Merchant puts down roots, hopes village can grow

Published Sunday July 18, 2010
BY JOMAY STEEN
RAPID CITY JOURNAL

WHITECLAY, Neb. – While beer sales get most of the attention, some Whiteclay businesses survive and even prosper without selling alcohol.

Firmly rooted in Whiteclay, Lewis Abold and his son, Lou, opened their general merchandise store, Abe’s New and Used, about three years ago on Halloween. “This is our third summer,” Lewis Abold said.

Both men had worked retail. The elder Abold also helped to run a Western store in Rushville.

They decided to open their own business in the old Gamble’s Store building, figuring they could capture family shoppers coming into Nebraska to buy groceries at the two grocery stores. The small unincorporated town has no city sales tax or any state sales tax on food.

“We serve the whole reservation. Most of our customers are Native American,” Lewis Abold said.

His great-grandfather homesteaded just 9 miles from Whiteclay. His son, Lou Abold, makes up the fifth generation of the family to live and work in the small village 2 miles south of Pine Ridge.

He said his family is well known to the people living on reservation and especially the town of Pine Ridge. They once sold clothing, shoes and other merchandise out of a bus parked near the Pizza Hut restaurant in Pine Ridge.

“There are a lot of good people around here. I guess it’s because we know a lot of the people who grew up here,” he said.

Their new store features clothing, shoes, boots, saddles, tack, toys, bicycles, second-hand tools, and used pots, pans and dishes along with authentic Native American crafts. “Just a little bit of everything,” he said.

He noted that they don’t have a problem with the street people, many of whom wander into the town to openly drink in the open lots, abandoned houses or sidewalks.

“It all goes back to how you treat people,” Abold said.

The Abolds point to the variety of businesses that are in Whiteclay, including two grocery stores, two cafes, its new drive-through burger shop, two used-car dealerships, a gas station, an automobile body shop and the 555 Whiteclay ministry.

Michelle Talbot manages the new drive-through burger shop behind Arrowhead Inn. The business opened as a result of necessity, Coomes said.

Arrowhead owner and her boss, Jason Schwarting, agreed that there is a business opportunity for the town and plenty of room in his building.

Talbot said the large building and property once was owned by her parents, Albert Coomes and Melody Coomes. They ran a filling station and laundromat called Sioux Service.

Today, the long extended room on the east side of the building has been emptied of the coin-

operated washing machines and now has a counter where workers take orders and then assemble sandwiches and meals.

The drive-through offers a typical menu of hamburgers, fries, soft drinks and even soft-serve ice cream. It employs two people; one cooks on a six-burner gas stove and another serves the customers.

“We’re pretty busy. We’re coming into summer with all the softball games and summer activities,” Talbot said. “There’s a lot of positive things here.”

Lewis Abold said that if you look to the north, Pine Ridge in the last 25 years has gone through tremendous change, most of it for the better.

“It will happen here in Whiteclay. It just takes time,” he said.

Contact Jomay Steen at 394-8418 or jomay.steen@rapidcityjournal.com.

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