Tuesday, July 5, 2022 Jul 5, 2022
87° F Dallas, TX


Ninety-nine years of cracker-barrel basics
By Richard West |

AT H. BOEDEKER & Sons, you can buy a mousetrap just like you can at any supermarket. They’re over by the grocery items, not far from Butcher Moore in the back, a few aisles over from the hardware. The batteries are up front near the big Dearborn heater and the large black safe.

But there the similarity ends. At Boe-deker’s, you’re apt to hear fellows in overalls swapping mouse-killing tales. Eighty-year-old Jess Epps, general manager emeritus, has listened to them for the last 64 years, ever since he was hired for $12 a week in 1920 to wrap bread baked by his father in Boedeker’s bakery. It was a $9 raise from four years before when, as a 13-year-old, Jess worked part-time.

That was when he got to know theowner’s son, Waller, who was just Jess’age. Everybody at the store called Waller”boss” until 1938, when he movedon to bigger things. Today, the last surviving Boedeker works down the street as the owner and president of Modern Olds.

Boedeker’s has endured for 99 consecutive years at the same Oak Cliff location, 113 N. Lancaster. It’s an old-fashioned, 20-foot-ceilinged, “we deliver,” hanging light-globed general store not more than a mile from glittering downtown Dallas. Out front near the street are the iron hitching rings where farmers once tied their teams. Those were the days when young Jess Epps would wheel out the barrels of apples, lard and pickles and collect the eggs, butter, vegetables, and the corn and wheat that was ground out back.

Neighbors would gather on Saturday nights to see who could sell the most produce. The store had to sell it all, since they had no icebox to keep perishables fresh until Monday. Jess was there when the building was remodeled in 1921, when they closed the bakery in 1936 after Mrs. Baird’s Bread opened, in the Forties when the store’s first robber saw the safe’s bomb explode and money blew all over the neighborhood, and when Boe-deker’s was the largest Frigidaire dealer in Dallas in the Fifties.

“This Boedeker’s. Jess Epps,” he answers, looking dapper in a blue cardigan sweater, blue shirt, tie and gray slacks. He sits between the bread and the paper plates at the same high-topped desk where he worked as general manager from 1938 until 1974, when Claude Tinsley, a newcomer who arrived in 1945, took over.

“Ed, you’re out of luck. She only makes vegetable soup when it’s cold, but we got chili-flavored hobo beans for 75 cents a pint. Come on down.” “She” is Mrs. Moore, the butcher’s wife, who occasionally prepares heavenly soups for sale in the store.

“I just loved the grocery business from the start,” says Jess. “And Mr. Boedeker was the best boss a man could have. Once a year, we’d talk business for half an hour and he’d always say, ’Just keep it goin’.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Continuity, keeping it going. Jess has lived in Oak Cliff since 1907, has been married for 60 years (he married Olivia McClain in May 1924), has been a member of the First Baptist Church of Oak Cliff for 50 years and a member of the Oak Cliff Lions Club for 44 years, and hasn’t missed a state convention of the Texas Retail Grocers Association since 1936. (He was one of the founders of Affiliated Food Stores in 1946, and served on its board of directors for six years.) Along the way, Jess served under three mayors as a member of the Dallas City Council from 1947 to 1953.

“Well, times change,” Jess said. “Weonly deliver on Saturdays now, but westill take care of our customers-check upon them if we hadn’t heard from them inawhile, advance them a little money if agovernment check is late or lost. We stilltake care of the Carey sisters, whoopened an account here in the Twenties.My sons think I’m crazy-one’s an architect [owner of Jess S. Epps Jr. Architecture], the other is the chief accounting officer at Southwestern Life [David O.Epps is also a senior vice president]-for staying here so long. But, you know,what you love don’t hurt you.”