Cowboy history fading as Denton saddle shop closes in 2017

This is an AP Weekend Member Exchange shared by the Denton Record-Chronicle

DENTON, Texas (AP) — Out of the nearly 60 years that Weldon’s Saddle Shop & Western Wear’s double-doors have swung open as cowboys brushed their spurs against the threshold, perhaps none of the days were longer than three in 1996.

The Denton Record-Chronicle ( ) reports Bell Avenue became a serious safety concern for the family store that sat flush against it when the number of lanes jumped from two to four, narrowing the sidewalk. Kippie Wilkinson, who’s worked at her father’s store for 41 years, one day seized a young boy who began to dart out the door before he ran straight into the street.

Weldon Burgoon recognized this hazard and took on the challenge of hauling all his merchandise and shelves into a new location, the storefront next door.

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Three days soaked with sweat ensued.

“It was a fun thing. I guess we were lucky it was next door,” Burgoon said, recalling the puzzle of hauling furniture up a ramp and deciding what order to bring stuff in so that everything would fit. “We were proud we were able to move somewhere to better serve the public.”

The marquee atop the new shop declared “A newer, safer Weldon’s,” where patrons could walk inside with ease to find Burgoon racing down carefully planned aisles that showcased what the store offered like never before.

After nearly six decades, his philosophy of keeping his hands busy still holds true. But since the family’s hands are tied to other affairs, Weldon’s will shut down on Jan. 14.

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What was called a sprinkling of many factors contributed to the decision to close. Burgoon, 86, admitted he’s physically unable to labor at the pace he’d prefer, which first led to his decision to retire at the end of this year.

Wilkinson was originally going to take his reins since he’d soon retire. Burgoon’s grandson Clint Wilkinson, who helped run Weldon’s, would focus efforts toward his own luxury goods store. Called Wilkinson, it will sit in Weldon’s original location on East Hickory Street at Bell.

But after this past summer, business reached an unprecedented low, and the shop would often close early since Kippie Wilkinson often had to drive her parents, Burgoon and Joy Weldon, to doctor appointments.

“I’m property management, old folks management and grandchildren management,” Kippie Wilkinson said about her suite of duties lately. “There were some days when we had to close early, and that’s not how a business should operate.”

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Weldon’s used to attract a large number of high school and college students eager to work in the shop. Many of these students were a part of Texas Future Farmers of America and participated in “distributive education,” which allowed them to work at Weldon’s and count it as a part of their curriculum.

That FFA program doesn’t exist anymore, and even if there were still a crowd of potential employees lined up, Weldon’s hasn’t been able to afford needed employees for months.

“Now, there’s so many bars and restaurants in the area that (students) can go work there and earn much more from just minimum wage than working with us,” Kippie Wilkinson said.

Altogether, constant construction downtown and fewer advertising outlets have put a significant dent in the store’s business. The store used to purchase cable TV and radio ads when they were cheaper, but without them, foot traffic has seen a sharp decline.

North Texans, nevertheless, have been able to “buy from a real cowboy” for years, and Burgoon ensured that experience beyond his store by living like a real cowboy.

He said he cherished each of the local events he’s been involved in. Burgoon was previously the rodeo chairman for the North Texas Fair and Rodeo for 14 years, and let dozens of FFA students mow grass, haul hay and deal with farm animals on his land five miles east of Denton.

The event he most cherishes is Mutton Bustin’, a three-day competition at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo in which children ride lambs the same way professional rodeo riders get on bulls. Seeing the Western spirit carried on in youths spreads a wide grin across Burgoon’s face.

Kippie Wilkinson’s son Blake is the man nowadays who labors at his grandfather’s land to bale hay and tend to the animals.

He started working at Weldon’s at age 11 cleaning toilets on the weekends but soon climbed the ranks. Now in his adult life with children of his own, he reflects with satisfaction on his time working in his grandfather’s Western store.

“It’s been OK,” Blake Wilkinson said. “Like most family businesses, you have both your up and down days. You always hear that family businesses break up families. And fortunately for me, I don’t feel like it’s been like that.”

Burgoon has come to terms with the approaching closure of his store that’s maintained a presence in Denton since 1957, calling it a new chapter in his life.

Through all the deliberation, he hopes that whoever decides to lease out Weldon’s building puts it to good use, even though he said it almost hurts him to realize.

“It’s been a good run, and that’s all I can say. We’ve been proud to try and offer something for all of Denton, but it’s a different climate for retail now,” Burgoon said. “We’ve tried to give back to the community what we’ve taken from it.”

Weldon’s will have an anniversary sale with 15 percent off all inventory after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 25-26. Then, with Jones-Swenson Auction Marketing, the store will have an online auction after the holiday season through February to liquidate the inventory.

On March 19, another auction will offer up Burgoon’s personal collection of antique Western memorabilia.