BY LEANN DILBECK –
Washburn’s Home Furnishings, a cornerstone retailer in downtown Mena, will be celebrating its 77th Anniversary. The store was founded by a man who helped shape Mena, in many ways. His founding principles are still very much in practice today and can largely be attributed to the store’s growth and sustainability through almost eight decades.
Mr. Omar Washburn began his working career as a carpenter but transitioned to repairing radios. He and Ray Liles went into partnership on a radio business in 1939 and was located on what was known then as Pickering Street (now Hwy 71 South). That same year he married Julia Gunn. The couple went on to raise three daughters, Kathy, Sue and Debby.
While serving his country in World War II from March 1942 to October 1945, his expertise in radios earned him a position as Chief Technician with the United States Naval Air Corps with assignments in Africa, Gibraltar, and the Azores.
When he returned from the war, he became the sole owner of the store and expanded into furniture and appliances.
In 1956, the new store was built and Julia left teaching to join her husband in the day to day operations of the store. The main part of the present store located at 1020 Mena Street was completed in 1969 with warehouses being added through the years.
The store is now owned by two of his daughters, Debby Eisele and Sue Maddox. Debby and her husband, Gar, manage the store.
The family has seen the business go through its share of changes through the years but the founding principle instilled by Mr. Washburn himself is still at the center of the store’s success today – customer service. The family said they still have customers routinely share “Mr. Washburn” stories that range from generous credit/payment plans to loading his merchandise and driving through the very rural areas to sell refrigerators and washers when electric lines were being expanded.
Gar and Debby were special guests at the Mena/Polk County Rotary Club in the spring and displayed some restored radios that were sold by her father during those very early years.
Mr. Washburn also believed strongly in investing and serving his community. He served as a city alderman, past president of the Mena Lions Club, a board member of the First Christian Church, a Chamber of Commerce member and a member of the Tri-Lakes Regional Water Board. He also emerged as a leader in his industry by serving as a past president of the Arkansas Furniture Association. And as busy a man as he was, all will tell you that “he lived life to the fullest” and yet, never seemed rushed or harried. Debby described him as the “ultimate people person. I don’t think I ever heard him say anything bad about anyone. He just did his best to find the good in everybody.”
Today, the store is a member of the Brand Source buying group and offers furniture, accessories and appliances. They credit much of the store’s success to wonderful employees through the years. The store has a total of eight employees, including Gar and Debby. All are very experienced and all are very valued members of the store. David Dutton is a salesman that has been with them for over 45 years. They also have Jeremiah Hall who has been a salesman for the store for 20 years. Charlotte Crump has been a bookkeeper for Washburn’s for 15 years. They have three on their delivery and set-up crew, Sam and Jay Horn and Wesley Seals and as Debby explained to the Rotarians in the spring – these are crucial members of their staff because they are the last person the customer will see and interact with.
The business has remained progressive in an ever-changing business world but the founding principles are as solid as their reputation. The Washburn’s name is synonymous with quality and customer service. A formula that has proven to be successful for over seven decades and shows no sign of changing course any time soon.