|An early photograph of Florence Butt in her grocery store in Kerrville|
I ran across a remarkable newspaper story this week: "True Fairy Story," published in the Kerrville Times of July 30, 1936, on page 4, and written by Mrs. Florence Butt. If anyone knows the story of how H-E-B began, it's she: she was its founder.
The story appeared in a special section of that week's issue, celebrating the opening of a new store by the "C. C. Butt Piggly Wiggly Grocery Company." The store was to be housed in a new building in the 800 block of Water Street, near where One Schreiner Center stands today.
Here is her story, in her own words:
"Once upon a time," Florence Butt writes, "as all fairy stories begin, a woman with a sick husband, three boys, 10, 12, 14-years-old, came to Kerrville to make their home. This was 31 years ago [in 1936]. Our capital to start with was approximately $60.
"Then, the place on Main Street, where the Star Cleaners are now, was rented."
[The building which housed that first store was moved from the site decades ago, but stood about where the Hill Country Cafe is today, in the 800 block of Main Street.]
"It had rooms above to live in," she continues, "and the store room, all for $9 a month. In preparing the little grocery store, a small Bible was found on a shelf. A good omen, it was kept there. So, on the morning of November 26, 1905, 31 years ago [in 1936], the store opened. Before the front door was opened, the little Bible was read. Then a prayer for the Great Father and Giver of all things to be the Partner to lead and guide: then the front door was opened.
"The first month we sold $56 worth. One day, not a penny's worth was sold. Several days, only 5 and 10 cents worth of merchandise was sold. But the responsibility was there, and it had to make good.
"You can see the stock $60 would place on your shelves, but I had such good friends to advise and help me out. Our first delivery was a baby buggy with top taken off, and a box placed on the wheels. Then it was run over by a wagon, and we had to get a child's play wagon, costing $3.00, which was much for our limited capital. Then the rains came in the winter, the little wagon wheels would fill with mud and it could not be pulled any longer. So we bought a horse that cost $20, a wagon costing $5, a harness $2.50 -- $27.50 total cost for the first delivery wagon. But to the mother and boys that pulled the delivery wagon in the mud, it is to be remembered as one of the bright spots of growth in business. Every month was growth, but hard work.
"Hence, the continued work of the son, H. E. Butt, who never knew anything from 10 years old except work, has come this chain of 31 stores [in July, 1936], and has made it possible have our pretty [new] store in Kerrville.
"With our many friends here, the Greatest Partner has truly been with us. So we thank Him and the many, many lovely friends who have helped in so many ways to bring success. We hope that in our new store, we will all be close together, and all go on to promote success and happiness to all. I want to thank my friends and tell them I love them. Every one has been so nice to me. So we hope all will enjoy the new store with us -- Mrs. Butt."
Congratulations to the H. E. Butt Grocery Company on its anniversary. The company's story is one of amazing growth -- and hard work-- and it all began with one woman, a sick husband, and three young sons, in a community that took them in and supported them.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is a frequent shopper at Kerrville's H-E-B. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 5, 2015.