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After 95 years, Roswell will lose Cobean’s, piece of history

October 15, 2010 • Local News

The sign at 320 N. Main St. is vintage. The store’s inventory is somewhat eccentric and specialized in things not found elsewhere.

It’s a family business in a world of international big box chains. And, after 95 years of serving the Roswell community, Cobean Stationery Company will soon be no more. In August, Les McPherson, who’s been with Cobean’s since 1943 and its president for the past several decades, celebrated his 89th birthday.

Not long after, in front of the family and friends who’d wondered about his and the store’s future, he announced, “I’d like to do something different for the next 40 or 50 years of my life.”

The store will close before the ball falls on 2011. Looking back on 65 years at Cobean’s, McPherson, who could easily pass for 70, recalls the good times of doing business in Roswell. There were the jokesters who fished in the frequent floodwaters that swept down Main Street, where the first store was located in the back of a pharmacy.

There were the Budweiser Clydesdales taking shelter under the roof that Cobean’s would soon occupy on Richardson Avenue. And, of course, there were lots of good people and sales. Over the years, McPherson has enjoyed selling office furniture the most. “It makes people happy,” he explains. Part of that customer -first business model was letting customers try out of fice chairs for three days without obligation. “We think,” the fit, white-haired, president notes, “that’s our main thing — having satisfied customers.”

Cobean’s has been selling quality items to Roswellians since three Cobean siblings, Hattie Cobean Gill, Mamie Cobean and Hial Cobean, set up shop in the back of a pharmacy. Why did the trio, born and raised on a dairy farm near Fort Stanton, choose stationery? Tommy Terrell, the business’ chief operations officer, whose duties stretched into company historian for this article, supposes it was good business acumen.

Through the booms of the roaring 20s and post- World War II years and the busts of the world wars and Great Depression, Terrell says, the business has stayed true to its emphasis on customer service and being unique — its motto for much of the 20th century was “Roswell’s most interesting store since 1916.” It has maintained a book department, making it the oldest continuously running bookstore in the state. And, while the store has largely averted the technological craze of the past 20 years, Cobean has stayed true to its family roots.

The love affair that first brought McPherson into the mix began with Ruth Cobean bringing a young grocery worker chocolate chip cookies at the Parkquay Food Store.

Innocent treats blossomed into marriage in 1941, and McPherson joined the Cobean family business in 1943. Shortly thereafter he left for the Navy and World War II. Two hours after a train brought him back from war, he was back on the job at Cobean’s. McPherson, his wife and father -in-law, Warren Cobean, a mayor of Roswell during the 1950s and a longtime owner and operator of Cobean’s, who, Terrell explains, figuratively died at his desk, became the new ownership triumvirate in the late 1960s. Now McPherson, who still opens and closes the store daily, is looking forward to something besides running a small business.

He plans to spend more time in his house in the Sacramento Mountains. And he wants to travel to Missouri and enjoy the small country towns of the Show Me State. With the doors shuttered, Terrell, a Cobean employee since 1980, thinks the Roswell community will miss the atypical inventory and customer service. He isn’t sure where Roswellians will find that rare drafting equipment or what store will order a special item for just one customer.

Though the Internet continues to take away from their bottom line, the Cobean well is not dry, yet. “We’d rather go out with a thriving business than dwindling down to where the door has to shut,” Terrell says. “We’re sad to let our customers down,” he adds. “Customers are more upset than we are.” As the four family members still in the business and four other employees say their goodbyes, Cobean’s is selling everything at drastically reduced prices.

Get it before it’s gone, because when it is, so is the store, along with a slice of Roswell history.

jdmoore@roswell-record.com

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