By Kareena Maxwell (questions for this interview were also provided by Elijah Weightman)
The long standing local go-to establishment, The Jiffy Store, has been sold and new owners will be taking the place of Monty and Nhiem Jackson. This oasis of candy, gas, dish detergent and anything you may need until you go into town, has most things the locals of Concho, Arizona need. With the change of ownership will no doubt come a different way of looking at the way the store should operate. This is the west. Folks here adjust quickly, but they don’t forget. The tongues will wag for a while comparing the leadership of the Jackson’s to the new owners. Sometimes, change and transition is bigger that we realize. At first it was announced with a for sale sign in the front of the property. In February, the sale was shared in the local newspaper, then it was spoken about and while change is not always easy, it is inevitable. Even with all of that going on it’s hard to believe that they will no longer be at the store. After all, it’s the only store here. They became the mom and pop place. And more than that, they were the endearing, dependable, figure heads that would be kind to everyone. Not so surprising, in the last few weeks, since the finalization of their ownership was announced, there has not been one unkind word said about them.
In a recent one-on-one chat with Nhiem Jackson, part owner of the Jiffy Store in Concho, Arizona, it became clear that the store is second to the life she shares with her husband, Monty. At first I thought, ‘this is a love story.’ I shared that with her. She didn’t disagree. It was their life together, she implied, the so called ordinary things couples do in the journey that are automatic like coffee in the morning at the store, closing it at the end of the day…rituals bind us. “I’m not there yet,” she said, when I asked how she was feeling about the move in her life. The intent of our meeting was about the store they owned and operated for 28-years and so much more is in this place than the needs of a community. It’s the walls they walked past, the door they opened and closed, and the children that came into the place and then of course, the children of the children. “The best part was watching children grow up,” she said. It was interesting to learn that they were never robbed and that their biggest sellers were candy and soda. “We charge less for candy here for the children may not have $1.19 like other stores. Instead we charge .99,” Nhiem said.
She welcomed me to the back of the store where we sat with the memories of her life and Monty’s career in the service and a photograph of the two of them from decades ago. She hasn’t changed that much. A petite well-spoken and generous thinker she has, “mixed feelings,” she says about the leave. His medals in a frame and a photograph he took of a nature scene are on the wall over the desk. Her life goals were to get married, to live in America and then when the World Trade Center in New York City crumbled during the September 11, 2001 disaster, it brought back the despair of living in Saigon. “It is so peaceful here, but when 9/11 happened it brought it up all over again,” she said referring to the unrest of war during the late 1960’s. “I love this community,” she said.
They met in Viet Nam, when she was 19-years old. “It went fast,” she says, “I will be sixty-five this year.” While this story begins and continues with love, it’s the in between life stuff, like the time they lived in different states during Monty’s military career that stationed them in Washington, El Paso and Arizona. While in Arizona, they traveled to Concho, two or more times a year when Monty’s parents owned the Jiffy Store for 8 years. During that time, “The lake was up to the top of the ramp. Now it is low (referring to the water.) The development changed it,” she said. Eventually, Nhiem and Monty took over the business. “It’s a lot of give and take,” Nhiem says, “people would say that being with your husband or wife all day long will be hard.”
If there is anything she wants the community to know about them is that they appreciate everybody. “Everyone has been so nice to us,” she said, “and I will still be coming here for gas.”