Believing in a small town
By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — It is a quiet Monday afternoon at the Newkirk Mercantile, April 7. Shannon Bryant patiently awaits customers behind the counter, a stark contrast to only days before when the store celebrated their first Spring Fling in conjunction with 56 Feed Co. April 5, a line spreading out across the front room, waiting for coffee.
“It was phenomenal, very successful,” Bryant said, who co-owns the store with Will Cooper. She recalled seeing lines at the counter throughout the day. “The outpouring of the community and outlying areas was beyond my expectations. We saw probably, 20 – 30 new faces, and that was only from looking up when I was making coffee.”
A block north, at 56 Feed Co., Kaycee Brandon is still recuperating from the crowds at her own facility, a combination boutique, feed and auto parts store. She is fatigued, but appreciates the support she likewise received.
“There were some overwhelming moments, but it was very successful,” she said. “I think it exposed our business to the community, and the variety of products we carry.”
Newkirk Mercantile and 56 Feed Co. both opened their doors in the past year and join Opal Nutrition in bringing in new options to the vibrant Historic District.
Talby McClure started Opal Nutrition in spring 2021, offering a variety of health drinks and meal replacement shakes to the public to increase health and wellness options in the Newkirk community.
“What I have to offer are Herbalife products, like meal replacement shakes, energizing teas, many more healthy options,” she said. “The teas are beneficial because they are caffeinated with natural caffeine.”
Her selections aren’t simply drinks, either, as food products are also available.
“We also offer protein waffles and donuts, as well,” McClure said. “What I have to offer Newkirk is a healthier variety, a come-and-go service for food products, versus fast food.”
A month later, Brandon opened 56 Feed Co., purchasing the former NAPA Auto Parts when Bruce Horinek retired. Keeping the NAPA Auto Parts line, she remodeled the facility, adding livestock show feed and a clothing and collectibles boutique, a business she has operated in other parts of north-central Oklahoma, including Pawhuska and Stillwater.
It was the livestock show feed that led her to open a new business with proper show feed for 4-H and FFA members.
“We’ve had multiple people grateful they don’t have to go as far to get feed,” she said.
Newkirk Mercantile opened only a few months ago, Jan. 8, but has seen a good turnout of support from the community in that time. Formerly Finders Keepers Antiques, they’ve rebranded the facility, renovating the space to bring in a more open atmosphere and also bringing in the feeling of a real general store-type of facility while keeping the endless antiques still available. The biggest draw is a coffee selection unlike anything in the community, imported from Washington State, where Bryant and Cooper formerly hailed.
“We wanted to operate a business to bring something new to Newkirk,” Bryant said. “We introduced coffee, which has been a huge hit with the community and surrounding areas.”
They have also added more kitchen products like seasonings and mixes, as well as plantings for the garden, along with succulents.
Three new businesses spread across three blocks are offering three new options for the community. It is that uniqueness that binds them together, and they are seeking to change the way businesses serve the community in Downtown Newkirk.
Many small-town businesses lock their doors at the end of a long day to relax in their own homes. Bryant and Cooper don’t believe in that, however, as they see some people looking for a place to go, a meal to eat after their own long day.
“We feel it is important Newkirk has a business open seven days a week, because the community needs it,” Bryant said. “This is something important for the community to do, get out with the family. Shopping locally is important. It’s the reliability.”
With limited options in small towns like Newkirk, Cooper, Bryant, Brandon and McClure had to be creative to keep people shopping at home instead of Ponca City or Arkansas City. They each found a niche.
McClure discovered Herbal Life products in Ponca City and could have easily opened Opal Nutrition there. She chose Newkirk, however, to bring it back home.
“I live here, and it’s just something I thought Newkirk could benefit from, because it’s something we don’t have locally,” McClure said.
For 56 Feed Co., that uniqueness is quality livestock feed specialized for 4-H and FFA animal projects.
“There is definitely a demand for feed closer to home,” Brandon said. “The co-op does sell show feed, they just don’t sell what I sell.”
Brandon’s mother, Nila, also a friendly face at the facility, expounded on their feed lines.
“There are a few brands of feed that the show industry exhibitors prefer to feed, and they are not carried by just anybody,” she said.
It isn’t just locals who benefit from these businesses, but outsiders as well, weary travelers who are looking for a break during their trip.
“Out-of-towners do drive through here and come to our shops, and having them stop at Opal Nutrition, or another new store, the other owners can provide for them,” McClure said.
With many options available in larger surrounding communities, it could be difficult to compete when so many offer so much more. How does a new Newkirk business continue to operate? Putting a special emphasis on customer service, listening to them and meeting their concerns to improve for everyone.
“The customer service is first, and we ask everybody to make sure they like the product,” Shannon said. “We have daily regulars that come in at different times.”
These businesses pour the community support back into Newkirk in the endless ways they see that they can aid their own customers.
“We benefit the school whenever we are asked,” McClure said.
Bryant and Cooper quickly got behind the scenes in Newkirk, getting involved with Newkirk Main Street and Newkirk Chamber of Commerce to show their support for the community.
They may be only three businesses, but they are setting a new standard of doing business in Newkirk.
“They’re offering things the community needs, and fostering a desire to shop local first, and hopefully, that message is sinking in,” said Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Leaming.
That spirit is being seen across the community, as not just business owners, but Newkirk residents themselves are showing they also believe in a small town.
“I feel like the energy in the Main Street district is building and leaching out into the community – the requests for building space for new businesses are coming closer and closer together and more citizens are coming forward asking how they can help improve their community,” Newkirk Main Street Director Alyssa McCleery said. “It’s really a very exciting time to be in Newkirk.”