HOBSON CITY — This town’s only store, Ross Handy Mart, opens at 6 a.m., and every morning for more than 31 years, its namesake, Billy “Buck” Ross, has been there to open it up. Depending on the day of the week, he’s there at 10 or 11 at night, too, to lock the register and close the doors.
“The cashiers weren’t accustomed,” Ross said. “I did that.”
Inside the tiny store on the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and McPherson Street, cigarettes and cigars sit behind the counter, beer and soft drinks in coolers line two of the walls, and candy bars and other snacks stock shelves — where, as of Aug. 1, Ross is no longer proprietor. In the next few weeks, the convenience store will no longer bear his name.
It now belongs to Ali Gowani, who shuffled around the store’s shelves on Thursday, straightening the things for sale.
The 61-year-old said he did not understand or speak English well, but that he’s been in the U.S. two years. In his native country of Pakistan, he’d owned other businesses.
“Here, it is different,” he said of owning one in Hobson City.
Gowani has not yet received a license to sell beer and wine from Alabama’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, so coolers containing the same inside are locked, for now. The store sold its last drop July 31, Ross said.
Customers “don’t like it at all,” he said of the temporary prohibition, which he feels has likely hurt business. If folks can’t buy their beer, cigarettes and snacks in one convenient stop, he notes, they’ll likely find another store to shop.
Gowani, though, has made steps toward getting a license of his own. The Hobson City Town Council approved an application for that license on Monday, according to Mayor Alberta McCrory.
Jessica Burke, in charge of licensing and compliance at the agency’s office in Anniston, said she’d reviewed the application and sent it on to the board’s headquarters in Montgomery, where it must receive final approval. That may not come until next week, Burke said.
If the store’s new owner gets the license before the town’s Founders Day celebration culminates in a reunion at the Hobson City park this weekend, Ross said, “he’d be booming.”
Otherwise, it’ll mean a missed opportunity.
Ross is still hanging around, he said Thursday, to help Gowani in the transition. “It’s fine, right now,” he said of that change. “He kept my old employees ... Everything is running pretty smooth.”
Ross has heard from longtime customers, he said, concerned over whether alcohol prices inside the store will go up with new ownership. That remains to be seen, he said.
For certain it means a change of name, to Hobson City Food Mart. Ross has mixed feelings about that.
“I think it’ll be great if they run it right, and the people will be happy,” he said. If the new owner leaves something to be desired — well, Ross is glad his name won’t be associated with the operation, he said.
Customers came and went Thursday afternoon, pumping gas or stepping inside for a drink or cigarettes.
“We’re going to miss Mr. Buck,” one woman said as she paid for her gas. Few others mentioned the change, and Ross said he didn’t feel particularly sad about it.
A cable modem was recently installed in the store. It was hidden away behind the counter, and means that soon, customers will be able to pay with debit or credit cards. Historically the store’s cashiers accepted cash, check or food stamps.
With so many of his customers receiving government assistance of some kind, Ross said, “I don’t know who they think is going to use a credit card in here.”