They’re some of downtown Kilgore’s biggest fans, regular attendees and participants in events during the past several years. Vivian and Fred Gebhardt have been angling to put down roots in the Main Street District for a couple of years, but it was a matter of finding the right fit.
At one point, “We were going to do a music store / coffee shop,” Vivian says, “but that didn’t work out. This particular idea, the general store, Fred thought of last year.”
Their dream, now a reality, is Kilgore Mercantile & Music on North Kilgore Street downtown.
It’s been a long time coming -- the couple handled much of the renovation themselves with help from friends and contractors. It’s nearly ready, however. For Fred, it’s an ideal outreach into a community he and Vivian have come to love.
“She has a heart for the general store. That’s what she enjoys, what she likes to do, what she’s always dreamed of having,” he adds. “Our idea was that our home could be a lot more than that, it can be an income for us. We can minister to people and use our home in that fashion. We’ll be able to reach out and help people in that way.
“We bought this place to be a part of the community. We came here to help draw people downtown.”
Purchasing the building at 105 N. Kilgore, the Gebhardts have converted the rear of the property into a comfy residence. The center of the structure is geared toward music lessons, with two small music studios – “We have a lady who’s going to come and do recordings,” Fred says. “We’re not trying to compete with a real studio, but a lot of bands just want something quick to put out there.”
The front comprises the mercantile: a Blue Bell ice cream parlor, a variety of ‘yesteryear’ products, a place to kick up your feet.
“It’s been our experience with music lessons that the family is in the living room twiddling their thumbs,” Fred notes. Technically, the ice cream parlor was more of an after-thought, he adds, but it soon became the centerpiece of the storefront. “The city got excited about the ice cream and it sort of took a forefront position in the whole thing.”
Vivian agrees with a grin: “It’s kind of taking over.” The setup’s almost perfect, but she’s quick to adjust a retro chrome stool in front of the black-and-white tile counter. They’re ready to take it for a real spin, eager for the mercantile’s grand opening in November.
“Anybody can make a banana split or sundae, but I want it to be special,” Vivian says. Christmas, of course, is coming soon too, and she’s already picked out the tree for the front window. “I want the community to help me decorate it. I want an old-fashioned Christmas tree.”
The front corner of the shop, at the window, has a small sitting area with instruments adorning the walls nearby: “It is for people to come and jam anytime,” Vivian says, indulging a talent of Fred’s and a passion for them both. The rest of the time, “It’s for students to come in and study if they want to have an ice cream.”
There are 22 flavors available at the ice cream counter, and Vivian has augmented the store’s sweet stock with a wide variety of retro candies. Meanwhile, the mercantile’s new logo adorns an array of jams and jellies, salsa, preserves, syrups and more products. The honey sticks come in 10 different flavors, and there’s coffee, tea and hot chocolate available if a customer wants more than a classic soda or shake.
The inventory also includes consignment merchandise, from fashion accessories to painted saw blades and other crafts: “We’re going to do pottery classes, we’re going to have card classes,” Vivian says, whatever helps feed an active atmosphere in the store.
For Fred, music lessons are a key element of the new venture, but the fiddle player’s quick to point students elsewhere – for guitar lessons, he ushers them to Rio Wallace across the way; violinists go a little further down Kilgore Street to Shannon Roberts. Stringed instrument repair is for Mitch Moehring, adjacent to the Crim Theater.
Between all the different musical outlets in downtown Kilgore, “This little ‘corner’ here along with The Back Porch, which is the best venue around, has become a music center,” Fred says.
The couple hopes to feed into that as much as they can. In addition to their music corner, they hope to clear out the store’s center area (“Everything we have is on wheels,” Vivian notes) to create stage space for planned impromptu performances.
“Our goal in this store,” Vivian repeats, “is to help Kilgore become more vibrant and open.”