Remembering Cowan’s Hardware

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, April 28, 2016

John Cowan had a grocery in the middle of that North Trade Street block when I worked for Seth Vining Sr. at the Bulletin office during WWII. John helped to keep the Bulletin alive by regularly running a two-page spread ad. As a boy, I often set the large type for the ads, and later cast the “cuts” to illustrate them.

John also helped to keep my family alive as well, for my Mother worked for him as bookkeeper during that time. John was also Mayor of Tryon for a number of years. Cowan’s grocery at that time was in the building that more recently held the hardware store, and included a feed store as well.

John built the big building for his supermarket around 1951 that John Gargiulo bought and remodeled extensively into the “Shops of Tryon.” The feed store disappeared long ago, and now the hardware store is gone, too.

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My late brother, Bill, and I used to come back here, he from California and I from Virginia, to visit Aunt Mildred Rippy on Rippy Hill, our boyhood home. Bill and I would take one morning to walk Trade Street to visit friends. Bill played football for Tryon High with Jim Cowan, and he would always chide Jim about coming out of the huddle rubbing his hands together.

Jim served on the Polk County School Board for years, finally giving that up before also giving up the hardware store. Many of us will miss Jim’s famous train whistle imitation, but he says he can still do the muted trumpet. You may still hear Jim online doing both, plus a bit more, here:

I don’t remember anything else on that block except the Sinclair Service Station that has most recently become the St. Luke’s Plaza, Tucker’s Shoe Repair shop, and Andrews Furniture Company. A. J. Cowan’s Rock Grill and the Lily Flower Shoppe/Tryon Fuel Supply were across the street, nestled under the Southern Railway tracks.

My grandfather, T. A. Rippy, built the Sinclair station mid-30s for my Uncle Ethan, and my Dad helped with the construction. By the time I was a teen, Uncle Ethan had moved on, and the gas station had become the Trailways Bus Station. It housed many enterprises over the years, including St. Luke’s Hospital’s Thrift Store before the Town of Tryon did the extensive remodeling into the plaza there today.

A Tucker family operated a thriving shoe repair business north of Cowan’s; their building may have been lost to the parking lot. R.O. Andrews owned a fine furniture store where St. Luke’s Thrift Store is now; the late R. B. Scruggs bought out Andrews and sold more fine furniture there for years.

The Rock Grill was demolished some years ago; I have wondered whether those rocks were used to build the stairs and clock tower that are near its former location. Tom Costa owned the Tryon Fuel Supply and Mrs. Costa’s Lily Flower Shoppe that was in those brick buildings c.1940. He also built the rock dwelling that later became Stonehedge; the late John Vollmer and my Dad worked on the original landscaping.

The ill-conceived routing of I-26 up Miller Mountain resulted in mud slides (too much mica in the dirt) that washed all the construction down the mountain and filled Costa’s lake, re-routed creeks, and generally made a big mess of things in the 80s.

With all the money gone and still no road, all traffic was routed up US176 while the engineers tried to figure out how to save the Interstate. I am glad that I was living in Virginia then!