| By John Howell, Sr.
When Joe St. Columbia opened his Radio Shack store on Highway 6 East in Batesville last November, his biggest problem was keeping inventory, he said.
With the approaching Christmas season, customers bought his merchandise and took it out the front door almost as fast as he and his employees could bring it in the back.
"It looked as if we had no inventory; we were working as hard as we could to get it out," St. Columbia said.
St. Columbia, a Helena native and Delta State University graduate, is not new to Batesville. He opened the Sears store here in 2000 and later sold it. He has also owned and operated a chain of seven Subway restaurants from Grenada to Carlisle, Arkansas.
His Batesville opening almost six weeks before Christmas found customers in an electronics-buying mood, the Radio Shack owner said. "We’re doing about two times what they (Radio Shack’s corporate projectors) thought we would do."
The Radio Shack owner uses his knowledge of electronics and familiarity with rapidly-changing technology to help customers. St. Columbia’s background includes training in electronics and marketing. He also holds a ham radio operator’s license.
Radio Shack is located in part of what was John Mothershed’s Western Auto Store and Radio Shack, which he closed in early 2005. St. Columbia said his location at the familiar site has also favored rapid acceptance by consumers.
Two doors down from Radio Shack on Highway 6 East also in the same building that formerly housed Western Auto, Tim Smith has opened Sammie’s Suits and Accessories.
Smith said that his determination to open the store in Batesville started about a year ago when his wife was looking for "a certain color dress and couldn’t find it. That’s what made me get into it."
Though that was begun recently, Smith said he first entered retailing in 1989 when he started washing windows at a furniture store in his native Cleveland. He eventually became sales manager. A pre-Christmas opening in December also gave his business a seasonal boost, Smith said.
His inventory includes urban wear and features suits and casual wear for men and women, Smith said. Smith also manages two retail outlets for Sayle Oil Company. He has lived in Batesville for five years and serves as a volunteer for the Batesville Fire Department.
The name Sammie’s Suits and Accessories is not to be confused with similarly-named retail clothing outlets in the Mid-South. He chose the name to honor his mother who passed away last October, Smith said.
Further west on south side of Highway 6 between Bates and Eureka Streets, Ihsan Demaidi said he found customer acceptance gradually – "after the third year, after the fourth year" – when he bought the convenience store from Mark Larson and named it Batesville Express.
The extent to which he eventually found acceptance came recently with the opening of his Batesville Express #2 just west of his original location. Demaidi, a native of Palestine known to customers as "Tommy," opened the convenience store location at Highway 6 and Eureka Street formerly operated by Graves Oil Company as Rascal’s Express.
Demaidi – "Tommy" – said that when he came to Batesville from Memphis, nobody knew him. "We treat customers nice, very friendly," he said. "Like friends, not just customers."
The owner of the two Batesville Express stores said the combination of friendliness to customers and low prices for beer, cigarettes and gasoline has built a business that warranted opening the second store.