Memories come flooding back as treasures unearthed

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Local News

August 30, 2018 - 11:27 AM

Thinking back on that sweltering July day, Sharon Whitworth couldn’t help but recall a similar scene more than 46 years ago.
A group of friends, family and other volunteers from church were helping Sharon clear out loads of old shelves, merchandise and other odds and ends — “just a lot of stuff,” she said — from what had been the home of McGinty-Whitworth, Iola’s signature women’s clothing store for nearly half a century.
The work began early in the morning to beat the heat — a futile effort because the labor stretched throughout the day, then a second, then a third.
Even so, the friends stuck around. Just as they did when Sharon and her husband, Jerry, first came to Iola in 1970 and purchased Trout’s Department Store at 101 E Madison Ave.
Having arrived from Arkansas, the Whitworths didn’t know a soul. Even so, well-wishers flocked to help the young couple settle in.
“That’s what struck me the most about Iola, the friendliness,” she said. “People brought us food. We were already a part of the community after one week.”
Living in a small town — there’s nothing like it, Sharon said wistfully.
“We’ve been blessed so much more than we deserved.”

MCGINTY-WHITWORTH remained a downtown Iola staple for 46 years, until Jerry closed up shop for good in May 2016.
In so many ways, Jerry showed how to keep a business afloat in an increasingly volatile market, Sharon noted.
Though he opened his doors at a time when mom-and-pop businesses were in their heyday, the scenario changed when retail giants like Walmart appeared only to be followed by Internet-based shopping.
“There was never a dull moment,” Sharon said with a laugh. “Each day was a new adventure. Jerry was always on the cutting edge. He had an eye for what was new, what would sell. He’d go against the grain sometimes, and try something new, think outside the box.”
When clothing sales dipped, McGinty-Whitworth introduced gift items and jewelry.
Then there was merchandise celebrating area colleges. For a while, he even sold indoor-outdoor furniture.
“We were almost like a general store at times, but without the box of tobacco,” Sharon joked.
After the decision was made to close up shop it took only a few weeks to sell the last of the merchandise. The store then sat vacant for a few months until a tenant with a new business venture appeared.
Shannon Roloff figured to have just the vision with WaveFire, a gaming venue in which “customers” would come in and buy (and play) role-playing board games and other video games on site.
“He’d been doing really well at a smaller place, and that’s when he came to Jerry and said, ‘Let me have a chance at this,’” Sharon said.
For Jerry, the timing was perfect.
Jerry, you see, was sick with cancer, and eager to see the building in someone else’s hands.
The two sides signed a lease agreement for Roloff to buy the building
WaveFire was an early hit. Passersby on some nights noticed the dearth of activity elsewhere around downtown Iola, but a stream of folks entering WaveFire for an evening of gaming.
But, for whatever reason, the success was short-lived.
After 14 months WaveFire closed its doors in March.
Sharon was heartbroken. “They put their hopes and money into their business, just like we did when we were kids.”
As part of the lease agreement, Roloff did some changes to the building, adding a first-floor restroom, a shower on the second floor, removing some counters, adding others.
But a lot remained unfinished.
Meanwhile, Jerry, Sharon’s husband of 53 ½ years, died within days of WaveFire’s closing. He was 73.

SHARON let the grieving process unfold for a spell before doing anything with the old building.
But as spring turned to summer, she knew all too well that letting the structure sit vacant would only lead to its demise.
In the few short months it’s been empty, Sharon has noticed a few leaks in its roof that will need repairing.
“There are some things in here that need fixed, but there are so many good things,” she said, not the least of which is the building’s prime location at the busiest intersection in town.
“My heart is heavy when I drive by the store and see the old building deteriorating, when I know it can come to life. It just takes one person with a vision. We can make new stories, new memories, something good.”

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