Oden’s Store-still spry after 124 years

Published 7:26 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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We’ve added another centenarian to our list of Beaufort County businesses that are more than 100 years old. Thisvisit is to Oden’s Store, which first opened its doors in 1896.“Wow,”“good grief”and “holy cow!”are some of the exclamations Lynda Oden has heard from customers when they step into her antiquesstore on the northside of U.S. Highway 264 East on the way to Belhaven. They have to tread carefully because one false move will more than likely start a domino effect of cascading merchandise that could last 30minutes.There’s no wall space left anywhere around thebuilding that measures more than 2,700 square feet. Items are stacked floorto ceiling and while there are aisles, space between various pieces of antique furniture can be treacherous to navigate. Sensory overload surely has afflicted more than one customer over the years as he or she tried to take it all in. Bottles more than100 years old dug from nearby Tankard’s Creek,along with bullets scavenged from who knows where,line the shelves behind the counter. Countless metal signs bearing the logos of Texaco, Coca-Cola, Gulf Oil, Sunbeam Bread, Esso gasoline and other bygone and still operatingcompanies occupy two more walls. Row after row of china, crystal and pressed glassware line the wall opposite the counter. One could spend hours here and still miss something.“I’ve been in here quite a bit over the last 70 years or so, and I still see things I haven’t seen before,” Oden said with a laugh. “We have something for everybody.”John Henry Oden was 22 years old when he opened his namesake general store in 1896 in another building 300 yards southeast on the other side of what is now U.S. 264 East. He built the current store in 1904 and included a sawmill, a cotton gin and a meat market. A vintage photo reveals that he also sold Battle Axe Shoes. Customers arrived by boat from the creek or used a mule and a cart to begin their Saturday morning trading. “Granddaddy told me stories about this store being part of the Hunter’s Bridge community,” Oden said. “We were one of several stores, there was a barber shop, a restaurant and a post office. We stocked everything,and he had six clerks working withhim on Saturdays. I remember he always wore a white shirt with overalls and a bow tie. He truly loved this place.”
Lynda Oden grew up across the road from her grandfather’s store and visited often. Her parents were not interested in the business, but Lynda helped out after school and on weekends from an early age. However, she never saw herself as next in line.“I used to dust and mess around and get in the way when I was young,” she laughed. “Granddaddy ran the store until he couldn’t and died while I was in high school (1961). We let other people run it for us while my brothers and sister were doing other things, but we always kept an eye on it.”Oden tried her hand at farming, then traveled the East Coast to buy antiques for the store. She took over asthe full-time shopkeeper in 1994 and, along with 40-year employee Sherry Modlin, kept the place open six days a week until COVID-19 invaded in mid-March.“It’s (the virus) is by far the biggest challenge we’ve faced, but we are starting to pull out of it,” Oden said. “We reopened in September and are Saturdays-only,for now. I’d like to get back to three days a week at some point.”At 75, Oden plans to hang around for a few more years, but the line of succession is still to be determined. “It’s a terribleway to make a living, but it’s a great way to live,” she chuckled. “It would be great if the state would turn this place into a general store museum. I’m fine if I fall out right here.”