It’s akin to a country store, but instead of a pot-bellied stove, shelves of groceries and a chunk of cheese and crackers, the floor is covered with televisions, washing machines and dryers.
Wofford TV and Appliances probably will shut its doors this week after 63 years in business.
The business has been a fixture in the River Bend community on Cleveland Road just outside Gainesville. But it has been more than a place where customers could buy televisions, appliances and furniture. It has been something of a gathering place for those who knew founders John and Betty Wofford, now deceased, and their son Phil.
“A lot of people would come in just to talk,” said Phil, who has been running the store since his father died in 2007 and his mother last February. “Daddy believed everybody had a story to tell, even if it was just about a 2-pound catfish they had caught. He was a good listener.”
“People have been coming by telling us they will really miss that,” Phil said. “Where will we go?”
So how does an independent TV and appliance dealer stay in business in the face of big box stores that buy big volumes at low prices, then sell them at a discount?
“Just one word,” Phil says. “Service.
“Dad believed that if somebody came in and wanted a washer that day, even if we were behind or late, if they had money in his pocket, we would deliver it that day. Good fast service.”
Wofford’s also would finance those who couldn’t pay right away. “In my lifetime, I know of only one repossession we had to make,” Phil said.
The big stores did hurt Wofford’s on televisions and furniture, but Phil says it could sell some appliances cheaper than they could and still make money. One reason was the relationship the store had with General Electric for more than 50 years.
At its peak in the late 1960s,’70s and ’80s, the store employed 12 people and three trucks. Now it’s just Phil and one other guy.
“We went everywhere,” Phil remembers, “even into Gwinnett County.” But John Wofford believed he had gotten too big with overhead increasing and profits shrinking. Toward the end, there were four employees and two trucks. As Phil gets ready to close the doors for good, it will be just he and another worker.
Phil Wofford began work with his parents while in the eighth grade at River Bend School across the street. His mother kept the books for the store, his father presided over the whole operation, and he swept the floor.
His wife Jan, he said, had retired twice, and now it’s his time. They haven’t been out of Hall County for more than five years.
Phil plans to take off for two to three months, catching up on some yard work and house work, and just piddling for a while. Eventually he wants a part-time job with no responsibility a couple or three days a week.
He also plans to install a “history wall” with Wofford memorabilia in his late mother’s home adjacent to theirs.
An avid fisherman, he’ll increase his time on the lake from his present once a week. Phil became a regular on a local radio broadcast giving fishing tips for a dozen years.
Wofford’s closing will be the last of the independent TV/appliance dealers, Phil says. He remembers about 10 who were in business before the big box stores arrived, including Wall’s TV, Gilstrap, Kemp, J. Wendall Lancaster, Earl Pittman and Clyde Holman, just up the street at the corner of Cleveland Road and Clark’s Bridge Road.
The Wofford’s site will become a Gainesville fire station. While the store probably will shut its doors this week, the official close date is Aug. 31, and the city will take over Sept. 1.
Phil hopes a plaque commemorating Wofford’s more than six decades in business will be placed on the new station.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays; e-mail.