Betty Jones talks to Pretty Bird, who has been a fixture in Jones Feed Store for many years. (White Hall Progress/William Harvey)
Sherry Edwards and David Jones stand in front of bags of feed in Jones Feed Store in White Hall. (White Hall Progress/William Harvey)
White Hall was incorporated on July 27, 1964. However, the roots for Jones Feed Store at 7004 Dollarway Road were planted in 1962 when a woman with an infatuation for tropical fish decided the time had come to move from a crowded house on dead-end Carbon Street in Pine Bluff that had become overrun with aquariums.
Betty Jones, the family matriarch, grew up in landlocked Yorktown in Lincoln County, but later worked for four-years at the J.J. Newberry five-and-dime store on Main Street in downtown Pine Bluff, where she developed a love for tropical fish.
After she married her husband, Elton Jones of Pine Bluff, he would join her every day for lunch and they would tour Newberry’s fish tanks.
They acquired the house on Carbon Street and her hobby began to mushroom, growing from one 10-gallon aquarium to a dozen or more. They constructed a building adjacent to the house for a pet shop, primarily dealing in tropical fish.
Their three children, Debbie Jones Holder and Charlotte Jones Taylor, and son David also developed a fondness for the fish and helped their mother in the pet shop, where they sold fish, parakeets, dogs, hamsters and guinea pigs.
The White Hall pet store sold gerbils, hamsters, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, dogs,
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parakeets and caimans, a four-legged reptile of the alligator family.
Elton, a native of Ogemaw in Ouachita County, worked 27 years for Kroger and Safeway, she recalled, retiring in 1972 from Safeway and going to work full-time at the feed store in White Hall.
“He was spectacularly steady,” White Hall Mayor Noel Foster said of the 85-year-old businessman, who served as a White Hall alderman from 1993-96. “He was always dependable, always attentive, and always ready to help others. He was a gentleman who always took time to help anyone.
“His death (in mid-December) is a personal loss, and a loss to this city,” Foster added. “The entire Jones family is an asset to this community.”
Foster said he and his brother, Alderman Joel Foster, would walk or ride their bicycles from home to the Jones Pet Store and spent “hours and hours just hanging around.
“It didn’t matter if we ever spent a dime or not, we always felt welcome,” the mayor added.
While the business started out in White Hall as Jones Pet Store and in 1970 expanded to include Jones Feed Store, the family-owned and operated business continued to grow with seven additions over the years.
It had to be rebuilt following after an early morning fire the Memorial Day weekend of 1986 destroyed the building. Betty Jones said the pump motor on an aquarium in the pet store was believed to be the source for the blaze.
“After the fire, we built back,” Betty Jones said. “There was no doubt in my mind that would happen.”
For three months the Jones family operated out of tractor-trailer trucks which their feed company suppliers loaned them, she added. They used a borrowed cash register and worked under a small tent until the new building was completed.
“We keep adding,” she said. “We are still adding.”
The feed store business has expanded repeatedly. In addition to garden supplies – shrubs, trees, plants, fertilizer and mulch – the store sells bagged food for cattle, horses, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, fowl and dogs.
Hay is sold by the bale for livestock feed, garden mulch and animal bedding.
Son David said the feed store business has evolved over the years, with many former customers turning to bulk supplies for their expanded operations. The Jones operation sells bagged supplies, but not in bulk.
Where the company may have lost business in one sector, it has expanded into other areas, he explained. Concrete yard ornamentals are big draws, with David and his wife operating a concrete plant on the premises.
Some of the demand is seasonal: Bedding plants, fertilizer, lime and mulching supplies, he said.
David credits television shows on gardening to the popularity and shifts in gardening supplies. Times constraints on families where both the husband and wife work outside the home is also a major player in gardening habits, he added.
While the store once sold canning supplies, there is little demand today for the supplies, David added.
The same rule applies to dogs, David said, with sales of dog food up for “lap dogs.” Lifestyle changes are impacting many businesses.
“This type of business is dying,” he reflected, with few workers willing to put in the long hours necessary to serve a loyal customer base. The Jones family will continue to adapt, he said.
Small businesses are hampered by regulations and taxes, David noted.
Both mother and son occupy residences adjacent to their businesses.
“I could make more money and do something else, but I enjoy it,” he added with a grin. “We have the best customers in the world.”
His mother calls him the practical joker in the family.
Since she has turned 77, Betty Jones said some customers have asked if she has entertained thoughts of retirement. “They are not being nosy, but treat us like family,” she explained.
“I tell them I’ll think of retirement when I am six-feet under and going straight up,” she said with a smile. “I’ll keep on keeping on.”
The Jones operation, which counts five employees, continues to operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week – closing on Wednesdays and Sundays.