After 91 years, Indian Head general store closes its doors
Valerie and Chris Resh of Indian Head stand next to an empty cashier checkout station and reminisce over their general store's long history of 91 years.
Every square inch of the bulletin board they are looking at is covered with photos, documents and deeds from the very beginnings of Resh's General Store, all thumbed-tacked neatly together, lying corner to corner.
“My father, Pete, enjoyed collecting pieces of history of the store and compiling them. He displays this on an easel in his home. When people visit, he shares the story with them,” said Chris Resh.
That story is “pretty wild,” according to Chris.
But, now, it's the end of an era. The Indian Head general store has closed.
“It's an old store that was built in 1923. Our store was located in a mining town. My grandfather, Charlie, was offered a job as the store manager by the Mellon family that owned the mines when he moved from Somerset County to the local area,” he continued.
The store sold the necessities — things such as food, clothing, dynamite, hardware, animal feed, sundries, needles and thread, as well as gas and kerosene needed to light lamps.
Chris' grandfather was good at managing the shop and made it profitable. As mining was concluding in the area, he was offered an opportunity to move to Eastern Kentucky to operate another general store. Instead, he asked if he could purchase the local shop and go into business for himself. In August 1940, with the backing of the Mellons and that entrepreneurial spirit, Charlie Resh secured a bank loan, and the Reshes' family business was born.
“As a child, I remember my father, Pete, was an employee there. This was so my grandfather could pay off his loan faster and not have extra labor costs. My dad started stocking shelves, firing the coal steam boiler and helping with the butchering. He was about 8 or 10 years old when he started. He went on to acquire it,” said Chris, who eventually followed in his father's footsteps.
“When I was in grade school and high school, I would work there, doing repair jobs, bagging ice and sorting the pop bottles. That was one of the chores that I didn't like. Every Saturday, the empty bottles had to be in the correct wooden boxes all stacked up for the soda pop man. He would come to take them and replace them with filled bottles. My dad would say, ‘You'd better do a little of the task every day to keep up with the bottles.' I would always fall behind and end up doing the job at the last minute,” Chris said, chuckling.
Regardless of the jobs assigned, Chris says the store was the place to be. It was the hub of the community. His family lived in an apartment in the building, and he spent a lot of his time in the store observing what was going on.
“All the older men of the community would come and socialize. I was nebby and wanted to check things out. There was always lots of action going on there. My dad was always butchering or making sausage, so there was always something to see.”
Another big part of the success of Resh's Store at that time was a pawn exchange, said Chris, an idea his dad came up with.
“At the end of deer hunting season, when some people needed money, they would hock their guns or sewing machines, and my dad would give them a few dollars. They would give him the gun as collateral. I can remember during non-hunting months we would have up to 50 guns. They would be on the shelf in the butcher shop where customers could see them. My father would sell the guns if they weren't picked up in six months to a year. ”
In his late 50s, Pete was contemplating retiring from the store. Chris, who, after high school, had gone on to pursue his own interests, including an engineering degree and a 10-year career with U.S. Steel that included a lot of traveling, decided it might be time for him to give his hand a try at the family business.
“I thought it would be an easier life staying close to home and getting to ski every day. I figured running a general store had to be a lot easier than managing lab staff and working on underground projects.”
So in 1987, 36-year-old Chris Resh, not much older than his father was when he bought the store from his own dad, was in business. But he wouldn't have to do it alone; he had a partner.
“I met my wife Val a few years before purchasing the store, and we were married in 1988,” said Chris.
With a business degree from Duquesne University, Valerie worked with Chris to help the business grow. She, too, had a dream of owning a business.
“I did the accounting and helped administratively over the years,” said Valerie, who left a successful career in the corporate world to dedicate her time to Resh's General Store.
“Everything just came together; we went on to hire managers to help us and eventually built up a staff of close to 20.”
Valerie's computer expertise, Chris said, provided reports and tracking that allowed them to get a good snapshot of their business to help them plan for growth.
“We expanded our hardware section; we got more automated on handling larger quantities of products by getting forklifts and adding loading docks. I was buying and selling faster than my father; I could sell 60 cases of something in the same period of time that he would have sold six,” said Chris.
Valerie added that demand on the store grew, and as demographics changed and more women worked outside the home, there were requests to be open seven days a week.
“We've had a lot of regulars over the years. Everybody knew everybody, and the cashier knew the customers by name. Over the years, we watched families grow and continue to shop and even work at our store.”
The good deals and specials drew people, but Valerie and Chris said it was customer service they prided themselves in.
“People would say, ‘Everyone is so nice here. This is my favorite store.' It was an icon in the community for so long,” said Chris.
The Resh family made a significant impact locally not only through their business operation. Land donated to the township became C.W. Resh's Community Park in Indian. The Indian Head Volunteer Fire Department sits on family land that was leased for $1 before it was signed over to the organization.
“Our family feels very sincere about serving the community for all these years and has always had the community's best interest at heart. It's the end of an era, and we feel it's unfortunate that we could not find anyone interested in continuing to operate the store. We have received thank-you notes and numerous phone calls from customers who are so sad that their favorite store is closing,” said Chris.
The Reshes are talking to members of the local business community interested in renting the space. They shared they are not losing sight of working hard on a plan to incorporate more sailing, fishing, skiing and gardening into their personal lives.
“When you have done something like this for so long, you don't automatically switch gears. We still have to close out some loose ends, but it feels wonderful. We are going to take a rest, spend some with our family and see where the next chapter goes. We haven't written that one just yet,” said Chris.
Sonia Whalen Miller is a contributing writer.
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