KINGFISHER — Browsing through the recently opened TG&Y exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher, memories come flooding back for Susy Cox-Wilson.
Cox-Wilson's father James served as TG&Y's vice president and treasurer during the store's halcyon days in the 1960s and '70s. While a college student, Cox-Wilson spent her weekends working at a TG&Y store at Hefner and May in Oklahoma City.
“I remember it being the place to go,” Cox-Wilson said. “To us it had everything in it. We couldn't imagine anything bigger. We had fabric, to hamsters, to penny candy. Kids could come in and get a penny's worth of candy that would fill up a bag.”
In its golden days, TG&Y was based in Oklahoma City and had 900 stores from California to Florida. The chain pulled in about $2 billion annually in sales at its peak.
But the good times didn't last. The chain gradually faded before being purchased by another chain in 1986.
The TG&Y name came from the initials of its founders — Rawdon Tomlinson, Enoch Gosselin and Raymond Young. The men all had a history in retail. Young opened his first five-and-dime store in 1927 in Kingfisher.
Chisholm Trail Museum director Adam Lynn said the three men began talk of merging their stores while at a trade show in Oklahoma City.
“They all talked about how they didn't like buying from a middle man,” Lynn said. “They formed Central Merchandising, which became TG&Y as they opened up new stores.”
The first TG&Y store opened in 1936 in Norman.
But well before that, Young had opened his first store, and that building would later become a TG&Y. Now, it is a flower shop owned by Dennis Mueggenborg. Growing up he was familiar with TG&Y and then as an adult he got a visit from one of the founders.
“We were working the back and the doorbell rang and there was an older gentleman and two ladies, and I spoke to them and they said there was someone with them they thought I might like to meet, and it turned out to be Mr. Young,” Mueggenborg said. “I was shocked. He had made the trip to Kingfisher because he wanted to see his original place of business.”
Young was 97 when he died in 2002 in Oklahoma City. His work ethic was not unlike that of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who also had roots in Kingfisher.
“Mr. Young worked from sun up to midnight most days,” Lynn said. “In those early days he was kind of a one-man show. He had a warehouse in his apartment for his little stores he opened in the area. He didn't buy his first car until after he opened that first one.”
Many who come into Mueggenborg's store remember it as the site of the old TG&Y store. The comments were so frequent he decided to begin collecting TG&Y memorabilia on eBay. He set up a small display at the front of his store and lent the Chisholm Trail Museum several items for its exhibit.
“There's just uniqueness to it,” Mueggenborg said of the chain. “It was the place to go as far as big department stores. And that was the time when everyone would come to town on Saturday afternoon to do their shopping.”
For Cox-Wilson, the memories of the store remain strong. She recalls the company picnic held at Springlake Amusement Park and later at Frontier City.
“It was the first job for a lot of people,” she said. “You had your own department that you were responsible for keeping stocked. There was a push-button cash register and you had to learn to count change. I enjoyed the customers, too. It was just a fun place to work.”
The exhibit at the museum includes an old shopping cart, TG&Y sacks, TG&Y branded toy trucks, a TG&Y lawn mower and dozens of photographs from the store's history. The exhibit's opening drew about 50 former employees, including some who had donated items.
“I found a reunion website and was able to contact some people that way and gradually word-of-mouth spread. The response has been unlike anything I've ever witnessed. It's been amazing.”
If you go
Chisholm Trail Museum
The Chisholm Trail Museum, 605 Zellers Ave. in Kingfisher, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $4 for adults ages 19 and up and $2 for children ages 6 to 18.