Alabama Retail honors U.G. White Mercantile for 106 years in business

ATHENS – Ulysses Grant White founded U.G. White Hardware and Implement Co. on the southeast corner of the square in Athens in 1917. By 1937, the business moved to 101 N. Jefferson St., where it continues to serve as an economic anchor for downtown.

White, a Tennessee native, started the business after a farming accident cost him his right arm. Farmers, cotton mill workers and businessmen alike purchased horse drawn plows, cast iron skillets and everything in between from the store in its early days.

White’s family operated U.G. White Mercantile until its fourth-generation owner, David Aycock, sold the business in 2007. David’s father, William Hubert Aycock Jr., the third-generation owner, was the son of Orine White Aycock, one of founder U.G. White’s four daughters.

Current owner, pilot and entrepreneur Derrick Young, said, “When I bought the store 16 years ago, initially, it was just to keep it around, because I knew once it closed, it would never be back.” The Athens native added, “I bought my first pocketknife here. So, when the owner told me he was going to sell, I didn’t hesitate. I had such an affection for the store and these old-time smells.”

Young quickly realized that selling nuts and bolts “wasn’t enough to keep the lights on.” U.G. White brand jams, jellies, sauces and pickles now fill shelves that once held nails and screws. Young grew the knife selection, added T-shirts and hats, high-end outdoor gear, a chocolate counter complete with truffles and a vintage toy section.

In an in-store presentation today, the Alabama Retail Association presented U.G. White Mercantile with an Alabama Centennial Retailer award. The business received a bronze plaque to place outside its store and a certificate for display inside.

Selling consumables “seems to work for our destination-type general store,” Young said. “It’s a comfortable, friendly environment to come into with a vintage feel,” he said. In the 6,500-square foot space on the first floor and mezzanine, shoppers can find “unique products that you don’t find everywhere else,” including 12-ounce bottles of soft drinks they can pull out of an old ice box.

Young also removed the vinyl flooring that had covered the wood-plank floor in the building, which dates to the late 1800s. The 1924 cash register remains as a curiosity at the business, which employs 15.

The latest venture for Young, who flies internationally for American Airlines and is based out of Dallas, is Hi-Plane Coffee, which opened inside of U.G. White Mercantile on Nov. 22, 2022. “We now have our own coffee brand,” he said. Young has also been fundamental to several other downtown Athens renovations, including Merchants Alley, which runs alongside the store.

Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown said, “For a business to survive the dramatic changes of the past century is a remarkable achievement. It is fitting to celebrate the enduring first-century contributions U.G. White Mercantile has made to Athens and the entire north Alabama region.”

>> Those Previously Honored as Alabama Centennial Retailers

The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,300 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.

Derrick Young, U.G. White Mercantile | 256.232.4540
Nancy King Dennis, Alabama Retail Association | 334.868.2195 | 800.239.5423

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