After close to four decades of opening for business every day, Buddy Strong said he has no idea what he will do with himself after his Holly Bluff service station and hardware store caught on fire early Monday morning.
“I have been going to work for almost 40 years,” Strong said. “I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. I will have to find something else to do. Last night, it really hit me hard. I just don’t know what to do.”
Price Oil was the last remaining service station and one of the few last remaining retailers in the Holly Bluff community. But around 3 a.m. last Monday, the community staple was ablaze as three volunteer fire departments fought to contain the flames. The structure continued to burn with later sparks throughout the next day.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Strong said he has “theories.”
“It wasn’t spontaneous combustion,” Strong said. “I have a strong suspicion that it was arson, but that is all I am going to say about that.”
A resident of Rolling Fork, Strong has made the 15-mile journey to Holly Bluff daily to open his business for close to 40 years.
“This Jan. 1 would have made 39 years,” Strong said. “We sold gas, but our biggest business came from the hardware and farm supply side of it. I have been running it by myself for a while after cutting some of my labor. But it is because the farming practice has changed so much. Things are just different from what they use to be.”
Strong survived the recent backwater flood, adapting the best he could. Now the fire is another obstacle he has to face.
Strong said the building was first constructed in 1940. He also said that RJ Hatchett opened a service station there and supplied the entire community with their fuel and other needs.
“He sold a lot of pump fuel back then because that was when the small tractor were gas burners,” Strong said. “He supplied everybody from Holly Bluff to Satartia to Louise, pretty much the whole area. You could get your tires fixed there, but Mr. Hatchett was also a cotton buyer.”
Shifting ownership through the years, the building has served as a main post of commerce, service and conversation within the Holly Bluff community for decades. Many remember always seeing a greeting face at the front door. One resident said he could recall being told by one employee years ago that if he wanted to play inside the store, “there was always the gym down the road.”
For now, the remains of the building only remind the community of years of service, dedication and down-home business.
“I will turn 80 years old in February,” Strong said. “I am too old to start over. I guess I will retire from it. Things happen, I guess.”