When customers walk in and out of Gene Gohlke’s business on McKinney Street, they often nod into the backroom to say hello to Gene himself after they’ve had a cup of coffee.
Luke Gohlke, Gene’s youngest son, will say hello, ask them how their families are doing, and send them happily on their way. Friendliness has been this business' way for more than 54 years.
At the turn of the new year, Gene Gohlke Building Products and Denton Masonry Supply will close for business, according to Gene and Luke Gohlke. The property and its buildings have been sold to "locals in Denton," Gene Gohlke said.
The company still has responsibilities to some customers that will carry a few weeks into January, but the business will otherwise cease operations.
Gene Gohlke moved to Denton in 1953 from Denison to attend college at what was then North Texas State College, and now the University of North Texas. He began working in the building supply industry during his college years. He started out with Bert Moore at what was then Moore Building Products.
After Gohlke got his bachelor’s in business in 1957 while working part time for Moore, he would later partly own Moore’s business, and then ultimately own it entirely by 1963.
When Gohlke bought the business from Moore, he kept the original name for 10 years until he was able to pay off his debt to Moore, a man Gohlke says “was like a second father to me.” Together they’d operate both a home building supplying business and swimming pool business.
He said his late business partner taught him the tricks of the trade and helped him in his early college days to establish himself as a businessman. The rest is history. The store itself is a museum, of sorts.
Over the years, the Gohlke family developed generational friendships with their customers, and many of them are displayed in pictures hanging all over the building’s offices. The Gohlkes have friendships that stretch decades deep into the history of Denton, with second- and third-generation returning customers.
The store’s owners saw multiple fires on the downtown Square, including last week’s fire that destroyed the Downtown Mini Mall. Another interesting time to note is when the store’s warehouse was searched by FBI and police officials in 1997 after investigations began following the kidnapping and killing of former UNT student Kelli Cox.
But perhaps what locals and historians may remember most about the Gohlke business is the hospitality its owners afforded to the many returning customers as a family-owned shop.
For many years, the Gohlkes and their many sponsors, customers and friends went on a yearly fishing trip to lakes throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. At one point, as many as 60 people would gather with the Gohlke family on anywhere from 15 to 20 boats and go fishing and enjoy the open waters. It was business and kinship merged on the trips.
Gene Gohlke famously calls the event the "Annual Trip," and has a photograph from one of those trips of a 17-pound striped bass behind his desk as a testament. The trip, which had a hiatus between 1986 and the early '90s, was discontinued in 2014.
"We got too old to do it," said Gohlke, who now lives with an arthritic neck.
During the life of Gohlke Building Products, the family saw hard times. He calls 1987 and 1988 the hardest times his business has ever seen, which coincides with a historic stock market crash that hurt many small businesses throughout the country.
But now, in 2017, the Gohlkes are remembering the happy times they've had with their customers, and are reminiscing over the relationships they've developed over the years.
When someone around town needed cement or sand or anything else to build their home, they’d likely have seen any, or all four, of Gene and Judy Gohlke's kids walking the store’s grounds and greeting customers at the door. Gina, Matt, Mark and Luke Gohlke were all named by their parents in relation to the Bible’s Gospels, and all helped with the family business while growing up.
Luke Gohlke, 45, said he remembers starting to work at the store when he was 16. He’d work in the warehouse, moving around stock, then when he grew up he worked the cash register up front and eventually became a co-owner of the business with his father.
“Believe it or not, we still have customers who are coming back from when I started coming here,” Luke Gohlke said. “We know all these guys. We know their first names. We know their families.”
And that’s what he’ll be missing out on seeing the most, he said.
FEATURED PHOTO: Gene Gohlke sits at his desk Thursday at Gene Gohlke Building Products in Denton. Gohlke is closing his business next week and is retiring after 54 years in business.Jake King