HAYS, a family* owned and operated company that was established in Blytheville in 1935 has an illustrious history dating back to 1906 with the original founders, David and Mattie Hays King. They established King Mercantile in Long, Oklahoma, Indian Territory that year. General mercantile stores sold everything needed by a family including groceries, clothing and shoes, dry goods, notions, hardware, household items and furnishings, seeds, cotton sacks and farm machinery. The original “one-stop” shopping center!
David and Mattie added two more stores in 1913, in Gore and Webbers Falls, Oklahoma. Their family had grown during these years of business development and in 1918 they moved to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There they embarked upon a new business venture—a furniture store but it wasn’t long before David sold it, stating, “Folks didn’t need to buy furniture as often as they did food and clothing.”
In 1922, Arthur William Hays, younger brother of Mattie, joined them in the Gore store as a partner. David King and A.W. Hays were men of vision, expertise and innovation; and they strived to pass this on to their heirs. There are some wild and hilarious family tales of business deals and buying trips to Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City. You can only imagine two “Okies’ in New York City in the 1920’s!
This business partnership was cut short when David became ill with a chronic kidney disease thereby forcing him and Mattie, in 1928, to sell their interest to A.W. and Grace Hays, his wife. David died August 19, 1931 at the young age of 51.
A.W. and Grace developed a reputation in the retail business world as “movers and shakers”. Stores were bought or developed in eastern Oklahoma communities like Spiro, Wagner, Stigler, Fort Gibson, Muskogee and Van Buren, Arkansas. A.W. felt a great responsibility to younger nieces and nephews with untimely deaths of his brother, William and his former partner and brother-in-law, David King. The first to come under his tutelage, was B.R. “Russell” Hays.
In the midst of “the Great Depression”, when hordes of “Arkies” and “Okies” set out on Route 66 to the promised land of California, A.W. with his vision, turned eastward toward the Mississippi River and U.S. Highway 61 in eastern Arkansas to a land of flat, fertile fields of cotton as far as the eye could see. This became the “promised land” on which the Hays organization of the present is built.
Russell Hays and wife, Mae, along with A. W. as a partner, opened the first Hays Store in eastern Arkansas on January 1, 1935. This store in Blytheville is still considered the “flagship” store for the company and quite interestingly, in its present location is within one half block of its original site!
When employees or others speak of the “big store”, the flagship store is the one they are referring to, even though it has not been the biggest for many years. “Town and country folks from all walks of life filled the aisles, and on Saturdays it was a meeting place for the country people.” What began as a general mercantile store has evolved into a full self-service supermarket. In the 1950s and 1960s, the ladies’ ready-to-wear was as fine a selection as you could find in a town this size. There were many fashion shows held in the store. One disgruntled competitor told a salesman once, “At Hays, you’re likely to find a smoked ham and silk dress hanging on the same rack!”
Another store was opened in 1948. This time, John Hays King, son of the founders and nephew of A.W. and cousin to Russell became a stockholder and the store manager. He and his wife, Alma, moved from Fort Gibson, OK with their son, David, 8 and baby daughter, Susan. (A third child, Mike, was born in 1951.) Hays was now on the ‘Square’ in Hayti, Missouri. This store, like the others, was a general mercantile until the 1960s when it was switched to a full self-service supermarket.
Like his father, John became seriously ill at a young age, and he died of Hodgkin’s disease in January, 1960 at the age of 47. John’s sons, David and Mike were a sophomore in college and the third grade, respectively when he died. These boys had strong roots in the family business though, and once they were out of college, they were ready to continue in their father’s footsteps. David began as manager in the Hayti store but moved to Blytheville in 1972 with his family so that he could gain an overall perspective of the Hays operation under the mentorship of his cousin, Russell Hays. Mike also began his career with Hays as the manager of the Hayti store upon his college graduation.
The Caruthersville, Missouri property was purchased in 1973 when it was located on Ward Avenue and overseeing that store became an added responsibility for Mike.
A bold move was made in 1977 when David and Mike along with their cousin, Jim Buchanan, grandson of A.W. and Grace Hays, purchased the Proctor Supermarket in Wynne, Arkansas. A supermarket was purchased in West Helena, AR in 1981, and a second, larger store in Wynne was added in 1986. A second Blytheville location at Days Shopping Center was purchased in 1987. Within ten years, this trio of family members had grown their ownership to four stores.
1995 brought a “bittersweet” opportunity. Jim Buchanan and his uncle, Bill, offered to sell their business interests in all seven Hays stores to David and Mike. Once they accepted it, it was full speed ahead for these two grandsons of the 1906 founders. They expanded their enterprise to twelve in May of 2001 with the purchase of five stores–two locations in Jonesboro, two in Paragould and one in Walnut Ridge.
Over the years, HAYS has seen many changes and slogans. Some of the slogans are as follows: “HAYS, The Friendliest Stores in Town”, “You’ve Got a Friend at HAYS” and “It Pays to Trade With HAYS”. These are slogans that we at HAYS strive to live by in our daily work.