had already had a successful career as a truck driver for the A&P, followed by a job as assistant plant manager for Wamsatta Mills and then a position at Edmos Corporation in Lincolnton. While working at Edmos, he began his own landscaping company, the first to be licensed in Lincoln County. Another first for Turbyfill Landscaping was the construction of retaining walls on Lake Norman, a project completed for Bill McGuire, president of Duke Power and namesake of the McGuire Nuclear Power Plant.
Although Turbyfill had no experience in running a hardware store, he saw the need for such a business in the local community. He approached the Nixon family, owners of a small building on Highway 16, which had at one time been a grocery store and restaurant. The adjacent property had been the site of a movie theater, the price of admission 12 cents, and the store and theater were a gathering place for young people, according to Turbyfill.
The Nixons were reluctant to sell, however, unless convinced that the new business would be a benefit to the community. Six months later they agreed to the sale, and Turbyfill was now proprietor of Turbyfill Brothers Hardware. His brother, Earl, ran the store the first year while Turbyfill focused on his landscaping business. By year two, Earl left the store to focus on his trade as an electrician, and Jean hired an assistant manager to help run the store.
The customer mix was changing, however, from rural farmers to homeowners, and business was slow. Turbyfill contemplated closing the business, but instead the store became an affiliate with True Value Hardware, a move that began to turn things around. Local residents no longer had to drive to Lincolnton or Mooresville for their hardware needs, and Turbyfill Brothers, now called Turbyfill True Value Hardware, offered "customer service with a personal touch," said Turbyfill.
After 20 years, Turbyfill's son Terry, 52, took over the landscaping business, and Turbyfill added Just Ask rentals, an affiliate of True Value Hardware. During the 1977 energy crisis, he added Fisher wood-burning stoves. Turbyfill became one of the Top 5 Fisher dealers in the Southeast.
As business improved, Turbyfill constructed a new building behind the original Nixon store and residence, which was then torn down. Three more additions were made to the building. Weber Grills were added to the store's inventory in 1985, and within 10 years, Turbyfill was one of the top Weber dealers in the United States. Yet another addition to the business was the friendly face at the front counter, Johnnie Covington.
Turbyfill had met Covington when he took an evening accounting and bookkeeping class at East Lincoln high school in preparation for running the business. Turbyfill was the only male in a class of 25, and Covington impressed him as one of the best students in the class.
He asked her if she would like to help with store inventory, and Covington added a part-time job with Turbyfill Brothers Hardware to her full-time work at Harris Teeter.
After 10 years, she retired from Harris Teeter to work full time at Turbyfill. When the store closes, she will retire as well. "She's like family," said Turbyfill. "We've argued, but she's kept me out of trouble."
How do they feel about the end of an era? Turbyfill, who was chosen as Small Businessman of the Year in Lincoln County in 2002 and served as Grand Marshall of East Lincoln's first Christmas Parade in 2009, is looking forward to having some leisure time at last.
"I was president of the Horticulture Society of Lincoln County, and I'm a master gardener, yet I don't have a garden now. I'm going to - pretty soon."
They also plan to travel. "One of our first trips will be to Australia and New Zealand." Turbyfill is also looking forward to organizing the Turbyfill family reunion, with family members scattered across 18 states.
And for Jean? "I enjoy genealogy and working on my family photo albums. I thought when I worked for myself I'd have more time for myself, but it didn't turn out that way. Now I'm looking forward to having the time to travel and work in my garden."
Not to be outdone with all this talk of retirement, Covington said, "I'm a people person, so it'll be a bit sad, but I'm going to do just what I want to do when I want to do it."
And what of the store? "True Value would like to keep the store open, but we're going to wait for somebody who has a vision for the property that would be of benefit to the community," says Jean, echoing the words of the Nixon family that sold Joe and Jean Turbyfill the property 35 years ago.