Keetoowah General Store celebrates its one-year anniversary
STORY/PHOTOS BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
EDITOR, GIDUWA CHEROKEE NEWS
KENWOOD – The Keetoowah General Store celebrated its one-year anniversary under the ownership of the United Keetoowah Band on Jan. 13 and steadily continues to grow under the tribe’s tenure.
“The store is doing great,” said Charles Smoke, Saline district councilor. “We have some hardworking women running the store and it’s doing so good, the store itself is paying their wages. The tribe doesn’t even have to do that. It was tough at times in the beginning, but we’ve lined out all the issues. Business has really picked up.”
Keetoowah General Store Manager Devon Fisher agrees.
“I've only been watching the finances for the last year, but our sales have definitely gone up when comparing the records from the previous year,” she said. “I have a lot more customers come in. They seem to be really happy about the tribe owning the store and all my employees seem to be a lot happier now as well.”
The store has been a mainstay of Kenwood for decades under various owners, serving the community by offering groceries and fresh produce, deli meats, fried food, soda, candy and even household necessities such as soap and toilet paper.
Smoke bought the store and the building behind it in early 2020 using COVID-19 relief funds to serve as a community building and possible sub-office for the tribe in addition to the storefront.
“It worked out even better than I hoped for,” said Smoke. “When we first got our COVID money, all the council people were buying community buildings in their districts. Chief Joe Bunch asked me if I had anything going, so I decided to drive around looking. I was coming around the back side of Kenwood towards the store and I saw outside that there was a sign that it was for sale. Next thing you know, all four officers are talking with the owner and suddenly we’re buying the store and everything with it.”
The tribe has already made several improvements to the store throughout its first year, buying new card readers and EBT machines for food stamps, new grills for staff to cook on and improving the walk-in freezer.
The store has also recently received new signage with the Keetoowah logo.
Other improvements are also in the works, according to Smoke.
“Hopefully we’ll have gas there. I don’t know how soon, but we are looking at that and working on it. That’s something it had at one time and the community really needs again,” he said. “We also want to paint, replace equipment that needs replaced, stuff like that.”
As for the proposed community building behind the store, Smoke said the tribe is currently in the process of receiving renovation bids to complete water and electrical work.
“We’ve got a good start. We can actually say we’re moving forward and trying to renovate the building,” he said. “There is a community building already in Kenwood, but we have to pay to use it. Once we renovate our building, we won’t have to pay for it and we could put an office there. The secretary has talked about having somebody there full-time or part-time so people wouldn’t have to make the trip all the way to Tahlequah if they need services. That’s the plan if we can just get rid of this COVID stuff. I’m looking forward to that.”
Though the building is awaiting renovations for future Saline district meetings, the store itself is already giving community members a place to gather.
“We do we have regular customers that come in. They like to sit down and just pass the time. They strike up a conversation with whoever comes in, because you know, it's a small community. Everybody knows everybody. I think it's plays a pretty big part in the community,” said Fisher.
After a year of trial and error, the store continues to prove its merit to the tribe.
“I think the store was a great buy for us,” said Smoke. “It’s not holding us down. It’s taking care of itself. It’s a good community here and it’s a dream come true for us to own the store and hopefully do great things for everyone in Kenwood with it.”
Smoke said he plans to host a celebratory hog fry for the community once COVID-19 levels have dropped and it is safe to gather in larger numbers.
The Keetoowah General Store is located at 923 County Road 487 Salina, OK. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For store info, please call 918-434-5792.