At a generally quiet intersection in the Stephens community, Donnie Howard has built up a genuinely unusual general store – The Big 4 Store.
Howard, who grew up a few miles away and still tends to cattle on the family farm, says the time has come to sell the truly unique grocery/community hub.
“There was nothing there when I started, The original big store burned in the 70s. I had to have the dirt put in. That was 1999,” Howard said, explaining he has mementos from the four family names attached to the former grocery. The name Big 4 Store was a reference he heard someone make while visiting Dean Greene’s place.
From the miniature wiener-mobile on the awning to the one-of-a-kind art pieces inside and out, the country store is a reflection of Howard’s interests and skills as well as a collection of local connections.
For most, the store’s signature piece is a large airplane sculpture on the right side of the parking lot.
“The blades are from an Ashland Chemical cooling tower, mounted on an old Chevy truck hub,” Howard said, pointing out the sculpture is a weathervane which turns itself into the wind. “Yesterday it was about to get out of hand. It has come down before! I dulled the blades to keep it turning slower.”
Customers are encouraged to take their time and look around.
“Some people just relate to things. Today it was tobacco knives for a guy who came in,” he said.
Many of the store’s interesting items and collections came from regular customers who know Howard appreciates such things.
“You’ve got to trade and deal,” he said, before explaining some of the daily in-and-outs of business at a country store where hot dogs, gasoline, kerosene and cigarettes are the top sellers.
“The sign says 8 (a.m.) to 8 (p.m.) but it’s usually 10 to 10,” he said.
“It’s a hot dog place. I can’t even begin to say how many we’ve sold. We make our own sauce. We make it 15 pounds at a time. It’s the same sauce I had when I had the market on Route 7. Hot dog – our number one seller.”
The hardest part of running a place like The Big 4 Store is the commitment to keeping the place open, Howard observed.
“I guess it is the seven days a week, no time off, part of it. It’s kind of a one-man show,” he said, noting he has two reliable part-time employees who do make it possible for him to get out for a while.
Pushed for a reason behind his decision to sell The Big 4 Store, Howard said his reasons are simple and personal.
“I would like to get out and run around a little bit. I want to ride horses. I want to ride my motorcycle,” he said, smiling as he added he also has a couple of classic American muscle cars awaiting more time on the road.
Sitting on a roughly three-acre plot, The Big 4 Store property includes a 30×40 store, a 40X30 garage, a 40×21 carport, pumps for kerosene, diesel and gasoline, as well as several cabins and a tree house patio/lounge connected to the back by a swinging bridge.
“It all goes with it,” he said with a sweep of his arm gesturing to everything from the observation tower to the cabins on the banks of Little Fork.
The Big 4 Store has been a rewarding place since he first welcomed customers on the first day of year 2000, Howard said.
“I love the people of this area. Well, I love most of them,” Howard said with a big chuckle. “It’s a good place for somebody who wants it. It’s a pretty good community really.”
For more information about The Big 4 Store property, visit in person at the intersection of KY Route 9648 and Route 486, or call Howard at 606-738-9111.
Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON