HRK celebrates 25th year in business years ago

Staff reporter

It's amazing to customers when they first walk in the doors of HRK Warehouse in Marion.

There's a little bit of everything.

Toys. Kitchen items. Plumbing fixtures. Pet supplies. Hair dryers. Furniture. Light fixtures. Wall border trim. Tools. Seasonal items. Wrapping paper. Motorcycle accessories.

The inventory goes on and on.

For the past 25 years, Jim and Bernice Beach have offered unique and everyday items to their customers.

It's one of those beginnings a person hears about from time to time. A couple from out-of-town, circumstances bringing the two to Marion, and here they are — owning and operating a business.

In 1983, Jim had just retired from a manufacturing job that he had held for 30 years. The couple's son was an auctioneer and Jim helped him with sales.

On that particular day, Jim came to Marion to help his son with the sale of the building and contents owned by Bill Hilligoss at the same location as the current HRK at 109 N. Roosevelt, Marion.

The contents sold but the building didn't, Jim said.

"The owner asked me if I wanted to buy it," he said.

That was Jim's second time in Marion.

One can imagine the look on Bernice's face when Jim came home that day and said, "Guess what? I bought a building in Marion."

At that time, the building was only half finished. Half of the building had a concrete floor and interior, the other half had a dirt floor and rafters.

Within two weeks, the couple opened the doors. People flocked in and suggested they stay.

The two tried being open different days of the week but the most practical were Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, except during Christmas when they're open seven days a week.

"We tried all kinds of variations but our best days continue to be the weekends," Bernice said.

Within three or four years, Jim and Bernice were able to save up enough money to finish one-half of the unfinished building. Another two years later, the entire building was finished.

"We didn't sell furniture at that time but otherwise we sold about the same type of merchandise as we do now," Bernice said.

The couple maintained their home at Haverhill, a small community south of El Dorado, and lived in a mobile home north of the business during the weekends.

Feeling at home in the Marion community, customers became friends and neighbors became like family.

And Jim and Bernice would find out just how much this community appreciated and supported them.

On Aug. 21, 1999, a devastating fire all but obliterated the popular business. Dozens of Marion Chamber of Commerce members and residents helped with the cleanup.

Jim had just returned from two shows with $35,000 worth of merchandise and no place to put it, Bernice said.

"People said, 'If you're going to open back up, we'll help you clean up'," Jim said.

"That's why we're still here because of that support," Bernice said.

While the store was being rebuilt, the Beaches stayed with friends Homer and Jim McKellips at Marion County Lake.

For the two, their business is more like an extended family, with them calling customers by their first names when they enter the doors.

"It's important to us to be friendly and visit with customers," Bernice said. "Customer service is at the top of our list."

They know they are blessed and are supposed to be in Marion.

Four years ago, the Beaches were faced with another adversity. The two were seriously injured in an automobile accident in Butler County.

"The day before the accident, Linda (Lovelady) came to us and asked if we could use some help," Bernice said. "Hiring her was the best thing we could have done."

While the Butler County couple recovered, Linda kept the store going, treating customers the way the Beaches do.

"Another reason we're still here is because of her," Jim said.

In 1990, the couple purchased a former gas station, located just south of their property. The building is used for much-needed storage and additional parking is a plus. They also owned the former Mini-Mall up Main Street which was sold last year.

There have been many trends and changes in the retail business. Bernice said the most notable has been electronics.

Another is the attitude of replacing items on a regular basis.

"Everything is disposable," she said.

So, how are they able to predict trends and purchase items customers want to buy?

It's a guessing game.

They attend four trade shows per year — two just for furniture. At these shows, vendors show and sell items that may or may not be big sellers in the coming months.

And they don't always guess right.

Bernice said she could recall one year when a vendor was selling these green toy turtles.

"I thought, 'Who's going to buy those?'" she said. A few days later, people started coming into the store, asking for the item — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

And then there have been times that they have hit the mark.

"I was probably the most surprised with the success of Cabbage Patch dolls," Bernice said.

"The biggest reason we've made it has been the outlet we've had for buying items," Jim said.

"And we buy what people want," Bernice added.

The best sellers continue to be mattresses and box springs, and wall border trim. Wallpaper was a big seller, but not so much any more, Bernice said.

Pet supplies and motorcycle items also are in demand.

Customers come from far and near — Wichita, McPherson, El Dorado, Burns, Peabody.

"We have a fantastic business from lake visitors," Bernice said.

So, what do the initial "HRK" mean?

It was the name of the original surplus store — Hilligoss, Riley, and Kerbs.

"My grandkids named it 'His Retirement Kingdom'," Jim said.

After 49 years of marriage, six children, 24 grandchildren, and 52 great-grandchildren, are the Beaches going to really retire one of these days?

"As long as our health allows it, we'll continue with the business," Bernice said.

"We've had our ups and downs but we can't complain," Jim said.

An open house will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the store.