|

Memories of Gibson’s Discount Center by Marty Keenan


Great Bend was the home of Gibson’s Discount Center, an early player in the Big Box Market.
   
    The original Gibson’s store in Great Bend was located on Washington St.  But in 1965 they built a huge building on W. Tenth and reopened Gibson’s there.  Although the building was dinky compared to the Walmart Supercenter, the store’s opening was a big deal, a veritable circus atmosphere.  The sign in front of the building was called “The Biggest Outdoor Sign in Kansas.”  To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain in describing the Mississippi River, “it was a monstrous big sign.” Gibson’s Discount Center…The Best For Less.”

  At the grand opening, they sold big tubes of Crest toothpaste for a nickel apiece.   My Dad was crazy about Gibsons. He even had a nickname for the store: “Gibbies”.  He would say, “Anybody wanna go to Gibbies?”  We would jump at the chance.  Dad explained to me once that a federal law at one time required retailers to sell items for the price dictated by the manufacturers. But the repeal of that law made Gibsons possible.  I’ve been a lawyer for 27 years, and I still don’t know what law he was talking about.  All I knew was I liked Gibsons.

    I wasn’t just a customer.  I got to work there.  I worked there three summers, 1977, 1978 and 1979.   The store was owned by a “Mr. Stockton.”  We referred to him behind his back  as “Old Man Stockton.”  He was like the Loch Ness Monster—-everybody talked about him but he never seemed to appear.  When he did appear, the word spread like wildfire: “OLD MAN STOCKTON IS COMING!”  We would act really busy.  His son in law was the manager at one point—Bob Clement, a pilot and Vietnam war hero.  When Old Man Stockton came around, I prayed: “Dear Jesus, please let him not notice me and ask me questions.”

    Gibson’s had an elaborate anti-shoplifting tool: fake cameras. These video cameras were mounted at the end of each aisle. I found one in the back room, hollow as a tin can.

  Gibsons was very concerned about the environment: we burned all the empty merchandise boxes in an incinerator, sending plumes of stinky smoke into the prairie sky.  I liked putting stuff in the incinerator. It was like an indoor camp fire.

      My first year at Gibsons was 1977. I started in the Springtime.   Cindy Lloyd was my boss in charge of toys and garden supply. She was a great boss.   I got to stock the latest toys, and I worked outside at the Garden Center.  “All rosebushes guaranteed alive at the time of sale,” I was told to say.   The next year people brought back the rose bushes in droves and got replacements for free.  I guess alot of the rosebushes were dead at the time of sale.  Who knew?

    The next summer I worked in the Camera and Record (Music) Department.  My boss was Windy Karst, later known as Windy Thomas.  She was good looking and very nice.  One afternoon I was getting ready to go to work at Gibsons and I turned on NBC Nightly News.  David Brinkley started the broadcast with these memorable words: “Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, is dead.”  That night when I got to Gibsons, customers were buying Elvis Presley albums like crazy.  We could hardly give them away before that.  People acted like they were not going to make any more of them.

I remember when the album “Grease” was so popular that the only copy we had left was  in the record player.  A lady lifted the lid to our record player and  wanted to buy the demo that was spinning round and round in the record player.  I turned her down.  I wanted to listen to Olivia Newton John belting out “Grease” tunes. To heck with the customer!

Once, Miss Kansas (Jill Dirks) came to the camera department for two hours for a scheduled appearance.  She posed for pictures with dozens of people.  With only 5 minutes left, I sheepishly asked her if I could have my picture taken with her.  She knew I had wanted one the whole time.   Maybe she noticed me staring at her for two hours.

    In the summer of ’79, I finished my final exams at KU and went in to see the boss at Gibsons, just assuming they would have a job for me.  I had prayed that God would provide a good summer job for me.  I was stunned to be told that they had no openings.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.

   I went home with a hangdog expression on my face, and told my mom that Gibson’s didn’t need me.  God had let me down, I thought. (Back then I thought God was a celestial vending machine, and I was genuinely surprised that there wasn’t a job for me.)  Mom had me go to the Unemployment office in Great Bend immediately.

I had barely sat down with the unemployment  representative when the phone rang. “Are you Marty Keenan?” said the worker.  “Yes,” I said.  “Your mom is on the phone.”  I picked up the phone, and my mom said: “Marty, Gibsons just called and they have a job for you.”   It was a sign, a miracle.  I raced straight back to Gibsons, and the same guy who turned me down 45 minutes earlier said: “Marty, I have created an opening.”

    He fired a guy.  I still don’t know who got fired or why.   All I knew was that God was good, and that I had snared a job in the best department of all—-Sporting Goods.  Ron Tournear was my immediate boss in Sporting Goods.  He did little to put me at ease when he grabbed a .357 magnum from the gun case, pointed the weapon at my feet and shouted: “DANCE, BITCH!”  Of course, the gun wasn’t loaded.  Tournear was hilarious.  His trademark phrase that summer: “WHAT IT IS!”  I never knew if it was a question or a statement.   One of my old chums from St. Pats Grade School, Eddie Bianchino worked in hardware, which was near Sporting Goods.  Eddie was one of the only Italians in town, but he was half German, too.  His mom was a Bieker. (Eddie’s first cousin is radio personality Scott Donovan, and their laughs are identical.)

        When Eddie Bianchino was gone, I would sometimes work in the hardware department, and I’m not very mechanical.    A customer  asked me to spool out 10 feet of wire, the flat kind of wire.  He said: “I’m getting HBO.”  I naively said, “Wow, Home Box Office.  How much is that gonna cost you?”  The man gave me a did-you-just-fall-off-a-turnip-truck look and said: “Son, you’re missing the point.  With this wire I’m going to get HBO FOR FREE!”  He grinned like a possum with a sweet potato.  In a low, conspiratorial voice, he explained to me how to hook the flat wire to the back of your TV set, and to get some tin foil and slide the tin foil up and down the wire until—VOILA—-free HBO.

     
There were so many great people working at Gibsons: Ron Tournear, Eddie Bianchino, Vicki Sheets, Vicki’s mom, known as “Granny,” Carrie Bodine, Gayla Gore, Jerry Ming, Steve Thier and so many others.  Paul Berscheidt, Marilyn Rivers. There was a girl who worked there named Eckert whose Dad was the custodian at St. Pats.  There was a dude, an older man—-BILL BIDWELL!—who worked in shipping and was very funny.  He didn’t say much, but when he said something it was funny.  There was a Santa Claus/Berle Ives-looking character named Barraclaugh.  Cindy Lloyd told me in a respectful voice:: “Mr. Barraclaugh,  WWII.”  I said, “What’s that, a form?“, cluelessly thinking of the W-2 form I got from Gibsons at tax time.  In fact, he was a war hero.

   Gibson’s closed its doors many years ago. K-Mart built a store next door. K-Mart ate Gibsons, and then Wal-Mart ate K-Mart.  All a part of the natural food chain in commerce, I suppose.   But “Old Man Stockton” was a pioneer.  Like Neil Armstrong, he was there first. 
If you have any information about this story, contact Marty Keenan

17 Comments for “Memories of Gibson’s Discount Center by Marty Keenan”

  1. Melissa McCauley-Borsick

    I remember when Gibsons first opened and how big we thought it was. I remember my mom talking about how easy it would be to get lost in it. Now with the huge club stores is seems so small but back then it was a giant.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  2. Marcia Hickey (Tournear)

    I remember that store so well Ron was working there when he had first started dating my mom, he took me to work one day and I had seen this jeep I wanted it so bad and Ron asked me what I would do with it I told him that I can put my babries in it and jump the snow banks that I make and the curbs. Now knowing Ron I can see him holding the gun telling you to dance. Thank you Marty for sharing this.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  3. My mom helen bender worked there many years as head cashier.i remember all those people mom would talk about even those bosses. Really miss those days.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  4. Bob and Karen Pinkall

    This was great! Thanks for including us in your writing. Discounts are a “breed of their own”. I remember the Gibsons store and we thought it was a “big deal” at the time. This sounds like the”good old days” until we realize that this is only the days of our children and their friends. Our good old days are a generation older. I remember Allen and his friends used to go to K-Mart and watch the people there for the Blue Light Specials. Their stories are similar to ones you could tell I”m sure.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  5. I loved Gibson’s in both Great Bend and Lamar, CO… What a GREAT article to bring back some of those great memories of days gone by~~~ I bought many 8 tracks at Gibson’s~~ thanks for sharing your memories with us and your work history as well………

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  6. Dennie Short DeWitt

    My sister worked there in the early 70’s, before you did. It was a nice store we all shopped there. I helped open TG&Y in 1968 it was in Westgate Shopping Center. Later in the early 70’s they opened another store where CPI is now. Worked for that company till they sold to McCrory’s then left. Twenty years total. Was always fun working retail, you felt like you where helpful and needed, especially to older customers. We have lost that touch now. Dennie

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  7. Hi there, I found your site by way of Google whilst searching for a related subject, your website came up, it seems to be good. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  8. I just couldn’t leave your site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual info an individual supply on your visitors? Is going to be back incessantly to check up on new posts

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  9. My brother suggested I would possibly like this blog. He was once entirely right. This publish actually made my day. You can not consider just how a lot time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  10. Great site, Gibsons’ along with GC Murphys’ hold some of my fondest memories of my childhood. Gibsons’ was the anchor of the shopping center not far from my house, Santa would land in a helicopter in it’s parking lot…it was a major event. Gibsons’, Murphys’, Woolworths’, Diskay, Big K, and Grants’ were all in town, with K-Mart and Wal-Mart in the distant future. Gibsons’ and Grants’ closed in ’75…Diskay went down with Grants…..Big K lasted til it was purchased by Wal-Mart, and Woolworths’ closed downtown with their bankruptcy. Sad…today it’s SuperWal-Mart, K-Mart(a mere shadow, now) …and Target….all very dull and the same in their total lack of personality.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  11. My Aunt Helen Green worked in the Gibson’s office for years. Another Great Bend Icon next to TG&Y was P.N. Hirsch. Add ALCO and KMart and those were the 5 stores I so vividly remember as a child in Great Bend. Gibsons was one of my favorites because of the wide aisles and its size. I remember buying my first transistor radio from the audio department..I thought I was such hot stuff. Days long gone but memories are here to stay.

    I was close to graduation when WalMart moved in and do not remember shopping in the store but maybe a handful of times.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  12. I loved your Gibsons story, but……..you forgot the POPCORN! You could shop and snack at the same time.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  13. Great story. So many of us worked at Gibson at one point.
    One thing, Gibson was not home officed or started in Great Bend. It’s home office was Seagoville Texas. It was started by Old man Gibson as Dixie Labs. Your store was one of 350 franchise stores.
    The reason I know this is my father was the head buy for all Gibson sporting goods departments and second in command over the whole thing. Target and Kmart opened some time after Gibson’s was started and was their main competer. Walmart came along as Gibson was about gone. Sam ask my dad to jump ship and be number 2 in command of his new upstart Walmart. Worst decision my dad ever made. He said Sam did not have what it took, lol. My dad has been gone for some years now and finding this web page sure made me grin. Mt Gibson was also my Godfather, lol. Seeing that the Gibson family name still lives on for some of us is to good.
    Thanks,
    Doc Pilcher

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  14. Charlie Harrison

    Enjoyed the story. I worked at the Mesquite, TX Gibson’s from March 1972 to August 1972 as a sack boy and general stock when not as busy. This was my first job in high school and loved it. The assistant manager was Charles Keenan (any relationship to you, Marty?) and store manager was Charles Brown. Mr. Keenan was a very nice man and I still have his recommendation letter after all these years.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  15. I worked in Shawnee,oklahoma at gisons 1967 to 1980 liked it wish those times was still here !☺

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  16. There is still a Gibsons open in Kerrville Texas….I go to Kerrville every year and make a point to goto Gibsons…..its still just like iI always remember Gibsons when I was a kid.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

  17. Thanks for the memories! I worked at a Gibson’s in White Rock, NM for a few years in the early 70s. Part time while I was in high school, then full time for a few months after graduation until I enlisted in the Army. This particular Gibson’s was the biggest and cheapest store in a 80 mile radius and did a lot of business, especially during the four hours it was open on Sundays. I worked Sporting Goods, Hardware and Automotive and cleaned the floors every Sunday morning with a machine that I will never forget!
    That store and I believe a half a dozen others in the region were owned by Ray King. I have very happy memories of working there and one little tidbit that I have yet to review, after all of these years. One day a couple of other employees and I loaded up one of the 8mm movie cameras with a spool of film and made our own little “Gibbies” movie. I don’t even remember what was on it, but I still have it and plan one day to have it converted to DVD and have some laughs.

    Current score: 0

    Report this comment

Leave a Reply