“We want our business to feel like a little piece of the country in the heart of the city.”
Betty Heacker is the owner of Wabash Antiques and Feed Store in the 5700 block of Washington Avenue. It exudes a genuine country comfort, from the wood burning stove to the racks crowed with brands that you don’t find in any big box store, to the sounds of critters in cages. Heacker says the Wabash atmosphere puts people at ease and makes them feel safe.
“If you go into country feed stores you can feel comfortable to say hello to people and to strike up a conversation, if you feel like it. Rod…”All you need are a couple of old guys sitting around playing cards or checkers…’
(Heacker laughing)…We’ve had some people who come do that.”
The store has been in business for a hundred years. For 70-odd years it was known as Consumer Grain and was a few blocks farther up Washington. It moved to its current location almost 18-years ago and it’s safe to say it sells thing not usually found on Houston store shelves.
“We sell a lot of different things. My favorite thing that’s unusual for most people is cow magnets. Most people don’t know what a cow magnet is.
Rod…’That’s true, count me among them’
In the country if you’ve got cows grazing, cows will get into a lot of things. In foraging they’ll pick up little bits of barbed wire or small bits of implements and stuff. If that gets hung in their stomach they can get real sick. A cow magnet is long and cylindrical, it’s stainless steel. You put that in your cattle feed and when that pass through the cows gut and stomachs it picks up any piece of metal all along the way until it goes out the end.
(Laughter) Isn’t that amazing?
Rod…’and you sell those; there is a market for that?
Yeah, we do. Most of them end up as conversation pieces or refrigerator magnets, but they are a powerful little magnet.”
But Wabash sells a lot more than just oddities. There are all kinds of feed and, because a surprisingly large number of people keep chickens, Heacker says she sells tons of chicken feed every week.
And chickens too, some are show chickens, yes people do, some end up on the plate and a lot are kept for their eggs, fresh each morning in the backyard. Heacker says she sells thousands of laying hens a year. Ducks and rabbits, parakeets and puppies and on week-ends you might find a miniature horse or two. And all of this is not to mention all the varieties of plants throughout the year. It is a unique place in an urban setting, not just for what it sells but also for being genuinely interested in helping people.
“That’s what we do. If you’re a little store, if you’re going to survive as a little store then you have to take care of people. It’s sort of a natural aspect of what this store is about.”