By Anna-Claire Terry
Opelika has long been a city known for its support of local, family-owned businesses. One example is Humphries Appliance store, which operated in the heart of downtown for more than six decades until it closed its doors in 2005. Ten years have since passed, and though downtown has seen many changes, Opelikans remember the legacy the appliance store left behind.
In 1944, W.P. Humphries opened the store and saw much success as consumers enjoyed post-war prosperity. Some of the goods Humphries’ store offered were appliances, toys, gifts, home goods, and bait and tackle. Humphries had always wanted to be a merchant, and got his start selling candy outside of LaGrange. When W.P.’s son Malcolm finished his service in the Navy in 1946, he joined the family business. The two took the Opelika retail scene by storm. In 1951, Malcolm married Mary Jane Truett, a young girl who had moved from Jacksonville to Opelika during the war, who would be a vital member of the business until it closed. Throughout the years, Malcolm and Mary Jane’s sons Clay and Bob worked in the store as well. Upon Malcolm’s retirement, Bob took over the family business.
Humphries Appliance store, located at the corner of Eighth Street and Avenue C, withstood the changing of technology in appliances from new washing machine technology to the first color TV’s. The store saw some changes in business and began feeling pressure when big-box stores like Walmart and Lowe’s came to town. It was the competition from larger retailers that eventually prompted Humphries to close.
A business passed down through three generations holds a special heart in the family. Clay, who is now an attorney in Alexander City, referred to the store as a “family affair.” He said the sales of toys kept them especially busy during the holiday season. “Dad was always really late coming home on Christmas because of all the toy and bike lay-aways. He would stay there for people to come pick them up,” he said. We hardly ever took vacations because he was always at work.”
Mary Jane recalled all the children coming in to play with toys on Saturday mornings before heading to the movies up the street. She also said people who bought appliances from the store knew they could always come back for maintenance.
The Humphries family enjoyed their time in business just as much as the city enjoyed having them here. “It was really something very special to us, that we were able to do this for as many years as we could because there aren’t that many families who have an opportunity to do what we did. It was really special,” Mary Jane said.