In the early 1970s, Gay Webb was working at American Enka, while dreaming of owning his own business.
In 1972, he and his late wife Floss, realized that dream with the opening of a combination grocery store, service station and beauty salon at 303 Wilton Springs Road, on property owned by his parents, Tildy and the late Dewey Webb. Today, Gay has retired and spends a great deal of time traveling to such far flung parts of the earth as China and Panama.
The business, now known as Wilton Springs Hardware, is operated by his son, Mitchell, who, as a 3-year-old, remembers the excitement of watching the daily building process of the business.
"Dad did most of the construction work himself," recalls Mitchell. "He was working swing shift at Enka. He'd come home and work on the store."
During the initial building process, Gay and his family lived directly behind the store and later moved into a three-bedroom apartment in the complex.
"Dad kept the business open seven days a week for 10-12 hours a day," Mitchell says. "He started closing on Sundays when the gasoline prices soared in the late 1970s. Now we're open Monday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m."
In its earliest days, the store/station sold Bay gasoline. "There was a garage here, too," Mitchell says. "Eventually we closed this and used that part for storage."
The hardware business grew on its own, starting with the Webbs meeting local farmers' needs for nails and other items. With the onslaught of large chain groceries in the 1980s, the country grocery store business suffered. "We still have convenient foods," Mitchell points out, "but since the early 1980s we've dealt mainly in hardware."
The bulk of the hardware store's business centers around residential plumbing needs. "We have everything: hot water heaters, shower fixtures, pipes, faucets, and finish work," Mitchell says.
In recent years, the store has added rental equipment.
While Gay operated the store, Floss managed the beauty shop. "She had one sink, two dryers, and one dressing chair," Mitchell recalls. "She worked alone." Sadly Floss died suddenly of a heart attack in October of 1997. She was with a customer in the shop at the time. "Her shop now serves as our office," according to Mitchell.
Meanwhile Gay and Floss's two children, Mitchell and Susan, matured. "We didn't have to work in the store on a regular basis," laughs Mitchell, "but if we came through the store and a customer was there, we were expected to wait on him." Mitchell and Susan both graduated from Cosby High School and then entered the University of Tennessee.
Susan, now Dr. Susan Webb, has her own practice at Park West Hospital in Knoxville.
Mitchell earned his bachelor's degree at UTK in 1989 and later finished his master's there in 1992.
Initially he taught at Karns High School in Knoxville in the social studies department. During this time, he taught ...