More than 50 people were lined up Thursday afternoon, May 10, awaiting the 5 p.m. opening of "Whatever...," the new shop in the former Short's Hardware building on the Salem square.
"This is the most exciting thing to happen in Salem in two or three weeks," Laverne Brewer joked, as she surveyed the crowd.
Was it going to be a dollar store? A women's clothing store? A home decor store? A lawn and garden store?
Those who rushed in quickly found the answer was "yes," to all guesses.
It is a colorful, mish-mash of merchandise -- a wall of costume jewelry, a wall of purses, counters containing flip-flops, sun hats, and pots and pans. There is artwork, artificial flowers and knick-knacks scattered about. In other words, Whatever...
"I was afraid it was going to be another thrift store," Donna Brewer said, as she surveyed the back porch of the store -- which is filled with large pots and fountains. "They've got cute stuff, very reasonably priced. I'm pleasantly surprised."
The grand opening was the social event of the year, as people packed the aisles to survey the merchandise -- or blocked aisles to talk with friends. Store employees gave away t-shirts, handed out tickets for drawings and offered trays of snacks.
"When was the last time you saw this many people in a store in Salem," Dixie Harris asked. Harris worked at Short's Hardware from 1982 until it closed in 2002.
"Being in here brings back lots and lots of memories," Harris said. "I like what they've done with the store."
Fowlke's sister and business partner, Becky Harber, said the two made trips to merchandise shows in Dallas and Las Vegas to buy the variety of goods they decided to sell.
"It was eight days of non-stop shopping. The idea is to have a variety, so there is something for everyone," Harber said. "We didn't buy a lot of any one item. We want to continually be putting out fresh items, so people always see something new."
95-year old Irene Short, who opened Short's Hardware in 1946 with her husband, Charles, was a guest of honor.
Seated near the rear of the store, people were constantly stopping to talk to her about the building's long history. Surveying how the store had been freshened up, while maintaining its weathered wood floors, metal ceilings and big old safe, Short said, "I think it's fun. I'm glad I came."
Short was excited about more than just Whatever's opening. "I'm so happy about the whole square. It's on the upswing. There are hardly any vacant stores left."
Fowlkes agreed. "People are fixing buildings up. The Bead Shop just painted its front, and we painted our building next door to it, and Jim Short is planning to paint his building."
"This is a fun store, and everyone in town is here. It should draw people from all over the area, so it should help all of us merchants on the square," Kellie Lewis, the owner of the Ozark Bead Company, said, as she stood in line waiting to pay for a Mother's Day present she had found.
Lewis added with a guilty laugh, "The only thing I don't like is, it is too close to my store. I'll be down here all the
time buying stuff."