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Nickels and Dimes in Parsons

By Rachelle Davis

Ben Long
Benjamin Franklin Long, III, third-generation store owner of Long's Store in Parsons. Photograph by Michael Keller.

First Street in Parsons once boasted a wealth of thriving, independent merchants. Today, Long's store is one of the very few businesses that survives, thanks to the determination of the Long family and, ironically, to the heartbreaking flood of 1985.

Known locally as Long's, the B.F. Long & Company 5&10 Store has held a prominent place at 331 First Street since 1924. That's when founder Benjamin Franklin Long, Sr., moved the business from nearby Walnut Street, where he first opened up the shop two years earlier.

Benjamin Franklin Long, Jr., and his wife Lela ran the store for more than half of its life. The store had provided a good living for them and their four children, but in 1984, they decided to retire. They had signed the business over to their son Benjamin Franklin Long, III, in 1977, but he had never actually worked in the store. In 1984, Ben was employed as a car salesman for Lambert's Chevrolet-Oldsmobile, and he says that taking over the store didn't seem feasible. "I didn't see how I could make a living at it," Ben says today. "At that time, I thought it had gone downhill, and distributors were going out." Without a commitment from Ben, his parents decided to reduce their inventory and close up shop. Long's shut down in the fall of 1984.

Then came the flood on November 4, 1985. [See "Looking Back Ten Years Later: The Flood of '85," by Todd L. Newmark; Fall 1995]. It nearly destroyed Ben's home, and it heavily damaged the car dealership where he worked. His parents' home on Fork Mountain was out of the floodplain, but the old store suffered heavy damage. Floodwaters forced it off of its foundation and filled it with mud; any remaining merchandise had to be discarded. Like a number of other damaged structures in Parsons, Long's bore the big red letters that federal officials used to mark buildings slated for demolition.

Ben spent that November through the following March repairing his house, and he returned to selling cars at Lambert's in April. He hadn't given the store much thought, but he recalls clearly the conversation that initiated his change of heart.

"It was so deplorable," he says. "They had condemned the building. I went up to the courthouse, and the man handed me the paper. He said, 'All you have to do is sign this paper, and we'll tear it down. It won't cost you a penny.'

"I sat there with the pen in my hand for what seemed like ever so long, and he said, 'Well, sign it.'

"I said, 'I just can't,' and I tossed it back to him.

"He said, 'Well, you'll just have to pay yourself to tear it down later.'

"And I said, 'Well, so be it. I can't let it go like that.' The flood changed my mind. It made me realize that money's not everything. I just was determined at that point I was going to make it work."

It took a year of hard labor, but by October 1987, the B.F. Long & Company 5&10 Store was open for business again, with the third Ben Long minding the store.

You can read the rest of this article in the Fall 2002 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.