Roy's Store in Dora dates back to 1938. It serves as both a community hub and a stop for tourists headed to local rivers. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.

DORA – It’s not a chain store, but you can buy a chain saw at Roy’s Store in Dora.

That’s not the only unexpected takeaway from the Ozark County stop’s shelves, which are both supported and weighted by a legacy that dates to 1938. 

“It struck a feeling with a lot of people, the nostalgia of an old-time general store,” says Sam Miller, whose family owns the business today. “Being able to walk into a place and you can get a chainsaw, beer and a fur hat. There’s not too many places that you can do that.”

The store’s options span both people and needs. Miller’s words tie to the tourists who seek necessities like snacks, drinks and even kayaks for trips to nearby river waters. For locals, even greater options abound, starting with a sense of community.

“I come just about every day,” says Ina Warren, seated at one of the tables in the center of the store, who notes that the other faces are seen even more frequently. “I stay — a lot of them will come in and out, in and out, in and out, but I live five miles (away).” 

Around a half-hour from any larger store, Roy’s is part of a community that includes a school, canoe rental shops, a longtime sawmill, a fireworks stand that opens a few weeks a year, quilters who meet on Tuesdays, and a church or two.

And soon, a Dollar General. 

It’s not the first time Roy’s has had competition: Other businesses have come and gone over the years. But Dollar General’s national buying power and presence is different. 

What happens to legacy stores — and the sense of community they offer — when Dollar General comes to town? 

A visit to the store

Roy’s Store in Dora is a popular place for local farmers and others in the area to gather. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

Regardless of where you’re coming from, it takes a scenic drive to reach Dora, a place so small it doesn’t even register as a village on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t there. 

It’s a place where you might feel comfortable driving a four-wheeler down the county highway. Steps across the parking lot and a push of the door open makes me one of those who gather within Roy’s walls for more than just a purchase. 

The aforementioned Warren and friend Amy Luna are seated at a table midday on a recent weekday, with others close at hand. 

A steady stream of folks come through the doors and sit at the handful of tables nearby — there are more in another room tacked onto the back of the store — and order food from its lunch menu, which also offers a daily special. Only a few options include burgers, fries, chicken fajita quesadillas, sloppy joes — and pie, homemade by Bertie Klock most Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 

“Today I made 10,” she says, wrapping up production on an assortment, including coconut, chocolate, lemon, peach, raisin and cherry cream. “On the weekends I make 11 or 12. There are more people here on the weekends.” 

Bertie Klock bakes pies for customers at Roy’s Store three days a week. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

A lifelong local — who still lives on family land her father purchased when he got out of the U.S. Army — Klock’s pie-making expertise is an Ozark County tradition but now is shared far beyond its borders.   

“Just from my mom, my grandma, my aunts,” she says of how she learned her abilities, which include homemade crust. “I just always loved to bake. I’m just simple — I don’t do anything fancy.

“Every year it gets a little more busy. There are so many people passing through I don’t know,” she adds. “I think a lot of people are drawn to the river.” 

While the nearby rivers have long been a draw — the front of the store even features a map showcasing the North Fork and Bryant Creek — the country was much different in 1938 when the first iteration of Roy’s Store came to be across the road. It moved to its current spot nearly 65 years ago.

By 2008, the store had passed through a few different owners, a name change, and an increasing emphasis on tourism. It was also up for sale: It was being sold at auction and was in terrible shape, proven by 55-gallon drums in the empty shell of a store to catch rain coming through the roof.

That was the introduction Sam Miller and his parents, Mike and Shelia Newton, had to store ownership. 

Sam Miller and his wife, Kayla, manage daily operations at Roy’s Store. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

Some might say there was a sign: Even though they didn’t have previous experience in owning a store, they were asked by different people three separate times if they were going to buy the business.

“It happened in one day,” says Shelia Newton, and recalled their next thought: “‘And I said, ‘Mike, is that our sign?’”

It seems to have been. 

“We bought this Groundhog’s Day 2008,” recalls Mike Newton, “and then the worst came after that.” 

He speaks of the enormous renovation and restoration work the family did over the next few months to prepare the store for reopening over Memorial Day that year. 

“We had a soft opening, which was not real soft,” says Shelia Newton. “We landed hard and we were busy. We had every one of our kids here, and our in-laws. They were doing dishes, they were cooking, we were running a store for the first time in our life.” 

Miller, who had recently returned to civilian life after service in the Army, was asked if he would handle day-to-day operations at the business. Today, he and his wife, Kayla, still handle that responsibility. With permission from the original owning family, they also changed the store’s moniker back to match its identity. 

“It doesn’t really matter what you call it,” says Miller. “Everybody’s going to know it as Roy’s Store.” 

Reimagining a rural store

When the current owners bought Roy’s, the store was one of three in the tiny community. Today, it’s the only one left.

It’s open seven days a week, but that’s not enough for some folks.

“People are here at the door at 5:30 in the morning. Six is when we actually open, but if (employees are) here, they’ll let the people in,” says Miller. “Guys will sit and drink coffee, and then they’ll go feed cattle or whatever they’ve got to do — their chores. Then they usually come back in after they’re done.” 

While those folks — and others like Luna and Warren — presumably come for friendship, others come for practical reasons like nails, nuts and bolts, veterinary supplies, plumbing equipment, the aforementioned chainsaws and a feed room attached to the store. 

Farmer Joe Hollingshad is out back in that feed room. With around 100 head of cattle, he’s interested in buying from Roy’s if the price point is right. He’s already sold on convenience.  

“It costs me $30 to drive my truck from my home to West Plains and back here,” he says. “That’s $30 worth of diesel fuel. Plus, I’ll generally kill two hours, if I just go in there and come right back,” says Hollingshad. “So that’s time spent that I could be working on my farm. 

“With Sam doing this, if he’s not too much higher than what I would buy at the normal feed stores that I buy at, I’ll buy it here.” 

Joe Hollingshad, right, investigates feed options at Roy’s. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

That feed selection is a convenience Miller recently brought back to the store.

It’s part of a shift he’s seen tied to changing times: After devastating flooding in 2017, tourism saw a high point in 2020 and 2021 during waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, when stimulus money sent visitors to local rivers for relaxation. For some, that perhaps also stemmed from staying closer to home — a sentiment shared by local customers, whose local focus has been extended by higher fuel prices in recent months. 

Miller has reason to believe and hope that there may be an increase in his own business once Dollar General opens. That’s what he’s heard from others who own small businesses in communities where the chain store recently opened up shop and kept folks closer to home for things they need.

“I see it as a huge convenience for Dora, and I see it as another reason for people not to go to West Plains or Gainesville,” he says of the increased options. “I think it’ll help, and people’s circle in which they travel may shrink a little bit because of that.” 

That said, he is planning some changes.

“I’m getting rid of all our groceries,” Miller says, given that the chain’s buying and distribution power is so much more significant than the longtime Dora store. However, there might be exceptions for locally sourced products including eggs, beef and pork.

“When I say local, I mean within our region — I don’t want to carry stuff that you’re going to see on the shelf at Walmart.”

And that increased focus — on local products — is the key to the store’s future, Miller says. Some plans have been in the works, but others are propelled by the store quickly taking shape across the road and within sight of Roy’s.

“(Dollar General will) have a full line of groceries and a lot of your house supplies, but what we’re going to focus on is people’s livelihood out here, which tends to be in the timber industry, or in cattle, or some byproduct of those two things,” he says. “A lot of people don’t realize that we sell hydraulic hoses, we sell feed, we sell vet supplies. We have off-road diesel for people cutting hay or whatever. That’s the crowd that we’re going to try to focus on. And then, of course, what’s available to us outdoor-wise — you get the rivers, hunting, fishing, trapping, all that stuff. We try to cater to that crowd, too.” 

Work is underway on the new Dollar General in Dora. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

Regarding the latter: When I was in Roy’s a few months ago, fur pelts hung on the wall. During our conversation that day, I asked Miller if they had really been for sale, or were decor for the store. They were indeed for sale, he says, as were fur hats. 

“We sold like six fur hats in just two weeks. I was surprised because they weren’t cheap. They were like $170,” he says, noting that there’s a lot of attraction on the idea of a general store from folks in other states — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, to name a few — during deer season. 

Those furs originate in Arkansas, but he hopes to buy local furs from folks nearby, send them off to be processed, and then back to the store to be sold. That’s part of leaning into ways of making the store’s wares even more unique through local products, from those on the shelves to what they use to feed customers, such as local produce and the 600 pounds of ground beef they go through in a month.  

“We were seeing a huge increase in beef prices,” says Miller. “And you talk to guys that are ranching and have cattle and they’re like, ‘This doesn’t make sense. We’re not seeing it.’ 

“So if I can buy a steer off a farmer here, take it up, have it butchered, people know what they’re eating. They know the farm it comes off of. The same thing goes with produce. That’s my goal — to be a little more self-sufficient.” 

While the bigger-picture shift to more local will take some time, change regarding the beef is already underway: The store is now purchasing from Show-Me Beef out of Pleasant Hope. 

“Any beef you eat here, that’s where it’s from,” says Miller. “It’s Missouri-raised, Missouri-born cattle. 

“That’s what I want. I don’t want to be just your average restaurant or store.” 

“We have a lot of regulars who come in. We know what they want before they even order,” says Lisa Tellez, who has worked at Roy’s for five years. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

The call of community 

As the sunny Tuesday turns to dusky haze, the sound of community calls to and from the store. Folks are drawn to the backroom before 6 p.m., when a weekly music jam kicks off country, bluegrass and gospel tunes for those who wish to play and listen. 

Rows of listeners fill tables facing the performers holding guitars, banjos and mandolins. One of them is the aforementioned baker Klock, who also sings and uses a guitar as well as a rolling pin.

On Tuesdays, musicians and listeners gather at the store in Dora. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

“I started the jam because some of the other local jams were at a distance — they were a little too far away,” says Gina Hollingshad, who helped begin the jam in March 2022. “Some of the jams didn’t survive COVID, and so I decided to try and start one in our own hometown.”

Hollingshad has deep roots in the community as well. Her grandparents long owned their own general store in Dora, a place where — like Roy’s — folks came to get news as well as goods. 

She says the store was a good location for the jam, especially since many local music parties feature food. 

“I decided to use Roy’s Store so I wouldn’t have to charge people to get in and we wouldn’t have to have a potluck,” she says. “If we use the store for free, then people can just pay to eat there so the store wins and we do, too.”

Hollingshad sits in the circle with the musicians, as others trickle in (including her own mother, now nearly 90, who grew up in the family’s general store going on a century ago).

“Everybody seems to really enjoy it, and I think it’s going to be around for a good long while,” Hollingshad says. 

As the last song ends and folks pack up instrument cases and head for the door, headlights help light the road home. The store’s door lock clicks for the night. 

The dawn, 5:30 a.m., and the folks who bring in the day at the store’s door, will be there soon. 

Roy’s Store is open seven days a week. To learn more, click here.

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: kaitlyn@ozarksalive.com More by Kaitlyn McConnell More by Kaitlyn McConnell