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About Mason Feed Store

Mason Feed Store – Heritage, Tradition, Excellence and Continuity

By Gerald Gamel

In a small town like Mason, news about families, about businesses, about institutions get spread as much by “word of mouth” as by any other means of communication. Unfortunately, the news that finally emerges isn’t always the complete, or the most accurate, version of the story. Though many in the community are aware that one of the oldest businesses in town, Mason Feed Store, has recently changed hands, most people don’t know about the people behind this recent change. Like so many things in our community, the reality makes for a fascinating journey.

Mason Feed Store began back in 1935 and was located in a small white building located just west of the current location. It was a group of ranchers and businessmen, working together, to create the new enterprise. It grew and prospered, and in a few years, moved across the highway to the building that currently house the offices of the District Attorney.

 Changes began happening with the original founders of the store as well. In 1948, Walton Lehmberg bought out the interest held by Woody Schuessler. In 1954, Marvin McMillan bought Roy Zesch’s interest in the store after Mr. Zesch’s death. In the late 1950s, Victor Lehmberg bought the interests of Walton Lehmberg in the store. The owners were part of a burgeoning group of feed stores in Mason County. Wool and mohair was big business in the area, as was hog production. Mason County was second to only Llano County in hog production at the time. Mason Feed Store had its own milling operation at a site just north of town and they were providing feed directly to customers who had increasing need for specialty blended feeds.

In 1964, Marvin McMillan and Victor Lehmberg made the decision to hire Kenneth Durst as the manager for their facility. It would be a relationship that would last until Kenneth’s retirement from the store in 2023. Working with McMillan and Lehmberg, Kenneth presided over the construction of the main part of the present building in 1965. There was finally ample room to handle the growing wool and mohair trade in the county, as well as to expand the selection of sacked feed to help ranchers and farmers meet the increasing nutritional needs of their growing livestock herds. This group of owners/managers continued to grow the store and help develop its operations on into the 1970s, including running Mason Feed Trucking from space on the back work yard of the store.

In the late 70s, Victor Lehmberg sold his interest in the store to the McMillan family. Kenneth Durst continued managing the daily operations, along with the assistance of Hal McMillan and Rolly Lumpkins. As hunting began to grow as an industry in the county, feed for wildlife, as well as feeders, hunting blinds and stands, and outdoor supplies became a part of the store’s inventory. When Marvin McMillan passed away in the 1990s, Lee and Bobbie McMillan bought out other family members to be the sole owners of Mason Feed Store.

In early 2002, Lee and Bobbie made the decision to add retail space to the existing feed store. It started with a reconfiguration of the warehouse to allow for the addition of a true retail store located inside the warehouse facility itself. The McMillan’s felt that there was an entire segment of clientele that didn’t feel at ease in the traditional feed store setting; but, they did feel comfortable shopping for feed, gardening supplies, animal medical supplies, etc. in a traditional customer environment. It was so successful, they would expand it to its current size just a few years later.

While this new change in the Feed Store was occurring, a new employee started on July 7, 2003. Jim Bob Smith joined the Feed Store family as a worker on the back dock, and became a driver for the fertilizer trucks. His close contact with the Feed Store customers, both in the store and on their own properties, allowed him to start developing relationships with the clientele and he came to know their needs and wishes on a very personal basis.

Little by little, Jim Bob began proving his expertise in dealing with all aspects of the daily operations of the store. Kenneth Durst recognized his skills and started utilizing him with managing the inventory, eventually expanding into placing orders for feed, fertilizer, ag chemicals, hunting supplies and everything that had become part of the Feed Store’s day to day sales. It didn’t take too long for Mr. Durst to recognize Jim Bob’s potential, and the McMillans wholeheartedly supported his promotion to assistant manager, a position he held all the way up to 2023.

Lee and Bobbie saw that the business had evolved and grown. They managed to successfully get through a world-wide pandemic and years of drought, interspersed with some bitter and record-setting winters; but, they felt that the world was changing into an entirely different creature. They made the decision that they had been successful in their venture with the Feed Store; but, that it was time to allow a new generation to take the store into its future.

Lee McMillan said, “Jim Bob’s experience in leading Mason Feed Store through the 2000s made him a natural to take the reins and to see what’s next.”

Kenneth Durst’s retirement in 2023 seemed like the most opportune time for this change of ownership to occur. Starting in the spring of this year, the McMillans began discussions with Jim Bob and his wife, Shayne, about what a sale would look like and when it might be able to happen. The decision was finally made in late spring and a sale date of July 1, 2023 was set. Though it was probably one of the worst kept secrets around town, both families made the decision to focus on the myriad of details involved in changing ownership of an 88-year-old business rather than making a big fuss over the sale.

But, to the people of Mason, it’s a very big deal. Many of us, myself included, have been an employee of Mason Feed Store at one time or another. Yet, we weren’t just employees, we were part of a family that nurtured and supported one another. We were part of a “family” business that also felt like the customers were part of the extended family.

The ownership of Mason Feed Store by Jim Bob and Shayne Smith means that the “family” will continue into the future. It will continue to serve the community under the stewardship of owners who, just like the McMillans before them, have a long and involved history with the people and businesses of the county and surrounding areas. The Smiths, including daughters Steeley and Sterling, plan to continue the quality of service and merchandise that generations of Mason residents have come to know and trust. And, they’re bringing that new attitude into daily operations at the Feed Store, adding merchandise that customers have been waiting for patiently in order to help them with their work, and personal, needs.

Stop by the Mason Feed Store and congratulate Jim Bob and Shayne on this new chapter in their lives. While you’re there, be sure to take a look around at all your old favorites, and discover some of the new items that have already started filtering into the store.

“We look forward to serving the people of Mason County and the surrounding areas for many years to come,” said Jim Bob. “This is my home and you’ll always be treated like one of our friends and neighbors.”