Bear Creek Western Store, on La. 16 in Montpelier, celebrated 50 years in business during a May 30-31 celebration.
It was the first celebration Bear Creek hosted since its 25th anniversary in 1990.
Food, raffles, giveaways, store deals and a visit from Champion Bull Rider Tuff Hedeman highlighted the event.
Hedeman signed autographs, gave bull-riding tips to the youngsters and chatted with the visitors.
Lifelong members of the community and visitors looked through old photos of the store, which documented its extensive history.
Bear Creek Western Store, originally Bear Creek Farms Livestock Exchange and Western Store, was established back in the ’60s after the owner, W. B. King, retired from his career in the dairy industry.
After his retirement, King decided to open a small family operation with his wife, Ione, and their three children, Melba, Linda and Chris.
With help from their children and members of the community, the Kings built the store themselves, and in 1965, the legendary Bear Creek erupted.
What started off as a small room intended for an office grew into a 20,000-square-foot institution, which it remains today.
The business started off with an area for a small store to put Western merchandise, a small storage room, a storage area for feed and an apartment the family could use as a place to rest. Soon, the Kings were selling metal buildings and trailers.
For the Western store, the couple would travel to Dallas frequently to hand-pick the merchandise that they knew their customers wanted.
When they returned home from each trip and realized they did not have enough space for their findings, King would build a new addition to handle all the new merchandise.
The largest addition to the business happened in 1971.
A large room was added to the west end of the store, the original porch was turned into floor space, and a new porch was built along the length of the store.
The business continued to grow, and more additions were made, including a grocery and hardware store. The store also had a pharmacy for a short time.
After visitors questioned the Kings about dining options in the area, they decided in 1974 to build a restaurant next to the Western store, Bear Creek Steakhouse. The business boomed in the tight-knit community, but that wasn’t enough. People in the community wanted to dance.
The Kings loved to dance, so they pondered the idea of adding a dance floor. After a few thoughts and brainstorming ideas later, construction began on the new addition, which connected to the steakhouse, The Supper Club, which served food.
Aside from a house band that played at the club every Saturday night, eventually the Kings added a “Nashville act” every four weeks, booking legendary country-Western singers including Garth Brooks, Randy Travis and Tanya Tucker.
A year after the restaurant opened, the couple decided the family dynasty was complete and turned it over to their children.
Melba and her husband, Kenny Giardina, ran the grocery and hardware store, Linda ran the Western store and Chris ran the restaurant and bar.
Their parents were in and out of each daily, Melba said, and it was wild in those days.
“We all dared Daddy to not even consider starting another business,” Melba said. “I told him, if he wanted to open anything else, he should have had more kids,” she said.
In 1989, Linda said, the restaurant and bar were sold, and her brother Chris and his wife, Terri, took over the grocery store, and her sister was finally back in the Western store with her where she belonged.
The family-owned business has had its share of highlights, Melba said, but also weathered hardships.
In 1997, Chris died, and the family patriarch died in 2000.
Melba said they continued to operate the store as a family business after the men’s passing with help from other family members.
Their mother died in 2013, Melba said, leaving her and her sister to run the legacy.
The sisters attribute the business’s decades of successful operation to loyal customers and family.
Bear Creek Western Store has been an important part of the village of Montpelier, and the sisters said they plan on staying open for years to come.
“We just kept working every day to keep it going,” Melba said. “I have had customers who were here from the beginning celebrate with us.”
The legendary Bear Creek Saloon was known as “the biggest honky tonk south of Nashville” where you could enjoy the very best live music performed by Nashville’s most famous country artists every Saturday night. It changed hands, Melba said, quite a few times before in burned down in 2014.
The Western store, in all its former glory, remains undamaged, unsold and still thriving today.