Hild Brothers: Marion’s meeting place
By David DeKunder – Staff Writer/ Northeast Herald
Published 12:00 am CDT, Thursday, August 5, 2010
For six decades one family has owned and ran Marion’s only grocery and feed store, where generations of the town’s residents have shopped, gathered and worked.
Hild Brothers Foodland is the last of its kind — a disappearing breed — of the mom and pop stores that use to dot the small, rural towns across Texas and America. Very soon, though, that distinction will change as Hild Brothers is in the process of being bought out by a regional supermarket chain.
The final details are being worked out on the sale of Hild Brothers to Super S Foods, the San Antonio-based grocery chain that has stores in over 50 cities across south and central Texas. Super S Foods is expected to move into the Hild Brothers store within the next few weeks.
When the Hild family turns over the keys of the store to Super S Foods, it will be the end of an era in Marion, which started when brothers Leslie, 91, and Cleburne Hild, 97, decided to start their own grocery and feed business in 1946.
Both brothers had just gotten out of the military in 1946, having served in World War II, when they looked at the idea of running their own grocery business at the former Red and White store, at the intersection of Center and Schulz streets.
The brothers approached Mrs. John Hicks, the widow of the original owner of the store, about renting the store. Both Leslie and Cleburne had worked for John Hicks before the war. They eventually bought the store.
When it opened in 1946, Hild Brothers sold everything from 25-pound bags of flour to shoes to clothing. The store had a corn-shelling business at its present day feed warehouse off of FM 78.
Glenn Hild, Cleburne’s son who runs the grocery and feed business, said during the store’s first three decades, in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, its customers were primarily rural farmers. The store had feed routes to serve those farmers in the outlying areas, with the feed and grain coming to Hild Brothers’ silos by train
“In the early days, we had a large number of chicken and hog farms (around Marion),” Glenn said. “We don’t have as near as many people who farm for a living. Those numbers have declined. Especially those who raise hogs and chickens, that is pretty much gone. You can count them on one hand.”
Glenn said these days the store’s top selling feed is for horses, goats and deer, and supplements for cattle, which is now used for a customer base who are primarily commuters and live in homes on smaller acres of property.
Generations of customers have done business and worked at Hild Brothers. “I would imagine we have families, at least three or four generations, we have been dealing with,” said Glenn, who has been working at the store since he was a teenager. “I have customers who are coming in who I sold (groceries and feed) to their grandparents and great-grandparents. There have been generations of families who have worked here.”
While the store will be under a new name and new management in the near future, Glenn and John Hild, Glenn’s brother, will still run the feed business at the warehouse off FM 78.
The more than 100-year-old building behind the grocery store, which was used to store feed bags so customers could pick the bags up, is expected to be moved to a reconstructed western town site.
The old building was the Marion Mercantile Building, a business owned by John Hicks.
The mercantile building, which is one of the oldest historic landmarks left in Marion, stood on the site where Hild Brothers is today. Hicks moved the old building farther from the intersection of Center and Schulz streets so he could build the Red and White store in 1929, the present Hild Brothers store.
Glenn said when the old mercantile, feed warehouse is finally moved out of Marion, it will be missed by the town’s residents. “It will be a little strange not seeing that old warehouse,” he said.
Besides serving as a place where local residents could buy anything from a Coke to produce to deer feed, Hild Brothers was an unofficial gathering place of sorts for the community, where anybody could “shoot the breeze” with their neighbor or one of the Hilds.
“I would tell (people), ‘You don’t always have to buy something, just come in and visit,’” Glenn said. “People started making the comment that it was a place to find something out, what’s going on in the community — a meeting point. I suspect the feed operation (at the warehouse) will be like that. We aren’t leaving; we are just moving down the street.”
Leslie will join his brother Cleburne in semi-retirement. Cleburne retired from running the business four years ago. He said he will be around to help his nephews with the feed business when needed and do some things around the house.
“Sixty-five years (at the store), that is a lot of years … that’s long enough,” Leslie said. “We had a good life here; I enjoyed it, like everything else we had our ups and downs.”