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Pickard, store change Ovilla history

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Ellis County Press
OVILLA - On Halloween night 64 years ago, Wilson Pickard got a surprise that changed the history of his town.

He bought a grocery store.

This month, Ovilla Grocery will mark 56 years in the same business, in the same location, with the same owner. 

How did Pickard get in this grocery store business?

'I popped off,' he said.

'My brother-in-law, Fred Curtis, said he wanted to sell his grocery store in Ovilla and I popped off: ‘I'll buy it!''

So he did. Pickard bought the Ovilla Grocery and Market for $3,500 in 1936, a good sum for those times.

'I didn't intend to buy a grocery store,' Pickard admitted.

He married Juanita Curtis in 1937 , so it seemed to be a good idea to have a business to support a wife. The Pickards made their home on Main Street, in the same house where Juanita was born. His family grew to include sons Billie and Donnie. And his business grew, too.

Pickard's first store was located on the east side of Main Street in Ovilla. In 1944, he moved across the street to the west side of Main Street. Then in 1952 he built the building where the Ovilla Grocery now stands.

In the 1950s, there were other businesses there: a barbershop, the Co-op Gin, the Curtis Garage. A few of these buildings still stand. Only Mr. Pickard's store is still in business.

A homemade sign displayed inside the store proudly states, 'EST. 1944,' and the 56 years since then have been full of life. 

Pickard has been involved in many areas of the community and its growth. He was the first mayor of Ovilla, serving from 1963 to 1969.

'I served two terms and they tried to talk me into a third,' recalled Pickard, who drove the first fire truck in Ovilla as a volunteer firefighter.

He remembers taking his son Donnie along on the fire truck. Donnie Pickard is now Ovilla's fire chief.

Pickard directed the Community Water Association. 'We pumped water to everybody in Ovilla,' he stated proudly.

Pickard knew where the water lines were laid, kept the billing and payment records, and would dig up pipes himself if repairs were needed.

Pickard also served as the secretary of both the graveyards in town, the Ovilla Cemetery and the Shiloh Cemetery. He is a member of the Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Ovilla.

It is Mr. Pickard's store that has caught the eye of those from outside Ovilla, however.

Bob Phillips, from a Dallas TV station, came around in the 1970s to film an episode for his Texas Country Reporter program and 'discovered' the Ovilla store and its regular visitors. Phillips found the old-fashioned charm of the town and the down-home conversation of old friends who gather at the store unique.

Phillips' program and his book - 52 Offbeat Texas Stops: Traveling with Bob Phillips, Texas Country Reporter -- put Ovilla Grocery and Market on the map.

Pickard keeps an autographed copy of the book under the counter.

'We're Stop No. 1 in the book,' he said modestly.

Phillips returned recently to do a 20th anniversary show, revisiting the old friends at the store.

'Yep, we're still here talking,' Pickard chuckled.

In recent years, the film crew of 'Walker, Texas Ranger' has used the Ovilla store as a set for its filming of Indian reservation scenes in the TV show.

Chuck Norris, who plays Walker on the show, has visited with Pickard and his friends in the store.

'One day when Chuck Norris was here,' Pickard recalled, 'a bunch of old women came in the door. They saw Chuck sitting up at the counter and they were real excited. They said to Chuck, ‘We want a kiss.'

'Ol' Chuck just grinned and said, ‘Well, come and get it!'' Pickard said with a laugh.

'When the film crew comes, the whole street has to be blocked off for hours, so I don't know if they'll be coming back here soon,' he said. 'There's so much more traffic down Cockrell Hill Road than there used to be.'

More traffic brings more people by the store, and Pickard, now 83, welcomes all visitors, friends or strangers.

'I just run the store now to have something to do and to talk to my friends,' he said.

Juanita, his best friend and wife, died in 1996 after 59 years of marriage. Six mornings a week, he goes just down the street from his house on Main Street to his store on Main Street.

From his position on a tall stool behind the counter, Pickard sells a few soft drinks, snacks, papers, and miscellaneous items. It's about the only place you'll still find Coca-Cola in a glass six-inch bottle. There's no grocery store Muzak, no phones ringing and no check-out lines here.

The store is the headquarters of the informal society and news-gathering group called the 'Ovilla Information Bureau' as a plaque on the back wall of the store proclaims. These senior citizens, a few of them lifelong buddies and residents of Ovilla, gather around the counter with Wilson to 'chew the fat' any time of day.

Anyone can pull up a crate or a stool and share their views on politics, farming, or neighborhood news with the other men. When a customer enters, the old wooden door bangs, the dark wood planks of the floor creak and Pickard welcomes another friend or stranger at the counter.

As they leave, customers will hear, 'Ya'll come back now.'

And for 56 years, the customers have.

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