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Stone’s celebrates its founding

A large crowd filled the Stone’s Home Center in Bainbridge on Friday to celebrate the locally founded home improvement chain’s 50th anniversary.

James W. Stone, now 91 years old, opened his first store in Bainbridge in April 1959, at the age of 41. The chain now has nine stores located across Southwest Georgia and North Florida. Stone recalled the first day the store was open, it made only $18.50, or about $135.19 today when adjusted for inflation.

With the help of good relationships with wholesale suppliers, area banks and eventually the partnership of other home improvement entrepreneurs, Stone’s stores quickly blossomed, according to Stone’s 2008 biography, “There’s a Stone’s Store Near You!” Although he retired almost two decades ago, the good-natured Stone is still associated with the friendly phrase he used in many of the store’s commercials.

Stone, who was presented with several proclamations recognizing his life’s work this week, greeted many friends and customers at the Bainbridge store, which hosted a free lunch and anniversary cake among several special promotions on Friday.

Humble but clearly happy upon the occasion, Stone addressed the crowd during a brief ceremony and even found time for a television interview. While Stone founded the original store with his hunting and financial partner, the late Charles H. Kirbo, he credited the stores’ many employees over the years for bringing the company the success it enjoys today.

State Sen. John Bulloch and State Rep. Gene Maddox presented Stone with a proclamation from Gov. Sonny Perdue. Gov. Perdue noted Stone’s contributions to Georgia’s economy and his founding and lifelong support of the Decatur-Seminole Training Center, which provides services, support and employment opportunities for special needs persons.

Stone, a native of Virginia who came to Bainbridge in 1943 to attend aviation cadet training during World War II, has had a variety of adventures during his long life.

The same fortuitousness that brought Stone to Bainbridge, where his chain of stores flourished under the care of his family and associates, seems to have remained with him through the present day.

“It’s been a great life, there’s something unusual always happening to me,” Stone said. “Today, a gentleman came up to me and handed me a dollar bill. He said, ‘Here’s a dollar I borrowed from you three years ago.”

Decatur County Commissioners presented Stone with a proclamation honoring him at their Tuesday, April 14, meeting. Friday, April 17, was declared “James W. Stone Day” by both the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County.

A representative of Beadles Lumber Company of Moultrie, Ga., presented Stone with two prints of a hunting scene by Texas sporting artist Herb Booth. Bainbridge Mayor Mark Harrell presented Stone with a proclamation.

Mayor Harrell said his late father, Southwest Georgia Oil Company founder Jimmy Harrell, had great respect for Stone and thanked Stone for helping Bainbridge and Southwest Georgia grow.