Belinda Davison was raised in Caddo and voted “most popular” in high school. She did what most young people did- moved off to the big city- living in Dallas, Wichita Falls, TX and Wichita, KS. But she moved back to Caddo when her first child was ready for school because she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and raise her children in a small close-knit community. She wanted to go home. She’s been back for over twenty eight years and still loves it.
Belinda is living her dream as the owner of a small variety store that she loved as a child. She has owned Craighead’s for almost four years, but it has only been open for two years. The reason for that time lapse is a story of unbelievable determination and strength of will.
Craighead’s is a variety store that has been a Caddo fixture for generations. It sells gifts, novelties, books, baby needs, house wares, toys, candy, jewelry, piece goods, stationary, flowers, balloons, and the work of local crafters. The Craighead family established their business in Caddo 1934. It was located in two other buildings before moving to its present location at 113 Buffalo, former home of the Boone & Styron, and then the Ellis Department Store. Once known as The Notion Shop, and later as Craighead’s Variety Store, it became so familiar that folks just referred to it as Craighead’s. After Mr. and Mrs. L.N. Craighead retired, their daughter, Maurine took over the business. In the fifties and sixties it was the place to shop, especially for gifts.
Craighead’s holds a lot of fond memories for local residents. Belinda recalls one of her favorites, “I remember one time as a child I had found an Indian head penny on the floor of the old Rex Theater and I had never seen one. I tucked it away in my billfold. Then I accidentally spent it one day at Craighead’s. I returned to the store and Maurine’s pa, after teasing me a bit, gave it back to me.”
With the years advancing and her health slowly deteriorating, Maurine finally decided to close the store. One day she asked Belinda to help her get some personal belongings moved from the store before selling it.
That day as Belinda helped Maurine pack up the store the idea began to grow in her heart and mind that she might own Craigheads, the store that had meant so much to her childhood. She rushed home to talk to her husband, Gary, and together they dreamed of restoring the store to it’s former glory.
Friends and family asked her if she was going to save a “souvenir” from the store. She did indeed- she bought the whole thing. “I couldn’t just save something from the store. It was sad to me to know that an era was going to end.” Belinda decided to take over the business to help save a part of history and carry on a tradition in her hometown.
A friend captured the moment on January 30th, 2002 when Maurine and Belinda exchanged the keys to the store. “It was sad and happy, an ending and a beginning, the dreams of the future and memories of the past all rolled up in two exhausted women,” Belinda remembers. “I had always dreamed of being the owner of Craighead’s. I imagined myself sweeping the sidewalk in front of the store and greeting customers. Now it was a reality… and a huge challenge.”
The years and elements had not been kind to the building. It needed a new roof, ceiling and west wall. The beautiful ceiling tiles were still in place. The turn-of-the-century store front with it’s broad display windows was still intact. The memories of seven decades could be captured again in the feel of the wooden floors and the squeak of the revolving comic book rack. But there was lots of work ahead.
They hired carpenter James Wingfield who shared their dream of salvaging and renovating the store, not just tearing it up and starting over. It was very difficult. The store was full of new and vintage merchandise that had to be stored and protected during the remodeling process. They began at the back of the store and worked forward, first restoring the sky light. They had to find replacement parts for things that were made a hundred years ago. Bill Boydstun, owner of the local machine shop was a life saver. He simply created whatever they needed.
The store is one hundred feet long and the renovation process was twenty-five feet from the front of the store. Belinda could visualize its completion. She was even in the process of applying for National Historic Register status for the store and some other downtown buildings and was scheduled to meet with them on a Saturday. On Wednesday, May 15, 2002, tragedy struck. “The support column on the west side of our building had moved and was now leaning. We had contacted the city for barricades and safety tape and had ordered equipment to stabilize the front. Unfortunately the front 25 feet of the building, and our dreams, collapsed before we could stop it.” The front of the store lay in a heap of rubble. “My husband and I were devastated, but just so very thankful that no one was hurt.”
As soon as the dust settled the Davisons began the arduous task of picking up thousands of bricks and placing them in orderly stacks. “My family and friends came and began picking up bricks. People from the community started coming in cars and by foot. Many cried to see the beloved landmark in heaps on the street. There was a big gaping whole in the middle of our historical downtown district.” Local residents helped with the cleanup effort. Young children helped pick up bricks. Women brought food and water. Men moved heavy broken ceiling beams. City workers used their equipment to haul away debris. Most of the group worked until midnight. But the real work had just begun.
Belinda and her husband, Gary began cleaning brick on their front sidewalk on Memorial Day. They were still cleaning brick on their front sidewalk on Labor Day. “People loaned us big umbrellas and canopies to work under and protected us from the hot summer sun.” Family and friends brought them cleaning tools and gloves and air compressor to help in the time-consuming task. “People coming by would sit a spell and clean bricks or they would come by with new suggestions and methods for cleaning faster or more efficiently.”
“Our whole life revolved around the renovation of the store, day and night. Gary and I wore ourselves out moving heavy antique store fixtures and merchandise, trying to keep them out of the way of the renovations and protecting from the elements.” The collapse came during one of the wettest seasons on record. They removed the tarps to work during the day and then had to replace them all each evening if there was rain forecast. “We slept with the television turned to the weather channel so we would hear the alarm if there was a thunderstorm.” About 25% of the store’s merchandise was lost, not due to the collapse, but because of a major storm that hit the day after it- before they could get everything covered with tarps. “That was the lowest point during the process.” Surprisingly they lost nothing to vadalism. After he found some children playing hide-n-seek in the store, Gary decided to stay on the property for a few nights. But nothing was harmed or stolen.
Many people waited anxiously for the reopening of the store. Others, however, assumed after the collapse that the “Craighead’s era” was over, and the store wouldn’t survive. Belinda never gave that a thought. “It never entered our minds not to go on. We just picked up the pieces, LOTS of pieces, and moved forward. There were nights when we questioned how we were going to work out the problem. But we never gave up.”
The community of Caddo joined together to have a fund raiser for the Davison’s store. They held a community hamburger supper with a silent auction along with a pie and cake auction. Belinda won’t say how much was raised, only that it was “amazing”. But the funds weren’t the only “boost” for the Davison family. “My family and I will never forget the kindness this community showed us during a very hard time. This community is wonderful, truly wonderful.”
Belinda opened a small section of the renovated store for the 2003 Caddo Heritage Celebration so residents could see their progress. She maintained partial business hours for most of 2004 and then opened full-time in December of 2004. “Today when someone comes in and says the store reminds them of a store from their childhood, or a local resident comes in and says the store looks just like it did when they were a kid, that’s the best compliment Gary and I could ever hope to get!”
Belinda’s dream for her business is for it to be as well-known and important to the community as it was for past generations. She sells t-shirts that say “step back in time at Craighead’s Five and Dime”. She wants that trip to be reminiscent of the days when customers were neighbors and friends. She wants customers to not only buy her merchandise, but enjoy the experience of shopping in the store. She loves the daily challenges and creative opportunities of being her own boss. She and her husband are still remodeling and adding finishing touches to the store. They still have the upstairs closed off. “Sometimes we think the store will never be finished. Then we look at photos of where we started from and we feel quite proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Belinda invests her time and energy in much more than just her business. She loves the secure, familiar feel of Caddo’s old downtown and thinks Caddo needs more recognition for what it has to offer. She is the leader of the Town Restoration Association of Caddo (TRAC), a local organization whose mission is “to provide visionary leadership, focus on historical preservation, and promote economic growth to enrich the quality of life in our community.” Belinda has been instrumental in several beautification projects and continues to be an inspiration to those who wish to follow their dream.
“Step back in time at Craighead’s Five and Dime” is more than just the motto printed on their t-shirts. It’s a philosophy based on old fashioned customer service that is alive and well in Caddo, Oklahoma, thanks to the dream of Belinda Davison.