Falls calling it a career after 58 years on Buchanan’s Main Street

An icon in Buchanan’s downtown is going home—at least some days he’ll be at home.

After 58 years of retailing on one side of Main Street or the other, Bobby Falls has decided to retire.

Bobby Falls poses reluctantly for a picture on a couch in his furniture store. Falls has been a fixture on Buchanan’s Main Street since the 1950s when he worked for then owned Buchanan Hardware. He added furniture to the hardware before it was sold a few years ago then expanded the furniture line to create The Family Furniture Gallery. Photo by Ed McCoy
Bobby Falls poses reluctantly for a picture on a couch in his furniture store. Falls has been a fixture on Buchanan’s Main Street since the 1950s when he worked for then owned Buchanan Hardware. He added furniture to the hardware before it was sold a few years ago then expanded the furniture line to create The Family Furniture Gallery. Photo by Ed McCoy

And in the process, he’s having a “Retirement Sale” at The Family Furniture Gallery.

The 75-year-old Falls isn’t abandoning Main Street completely after all these years, though. While he’ll be retired, wife Barbara will probably have him help out some days in her frame and art gallery that’s next door.

Falls might frown on being considered an institution in Buchanan’s business community, but he certainly qualifies.

He ran and co-owned the old Buchanan Hardware for many years before selling that business and expanding the furniture lines he’d been accumulating as part of the hardware.

After selling the hardware and seeing it move up the street in January 2000, he opened The Family Furniture Gallery in the old hardware space.

He and his family gradually fixed up the building and bought more furniture to fill up the rambling space on two floors that now has living room, dining room, kitchen, lighting, rugs and other furnishings.

Falls wants to be in retirement within the next 60 days.

“Barbara and I both have birthdays in November, and our 52nd wedding anniversary is in November,” Falls explained with a smile. “It’s about time I’m quitting.”

He said the furniture business has been good. “I’ve been asked, ‘How do you compete with those big stores?’” Falls said. “I say, ‘I don’t. They have to compete with me.’”

He’s starting his “Retirement Sale” this week, and he considers it a true sale.

He’s never liked marketing techniques that emphasize price cutting and sales that aren’t really sales, and he isn’t going to have that kind of sale as he prepares to lock the doors behind him for the last time.

He’s prided himself on offering quality furniture at prices that he considers quite fair—almost always at better prices than customers would find at the large furniture stores.

His retirement sale will be simple. “Everything in stock will be 50 percent off,” he said.

He will special order for a limited time, though, and discounts will vary on those orders.

Closing the store will leave an empty space on Main Street, but the building will be for sale and he hopes it will move quickly so it isn’t empty long.

Falls’ journey to this point in his career began as an unassuming teenager at the old Buchanan High School.

“I started to work (in the hardware) in March 1952 when I was a junior in high school. Wayne Graves owned it and was in the Army,” Falls explained.

“They asked Mrs. Clara Ford (a teacher) for a recommendation of someone to do some bookkeeping. She gave them my name.”

Falls worked that spring and summer, but he gave up the job his senior year so he could play sports. He went back to work in the hardware after graduating in 1953.

At that time, the hardware was on the west side of Main Street.

The only time he’s been absent from Main Street was when he went in the Navy in January 1956. Still, he worked some weekends when he was in on leave.

He got out of the Navy in December 1959 and was back at the hardware full time in January 1960.

Thirteen years later, in 1973, store owners Bill Cundiff and Graves decided to sell Buchanan Hardware and Lexington Hardware to Falls and partner John Hammit. Falls had been running the Buchanan store and Hammit ran the Lexington store.

In 1980, they bought the building that had housed a furniture and appliance store and Falls moved Buchanan Hardware from the west side of Main across the street to the location he’s now in.

Eventually, Hammit retired and they closed Lexington Hardware.

After a quarter of a century as a hardware store owner, Falls decided he, too, wanted a less cumbersome retail career so he and Hammit sold Buchanan Hardware, and it moved a few doors south on Main Street.

“It’s something different every day,” Falls said of the retail trade, “in hardware especially.”

Nothing was as different as the 1985 Flood, though. The James River was at the hardware’s front door that November night. “But good comes out of all things,” Falls recalled.

“Jack Fowler and Jimmy Baber knocked on my door at 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said. The river had already flooded Lowe Street and the lower-lying parts of Main Street. The town was totally black with no electricity. “They wanted to know if they could help us,” Falls said. “You never forget those kinds of things.”

Falls said when he started working at the hardware in the 1950s, he believes there were four car dealerships, two hardwares, three barbershops, a shoe store, a furniture store, about four grocery stores, two banks, a newspaper, restaurants and some smaller shops.

Of course, he said laughing, “I was 17 years old. I wasn’t paying attention to what businesses were in town.”

Also, there was T.W. DeLong’s clothing store. “Mr. DeLong was one special merchant in town,” Falls recalled. He and his two sisters were very active in Lithia Methodist Church, and he set an example Falls tried to emulate. “He was an excellent man, and was always special to me.”

“Things were different then. Naturally, they were,” Falls said.

As Main Streets across the country began to fade because of malls and big box stores, and a changing society, Buchanan’s downtown faltered as well—and the 1985 Flood only exacerbated that.

But Buchanan town officials eventually got Va. Tech to work on a plan for revitalizing the town, and in the 1990s the town hired a revitalization manager—Harry Gleason.

Falls credits Gleason with pulling together the interests in the downtown so that today there are few if any empty storefronts—although most are much different from Buchanan’s Main Street of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

The Fallses have supported that effort, too, first with the hardware and then with The Family Furniture Gallery and Barbara’s Frame Shop & Gallery.

Falls still recalls one of the hardest days he’s ever had. That was 40 years ago in April.

He was reminded of it on Memorial Day.

Johnny Hill was the only Buchanan resident who was killed in Vietnam. His mother worked at Buchanan Hardware for Falls.

Dickie Beard, then a deputy with the Botetourt Sheriff’s Department, came in and asked if Falls could get Mrs. Hill home without her walking up the street.

She usually walked home for lunch, Falls said.

She didn’t know her son had been killed and the deputy didn’t want her to meet someone along the street who might have heard the news before military officials could tell her.

“I asked her if she’d go home early for lunch that day, and I’d drive her,” Falls said. He made some excuse for needing to do that, and Mrs. Hill agreed.

Falls dropped her off at her home, and as he was turning around a chaplain and military man were coming down the sidewalk.

Falls said Henry Swartz, his mentor in the hardware business, was working in his yard. “I stopped to tell him about Johnny and he sat down and cried.” Swartz had lost a son in World War II.

What will he do during retirement? “I thought I’d stay in the mountains a lot,” Falls said, “but Barbara informed me I could set in the frame shop some.”

He expects he’ll have to look after his friend and outdoor companion Buddy Vines quite a bit, too.

Falls and Vines like following bear chases and enjoying the thousands of acres of back country that surround Buchanan. They’re regulars, too, at some James River High School sporting events where Falls just had a grandson graduate.

He’s one of seven by the Fallses’ four children.

“I thought when my first grandchild was born 18 years ago I’d spend some time with the little ones,” Falls said. “Now the youngest grandchild is 10 years old. I guess I can spend some time with each of them now.”

Falls expects his Retirement Sale to take a little while until the store is empty—like those 60 days.

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