By Jason A. Smith
The aroma of a welcoming fire filled the air in Locust Grove, as patrons and employees at Warren Holder Equipment sat in rocking chairs by a charcoal-gray, potbelly stove.
One long-time customer, Eddie Walker, of McDonough, said there is a reason he has chosen to frequent the establishment for more than 30 years. "It's the information center of the lower end of Henry County," said Walker, 58. "Especially in the wintertime, it's a focal point. There are a lot of interesting people, who come in just to see people. They might spend $5, and stay two hours."
Henry County District I Commissioner Warren Holder, 60, of Locust Grove, owns the store at 122 Cleveland St., where he sells lawn-and-garden equipment. Holder said Walker is one of many customers who have enjoyed the stove as a conversation piece.
"The stove itself is a place for people to gather," he said. "They back up to the stove, and everybody has their stories to share."
Holder describes the stove as a throwback to the past. "A lot of people do comment about the old stove, when they come in," he said. "A lot of young people come in here ... and they say, 'Oh, I remember a stove like that, that my granddaddy had. That's the kind of heat I was raised by.'"
The stove has been a part of the decor at Holder's business since 1983, when the commissioner paid about $450 to purchase it, used. He said the stove, which sits on a mat that covers a wooden floor, and is surrounded by wooden slats, has held up well over the years.
"Most of the building is old, and the old stove just kind of goes along with it," he said. "We occasionally have to replace the pipes, but the stove has not had any repairs since we put it in."
Holder uses wood from his own property, in Locust Grove, to generate heat in his business. He said one benefit of the stove, which has been helpful in recent years, is how it helps to reduce his utility bills for the store.
"This building was an old cotton warehouse," Holder said. "So, it requires a lot of heat. It was just not cost-effective to try to heat it with gas. It cost too much money, so we elected to do this with wood."
Holder added that the stove's appeal enables him to interact more closely with the public, as a businessman and a commissioner.
Locust Grove City Councilman W.L. "Billy" Carter owns the building that houses Holder's business, and is the commissioner's father-in-law. Carter said he has enjoyed many relaxing days, over the years, sitting by the vintage stove.
"It's a restful flame that you see," said Carter, 80. "You don't see it unless you open the door. It's just peaceful. You'd be surprised, in a place this big, that a heater this small would heat the whole place."
Susan Chiz, of Locust Grove, another regular customer at Warren Holder Equipment, stopped by to purchase items for her husband. She said she appreciates the rarity of the commissioner's stove.
"You don't see them that often," said Chiz, 53. "Modern technology just doesn't suit the same as the old technology."
When asked what she likes most about the stove, Chiz said, "I love the smell. It just brings you back to a simpler time."