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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Florence Butt tells her story: the very first H-E-B

Drawing of the new H-E-B grocery store being built in Kerrville, to be completed in 2020.
Something special is highlighted above: the facade of the first store building.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
This week an image of H-E-B’s new Kerrville store was published in this newspaper; the building is scheduled to be completed late next year. The drawing showed something interesting in the fa├žade of the building: there, in the middle of the new structure, was a tiny grocery store building, its outline similar to the Kerrville building in which Florence Butt opened her grocery store in 1905.
Building on Main Street
in downtown Kerrville
which housed Florence Butt's
tiny grocery store in 1905
A few years ago I happened across a remarkable newspaper story titled "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 Florence Butt; 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 new 1936 store was to be housed in a new building in the 800 block of Water Street, roughly where One Schreiner Center stands today. Given another new H-E-B store opening in Kerrville soon, her story seemed timely.
Here is Mrs. Butt’s story, in her own words:
Florence Butt
"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 1905]. 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 is this two-story building memorialized in the plans for the new grocery store under construction.)
Mrs. Butt in her first store
"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.
Leland Richeson in the store's
delivery wagon, around 1915
"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.
Kerrville, 1903
"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.
The early employees of
the C C Butt Grocery Co.
around 1915
"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. Everyone has been so nice to me. So we hope all will enjoy the new store with us -- Mrs. Butt."
The new store for Kerrville, hopefully completed in 2020, will be a giant compared to that first store. I’m happy the company chose to honor its beginnings, and its determined founder, Florence Butt, with a facsimile of their very first store.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is a frequent shopper at Kerrville's H-E-B. It seems like he’s there almost every day. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 2, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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