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Warwick’s DEBORAH WHEELER contributed these reminisces of her late father, George Francis James ‘Frank’ Wheeler, who passed away on Friday 8 September … fondly remembered as ‘The Cottonvale Storekeeper’ …
On 21 April 1974, Frank and Joyce Wheeler together with their two youngest children, moved to Cottonvale. They had purchased the Cottonvale Store which was a small mixed business with food, papers and petrol. They were to spend five very productive years in the district.
As Kathy was only 10 months old at that time, they were very fortunate to employ Glady Austin. Austin, as she was lovingly called, would come and look after Kathy in the mornings, clean the house and help Joyce get the lunch orders ready for the children at the Cottonvale School. Once the lunches were packed up and ready to go, Frank would deliver them to the school at lunch time.
Their daughter, Deborah, presented them with their first granddaughter, Belinda in December 1974. Frank would often be seen with Kathy and Belinda following him around the store. His special treat for them was a chocolate frog each. Needless to say, there was no profit in chocolate frogs.
Over the five-year period that they were at the shop, Frank took it from a small country store to a significant business in the district. At that time, the locals in the district all supported their own local stores, however the reputation of the Cottonvale Store became such that Frank and Joyce served customers from Dalveen, Thulimbah, The Summit, Amiens, Pozieres, Applethorpe, Stanthorpe and surrounds.
Frank was always thinking of new ways to supply his customers with products they used, saving them from having to go to Stanthorpe, Warwick or Toowoomba to do their shopping.
When they first took over the store, they would buy all of their supplies from the travelling sales vans that would take orders and supply them with products on the spot. As the store was only small, they could only purchase enough stock to fill the shelves. In order to achieve his goal, Frank undertook a number of new extensions to the store, firstly by adding a store room on the Warwick side of the building. Later he went on to more than double the size of the building by adding a further extension at the back of the original store. This then resulted in Frank buying the vanguard so that he could travel to Brisbane to select a wider range of products.
Frank and Joyce were very aware that they needed to cater more fully for the large Italian population that surrounded their store, so Frank included a visit to Angelo’s Pasta factory at New Farm into his fortnightly run to Brisbane.
He would purchase fresh and frozen pasta products here and he also purchased large tins of olive oil and many other specialty items for his customers. These trips to Brisbane every fortnight meant long hard days of work, necessitating him to be up and ready to leave at 4am and he would not arrive back home until around 8pm at night.
Truckies were also identified as also being a valuable part of the store’s clientele.
Frank purchased one of the new microwave ovens which had not long been on the market, and proceeded to sell hot cups of tea and coffee, pies and sausage rolls. He also had the reputation of making the most delicious, icy-cold milk shakes in the district.
Frank was a great supporter of other local businesses. Pat Brady would deliver his fresh baked bread and delicious pies to the store every morning. Frank strongly encouraged Steve and Vera Jakupec with their apple juice factory and was one of the first businesses to stock their Gladhill Apple Juice. Prior to this, all fruit juice needed to be refrigerated.
Many years after leaving the district, he continued to show interest in what happened in the local area. When asked what he wanted to be remembered as, Frank would say, “The Storekeeper”.
– Deborah Wheeler

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