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The shop on the corner of Hawkins Drive and Valley Creek Road has attracted a variety of visitors during its 46 years of operation, and Elmer Hicks is one big reason.
As owner of Hicks Repair Service, Hicks, 88, has received visits from customers looking for lawn mower parts, friends looking for conversation over cups of strong coffee and even a rooster with a fondness for cherry tomatoes.
That rooster — which never got a name — wandered into Hicks’ yard, which sits on the same lot as the garage shop. The rooster became a pet for 10 years before dying three or four years ago.
Hicks beams when he tells how his feathered companion would stand protectively between him and any customer he didn’t recognize.
The bond is not that unusual considering Hicks’ nature, his daughters said.
“He feeds all the squirrels,” daughter Connie Bird said.
“I think all of them know where to come,” daughter Nina Casteel interjected.
Furry and feathered visitors are not the only ones who flock to see Hicks.
His shop has become a meeting place for friends and customers, and that suits Hicks just fine.
“Coffee’s the first thing,” he said, describing his daily routine.
That coffee is a dark, strong brew his daughters cautioned is not for all tastes.
But it doesn’t deter visitors. In fact, Hicks pointed to various areas of the crowded shop, including on a support beam, where foam cups rest, the personal drinking vessels of certain regular customers.
In the summer the mini fridge is stocked with sodas. A microwave rests on a shelf near the front door.
It’s not all coffee and sodas, though.
A computer was hesitantly added in the shop. It makes ordering supplies easier, though begrudgingly, as far as Hicks is concerned.
“Still don’t like it,” he said.
Chester Knight, who visits the shop almost every day it is open, said his friend once told him his computer is on his shoulders. Knight said he and most others are amazed at Hicks’ ability to look at even a broken part and know what it is and what it came from.
Whether it’s to chat, drink coffee or talk basketball, Knight enjoys visiting Hicks.
“He’s a fine gentleman,” Knight said.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Hicks served in the military from 1942 to 1946. Beginning in the ’40s, Hicks worked on cars.
Neighbors soon began bringing their tractors over for him to work on, his daughters said.
For a while Hicks worked at what was then Interstate Auto Supply. Later, while working third shift at what was then Crucible Magnetics, where he was employed for 13 years, he began accumulating inventory for small engine repair.
In 1967 Hicks opened his shop, stocked wall-to-wall with lawn mower parts. Though parts seem to occupy every available shelf space, nook and cranny, customers seeking a part need not worry.
“He knows the part and doesn’t have to look it up,” Casteel said.
“After 50 years you better learn something,” Hicks said, laughing.
In his years running his business, Hicks has both repaired lawn mowers and sold parts. He has seen lawn mowers change, getting bigger engines and more parts.
“They’re getting more electronic,” he said.
These days Hicks no longer works on lawn mowers and sends customers to others who do. His daughters say the customers trust their dad’s recommendations.
Not only do customers admire Hicks, but neighbors do, too.
Employees at Kentucky Pork Producers Association, across the street, have come to know Hicks.
“He watches after us, and we watch after him,” executive director Bonnie Jolly said.
If they notice the shop has been closed when it normally shouldn’t be, they check up on his well-being, his daughters said. They also bring him lunch occasionally.
Jolly said customers are impressed with his knowledge of parts, but beyond that, his sense of humor and ability to make everybody feel comfortable are appreciated.
“It’s just nice to have someone like him around,” Jolly said.
At Middle Creek Baptist Church, where Hicks’ daughters said he is the second oldest member, he has a following of children.
“He’s the gum guy at church,” Casteel said.
Hicks carries pockets filled with Juicy Fruit gum.
Nonchalant about the number of customers who frequent his shop, Hicks offered an explanation as to why they come.
“I’m the only place that’s got ’em,” Hicks said of the parts. “They have to.”
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.
A little more about Elmer Hicks