Bullock’s Feed Store might have been an Artesia landmark for nearly a century, but to Kent Bullock it was so much more. As a kid it was a prime location for hide-and-seek, and a nook at the top of the store provided the perfect lookout location where he could enjoy expansive views of the town. As time passed, it became his place of employment and a family heirloom.
To residents and visitors alike, the large, iconic building at the corner of First and Main was synonymous with life in Artesia. In fact, people were so used to seeing it there that once the walls came down earlier this year, news of its demolition spread like wildfire through the Twitter and Facebook feeds.
“People kept sending me pictures and messages and it was really hard,” said Alise Mullen, Kent’s middle daughter. “It was hard enough to know it was happening, but I think that made it even worse.”
“I couldn’t even drive by there for a long time,” Kent recalled, his eyes a bit misty. “It’s hard; very hard.”
Bullock’s Feed Store closed its doors two years ago, and Kent worked tirelessly since then trying to find a buyer for the historic old building. “I really hoped someone would buy it and remodel it for a restaurant or something,” he said. “I went to everyone I knew of that I thought would have the means to buy it, but I could never find a buyer that could pay what I was asking.”
Heeding the advice of his accountant, Kent begrudgingly sold the building and its location to an IHOP franchise, which is currently in the process of building a new restaurant. “I was losing money every day I had it, and I could only continue that for so long before something had to give,” he said.
Kent’s decision was a tough one because as one would imagine, watching the demise of a family-owned business with a rich history brought a fair amount of guilt as well as sadness. But as times change, so too do people’s needs and demands. The economy, industry and just the world in general is much different today than it was a century ago when Bullock’s first opened.
In the early 1900s, E.B. Bullock and his brother, Tom Bullock, both of whom were born and raised in Waco, Texas, moved to Hereford, Texas, to begin farming. By all accounts, farming was difficult in those parts, so the brothers moved their hay baling equipment to Artesia, hoping for better conditions in Southeastern New Mexico. Once they arrived, their mindset shifted as they saw a need for a local feed store.
So in 1912, the two brothers established Bullock Brothers Feed and Coal in a building on the northwest corner of First and Main Streets, the current location of Stripes Convenience Store. “Back then – before the oil and gas exploration began here – people heated their homes with coal,” Kent, grandson to E.B. Bullock, noted. “My grandfather and his brother started out selling feed and coal, which back then was a good business to be in.”
“Back then,” he noted, “it was not unusual for houses inside the city limits to have cows and chickens in their backyards, so the Bullock brothers saw a lucrative business opportunity in the feed and coal industry.”
Soon after they opened the store, though, Tom Bullock decided to walk away from the family business and left
it all to E.B. The same year, 1912, E.B.’s son, Charles, better known as Charlie, was born, followed in 1914 by the birth of another son, Bill. His two sons followed in their father’s footsteps and later went into the family business, which eventually came to be called E.B. Bullock and Sons.
In 1917, E.B. moved the store across the street, to the southeast corner of the same intersection, so the store would have a rail siding (the railroad tracks ran parallel to the building). “Another thing a lot of people don’t know is that the building that was recently torn down was not the original building they built on that site,” Kent noted. The original building was destroyed by a fire in the 1930s and the Bullocks rebuilt at the same location.
A sign of the times, Kent leaned over with his iPad and began swiping his finger across the screen until he came across an old black and white photo of a bathroom stall. “My Uncle Bill built this bathroom in the new building, and you can see right here where he wrote his name on the wall,” Kent said with a chuckle. The photo depicts his uncle’s name, Bill Bullock, and the date July 14, 1936, inscribed on the wall, one of the precious photos Kent clings to as he comes to terms with the building’s demolition.
In addition to the feed store, the Bullock family maintained a feed yard for many years on Richey Avenue, just to the west of the current location of the John Deere store. “A lot of people don’t know about the feed yard we had,” Kent said. “But that was the main reason my family started the feed store — to manufacture feed for our own cattle and hogs.”
Although E.B. and Tom Bullock both had other children, none of them seemed to take an interest in the business like Charles did. “My Uncle Bill had four children, but none of them really took much interest in the store,” Kent said. “They did some work there and so did my uncle, but they never wanted to make a career out of it like my dad did.”
As time progressed and generations were added to the Bullock family, Kent would be the last of them to take the reins as an owner. “I always loved being down there,” he said as a smile swept across his face. “Even as a kid, as soon as I got out of school, I’d hop on my bike and ride down to the store. I always loved it there.”
After high school Kent went on to attend New Mexico State University, where he obtained a degree in general agriculture. He then took accounting courses at Lubbock Christian University, hoping to be able to use his newfound knowledge at his family’s store. “I’d come home during breaks and work at the store; it’s just what I liked to do,” he recalls.
Over the next 30 years, Kent made his livelihood at the feed store. Days were long and stress was abundant, but he never regretted his decision, he said.
Perhaps it’s the fact that he practically grew up there or the fact that his customers became like family, or probably even both, that made closing the doors especially difficult. “It’s still hard to come to terms with,” he admits. “I think the hardest thing, other than the guilt I feel, is not getting to see my customers. I liked visiting with them; you develop true friendships and I miss that.”
For the past year-and-a-half, even before selling the building, Kent has been employed by Wilbanks Trucking, a job he says he is grateful to have even though working for “someone else” has been an adjustment. “It’s nice to be able to come home and not have to worry about bills or anything else,” he said. “I can leave work at work.”
He added, “It’s also been fun to be able to learn new things. I like the challenge of learning about the oil field and different back roads and so forth, things I didn’t know anything about before.”
While the memory of the old feed store still lingers fresh in his mind, he has come to be at peace with his decision to sell it. “It’s still hard but I can at least drive by now, so that’s a step,” he admits. As far as pancakes go, let’s just say he’s not opposed to enjoying a nice Sunday brunch at the same location where he once made an honest living and abundant memories.