In May 1997, Harold Duren purchased the old City Pharmacy on the northeast corner of the square as a shop for his handmade wooden furniture. However, the first people to knock on his doors weren’t furniture customers; they were residents who wanted to know if he would continue to operate the popular soda fountain in the store.
More than 13 years later those same residents are long-time customers and cherished friends who now have to say goodbye to their favorite lunch-time stop, A Touch of Country.
The café-style restaurant, soda fountain, furniture store and "In the Heat of the Night" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" museum is closing down and the equipment is being sold. The store will sell its last meal July 10 and the furniture store will close its doors for good July 15.
"Saying goodbye to our customers is hard. We’ve gotten to know everything about them and see their little babies grow up," said Dianne Duren. "When we tell people we’re closing, some of them start crying. You don’t realize how much the store meant to them until you tell them you’re closing."
The Durens are closing up shop for the same reason as most small businesses, the slowing economy. Dianne said the lunch business has been way down recently.
"We wouldn’t see people for a while, and they’d stop by and say we’re still around, but we lost our jobs or we have to bring a bag lunch to save money," she said.
Harold said they were able to remain open longer than many because of the two diverse businesses under one roof.
"We had never been in the food business before. But the two businesses complimented each others, because the handmade furniture brought a country look to the old time soda fountain. Also, if business for one of them would slow, the other one could carry us," he said.
The decision to close was tough, but made much easier by an offer from a fellow square business owner. One day, this owner heard Harold talking about retiring, and she offered to buy the equipment. Dianne said the new owner asked to remain anonymous, because she has special plans for the store; Harold said the new business would be along similar lines.
"Sometimes when you need to make a decision, the decision is made for you. She made an offer we couldn’t refuse," Dianne said. "We prayed for guidance and thought maybe this is the sign."
In addition to being a favorite lunch spot for residents, particularly lawyers on the square, A Touch of Country also houses memorabilia from two of the more famous television series filmed in Covington. Jo McLaney started the museum, but most of the old photos, posters and items are now owned by Anne Womack. Dianne said she expected the museum to move, but its future was undecided.
The museum has been a draw for television fans from around the world, as far away as Australia, Dianne said.
Customers will miss the Duren’s popular homemade chili and their Frito pies and Frito salads. They’ll also miss the soda fountain favorites that have been around since 1924, like milkshakes, chocolate sodas and lemon sours. In a lot of ways, the menu was customer created, Dianne said.
"We added items as people requested them. If we didn’t know how to make something, they would bring us a recipe," she said.
Harold will continue his furniture making and home remodeling business, which will keep the name A Touch of County. The website, touchesofcountry.com, will also remain and the Durens invited people to e-mail them with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Despite moving back to what he’s always loved, Harold will miss being on the square.
"When I first moved here, I never would have guessed this corner would have been that important to people. But Phil Stone told me recently that one of the hardest things he ever went through, besides his folks passing away, was closing City Pharmacy," Harold said. "You get to know so many people through this. I can relate to that now."