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VERDE HERITAGE 1917-2017: KOVACOVICH MERCANTILE COMPANY

Photo courtesy Verde Historical Society.

Photo courtesy Verde Historical Society.

Kovacovich Mercantile was the first poured concrete building in Cottonwood. The building was documented and evaluated during the 1999 historic property survey according to the uniform standards used to identify important historic properties worthy of preservation. Even though the original windows with smaller transom windows above were replaced with plate glass windows and the central recessed entrance had been moved to a side entrance, the 1917 building was considered to be a contributing property in the historic district. The Cottonwood Commercial Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 18, 2000.

"Since 1906 the Kovacovich Mercantile Company has been one of the leading grocery concerns of the Verde District. Emil Kovacovich, proprietor and manager, has been steadily building up a splendid patronage by giving the very best service possible and by selling standard lines of merchandise at the very lowest prices consistent with good business methods. In 1917 Mr. Kovacovich opened a store at Cottonwood, and it has been equally as successful as the Jerome store. Buying for 2 stores makes it possible for him to effect many economical savings, all of which he passes on to his customers." (Verde Copper News; March 18, 1924.)

The Kovacovich Mercantile store in Jerome was located in the slide zone and was destroyed. The Kovacovich Mercantile store in Cottonwood is located near the bridge at 1124 North Main Street, on the corner of Cactus.

1917: "KOVACOVICH TO ERECT FINE STORE: A contract for erecting a concrete store at Cottonwood for Emil Kovacovich has been let to Gilmore, Schwitters and Chesney. It will be 36 by 60 feet in dimensions, with a basement 30 feet square and will be 1 story high. The firm has wired for a carload of cement for use in the walls. The total cost of the building with shelves and counters will be over $5,000. Mr. Kovacovich will carry a $20,000 stock of up-to-date merchandise and groceries." (The Jerome Sun; March 22, 1917.)

"CONCRETE STORE GOING UP FAST: The concrete store being erected at Cottonwood for Emil Kovacovich is making rapid headway, under the contract for its erection by Gilmore, Schwitters and Chesney. The walls are pretty well up and in the course of a few days will be complete and ready for removal of the forms. The store is prominently located on the main thoroughfare leading into town from Clarkdale. It is on the south side of the street, a short distance from the residence of Charles Willard [a brick home destroyed by fire in 1947]. It is generally conceded at Cottonwood that such an investment would not be made by a man of the business sagacity of Mr. Kovacovich without positive knowledge on his part of where the smelter city is going to be." (The Jerome Sun; April 10, 1917.)

Kovacovich Mercantile Company Articles of Incorporation named Emil Kovacovich and J. W. Laird during May of 1917. John W. Laird was the chief bookkeeper for 9 years prior to his unexpected death at the age of 54 at Los Angeles during July of 1918. His brother, S. Laird, was employed at the Cottonwood store. (The Jerome Sun; May 8, 1917; Verde Copper News; July 25, 1918.)

"KOVACOVICH MERCNATILE: The Kovacovich store is the handsomest of its kind in Yavapai County. It was built by Gilmore, Schwitters, and Chesney, Jerome contractors, and the stock of merchandise has been placed therein and arranged in a style that would be the envy of any city store dresser. A representative of The Sun was there last evening and found Emil Kovacovich on hand and unable to conceal the pride he feels over the showing." (The Jerome Sun; Thursday, June 7, 1917; page 4.)

1917 KOVACOVICH WAREHOUSE & GARAGE "This week the Kovacovich Mercantile Company of Cottonwood expressed their confidence in the future of the town by letting the contract and starting construction yesterday upon a warehouse 18 x 50 feet, immediately adjoining their store here on the west side, and on the east side will erect a garage for housing their own trucks and automobiles which are kept busy supplying provisions to people of Clarkdale and a few other valley towns and farming communities." (Verde Copper News; Jerome; Wednesday, August 8, 1917; page 5.)

"KOVACOVICH FAMILY MOVES: In an interview with Emil Kovacovich yesterday, the News representative learned that it was his intention to dispose of his Jerome interests as soon as practicable, and concentrate his mercantile affairs at Cottonwood. With this end in view, Mr. Kovacovich is this week removing his family from Jerome to the home just west of the Willard residence here. Feeling that he will be called for the service of his country in the second draft, he is making all necessary preparations to go if called upon, and states that his object is to have his business interests looked after in Cottonwood. With the recent completion of a large warehouse, now being well stocked with goods and the building of a new auto garage to house the company's machines, coupled with a previous investment running into thousands of dollars, it would seem that nothing could shake the confidence of Mr. Kovacovich in the future of the town of Cottonwood (Verde Copper News; Thursday, September 6, 1917; page 5.)

A wooden sidewalk was built in front of the building and along the east side. A narrow porch was built over the wood walkway on the east side. There was space to drive a vehicle between Kovacovich Mercantile and the warehouse-type wooden structure with a false front built by Joe Jolly (now Cactus and a parking lot). The 1917 "Jolly Building" existed on the site through the 1920's and into the 1930's. The residential street (now Cactus) was a dead-end with a turn-around behind the 2 large buildings.

GASOLINE AT KOVACOVICH MERCANTILE "A new gasoline tank has been put in front of the Kovacovich Mercantile establishment" (Verde Copper News; Monday, October 1, 1917; page 5.)

"KOVACOVICH BUYS OUT SELNA: The grocery business of Selna and Kovacovich is now under the sole ownership of Emil Kovacovich. Purchase of the half interest of Victor Selna was completed today. It will mean that Mr. Kovacovich hereafter will conduct 2 large stores, one at Cottonwood and this one at Jerome. The firm has bought on a large scale and has enjoyed trade second to very few in Arizona. Mr. Kovacovich came here a few years ago practically without a dollar. ... He had run his business independently of corporate influence and has won the support of the people. ... Hereafter, he proposes to use his best endeavors to hold down the cost of living in this vicinity. The floor manager of the firm, Joe Pecharich, will soon have to go to war, and after which it is understood that Mr. Stewart, present accountant, will take that position. ... One thing in which this firm has always specialized is that of fresh fruits and vegetables. This will be made the drawing card of the store." ... (The Jerome Sun; Monday; November 12, 1917; page 4.)

"PATRIOTIC MOVE OF LOCAL GROCER: In line with a suggestion from the National Food Administration, Emil Kovacovich has made every Monday 'potato day' at his Jerome and Cottonwood stores. Kovacovich is selling potatoes to his customers at the wholesale price. ... A potato sack containing 15 pounds of potatoes is 50 cents. 'Last year America's potato crop was exceptionally large,' remarked Kovacovich. 'We are going to have a surplus unless the consumption of potatoes is increased. On the other hand we have a shortage of meat and wheat. Grocers all over the nation are endeavoring by various means to induce their customers to form new buying and diet habits with potatoes.'" (Verde Copper News; January 12, 1918.)

1924: "KOVACOVICH MERCANTILE COMPANY OPERATES 2 FINE STORES: From the day that he engaged in business Emil Kovacovich has specialized in fresh fruits and vegetables. It is axiomatic with the district's housewives that anything in the way of fruits and vegetables in season can be obtained at either of the Kovacovich stores. Now the 2 stores have a fleet of 3 delivery trucks in regular operation, and they employ as many people as a small mine. Both the Kovacovich stores handle Pillsbury's flour, which is imported directly from the mills in carload lots. They also wholesale and retail immense quantities of grain and other stock feeds. Kovacovich is the Yavapai County distributor for Budwiser and Bevo, and the wholesaling of Anheuser-Busch products is no unimportant part of his business. He is also a distributor for M. & O. cigars." (Verde Copper News; March 18, 1924.)

On the east side of Kovacovich Mercantile a small room or apartment was built and used to house an employee (usually the night watchman). Then a 2-story addition was added to the back of Kovacovich Mercantile, extending the existing basement with additional space upstairs sometimes used for storage and sometimes used as a residential apartment.

Emil Kovacovich was born at Lovinac, Austria, on March 12, 1885. He left Bremen, Germany on April 12, 1903, arriving on the vessel "Frankfort" at the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1903. Emil came to Yavapai County where he was approved to become a U. S. citizen on August 7, 1913. Emil married Lena Maria Zwahlen at Prescott on June 11, 1914. He was divorced at the time of his death at Prescott on June 13, 1946. (Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives; Yavapai County Book 6 of Marriages; page 199.)

Kovacovich Mercantile had been a thriving and profitable business until the mines and smelters closed and many people left the Verde Valley.

By the end of 1928, the price of copper was 15 cents per pound, then the price rose to 24 cents per pound by the end of March, 1929. Jerome's population reached its peak, estimated by some to be 15,000, during 1929. Nationally, the "Great Depression" began with a sudden devastating collapse of the stock market on October 29, 1929, known as "Black Tuesday." This was a symptom, rather than the cause of the economic depression. The stock market turned upward early in 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, but still 30% below the peak of September, 1929. The price of copper declined to 18 cents per pound, then to 14 cents per pound during April of 1930.

The United Verde Copper Company mine in Jerome and smelter in Clarkdale, laid off 825 employees due to the low demand and dropping price of copper on June 26, 1930. Mexican miners and smelter workers returned to Mexico; at least 280 had left by July 18, 1930. The population of the City of Jerome dropped to 4,748, according to the 1930 census.

March 23,1931: "An angry mountain which started 10 days ago to shake off rocks and dirt from its side down the west slope of the United Verde Copper Company steam shovel pit in Jerome, with a final roar sloughed off many thousand tons of waste into the pit last Monday night, enveloping the town in dust and making a noise which could be heard for some distance. The rock slide was not unexpected, and there has existed for the past 2 years a crack near the top of the mountain." The immediate closing of the Clarkdale smelter was announced. There was a gradual shut-down with final closure on May 21, 1931. (Verde Copper News; March 27, 31, May 8, 1931.) Removal of more than 6,000,000 cubic yards of waste had to be done before open pit mining could resume at the end of 1934. The Clarkdale smelter warmed up during December, then began smelting copper during January. The new owners, Phelps Dodge Corporation, took over mining and smelting operations during February, 1935.

July 10, 1931: The United Verde Extension Mining Company announced that operations would be suspended by July 10, 1931. The complete shutdown left 600 men unemployed, with about 40 men retained on the payroll. The mine and smelter were expected to re-open on October 31, 1931. (Verde Copper News; June 26, 1931.)

After Kovacovich Mercantile closed, the empty building was used as a Nazarene Church. Mrs. Wheeler, the minister, and her family of young children lived across the street in the brick home formerly occupied by Mary Willard.

Cottonwood Bridge, at the north end of town, was built during 1926. The Civil Works Administration replaced and improved the old bridge and faced it with river rock during 1934.

Phelan Wallace Ragle moved to Cottonwood during 1927, with his wife, Floy Elizabeth, and their children. Mr. Ragle was a furniture dealer. Their son, Osley Delmar Ragle (born at Cardwell, Missouri, on April 30, 1909) started his own business in 1932.

1932: RAGLE'S USED FURNITURE started in the Kovacovich Mercantile building, then grew to fill the neighboring Kovacovich Warehouse. Osley and Ruby L. (Burkett) Ragle may have lived in the back apartment when they became the parents of Nancy Lee Ragle on March 24, 1933, however, the marriage did not last. Business improved after the mines and Clarkdale smelter re-opened during 1935. An addition was built onto the front of both buildings with large glass windows to display the furniture. A front addition on the Kovacovich Warehouse, and perhaps part of the warehouse space, was converted into a family residence.

Osley married Mary L. (Fitchett) King, and they lived in the residence with her 3 children; Ted, Velma, and Jimmy (James Lee King, b. Nov. 5, 1932.). Business was good, and Osley opened another Ragle's Furniture store in Flagstaff. The wood building across the street from the Cottonwood store was used for the storage of furniture and vehicles (later, it became Mt. Hope; now, it is the Hippie Emporium).

Osley Ragle was on his way home to Cottonwood when he suffered a fatal heart attack resulting in an auto accident 5 miles south of Flagstaff on December 22, 1948. By then, his wife was Martha N. Ragle. Following his death, the Flagstaff store was sold to Peter Viotti.

Ray Swett, who had worked as a bookkeeper for Ersel Garrison at Liberty Garage, began managing the Ragle Furniture Store.

Phelps Dodge Corporation closed the Clarkdale smelter during 1950, but continued mining activities in Jerome and ran the concentrator at the Clarkdale smelter. Many of the mine and smelter employees moved away. Cottonwood businesses began to struggle and many closed.

1952: "RAGLE FURNITURE STORE TO RE-OPEN UNDER A. K. RAGLE: 'We will try to give the same service as in the past,' said A. K. Ragle, Bridgeport contractor, who announced his intention to reopen the Cottonwood furniture store begun by his brother in 1932. ... Mr. and Mrs. Ragle are owners and operators. The store will carry new and used furniture and a complete line of hardware and appliances. National brands to be carried in the store include General Electric, Philco, Stanley tools, Deer-o paint and Casco metal furniture. In construction work here for 10 years, Mr. Ragle said he will continue his contracting business." (The Verde Independent; May 22, 1952.)

"RAGLE FURNITURE STORE re-opened today. ... The premises, unused for more than a year, have been extensively remodeled. Stocking of shelves and counters has been arranged to allow a maximum quantity of merchandise to be seen at once. Hundreds of hooks, from which goods were hung in days past, have been removed from rafters and the entire floor area redecorated. One side of the store is devoted principally to hardware items and smaller appliances. The other side is given over to furniture and larger appliances." (The Verde Independent; June 12, 1952; page 1.)

1953: RAGLE FURNITURE AND HARDWARE STORE was sold to Pete Viotti, of Flagstaff, July 1. "Pete Viotti, owner of the Ragle Furniture Store at Flagstaff, "indicated he would maintain his home there at least temporarily. ... Ray Swett, Viotti said, will continue as manager of the local store" at Cottonwood. (The Verde Independent; July 2, 1953; page 1.)

1970: VIOTTI FURNITURE advertised as "In Downtown Cottonwood, Beyond the Curve," Everything on sale with savings of 30% to 70% and "all merchandise must be sold." during March of 1970. (The Verde Independent; March 19, 1970.)

Peter Viotti built the Viotti Village strip-mall in the 900 block of South Main Street during 1976, where he ran Viotti Furniture for about 27 years. After selling the business to Bruce Lerum, who ran Village Furniture, an arson fire destroyed part of the complex on March 18, 2003. At that time Peter Viotti still owned the mall. (The Verde Independent; May 16, 2003.)

Peter Viotti was born at Jerome on April 19, 1921. He is the son of Bernardino "Barney" and Angelina (Guglia) Viotti. He grew up in Jerome. After graduating from High school he became a Sergeant in the 98th Bomb Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, serving as a radio operator and was honorably discharged during 1946. While living in Flagstaff, he opened Viotti Furniture and the Quality Inn Hotel. He was on the Flagstaff City Council from 1960 to 1966. He married "Chiqui" on February 10, 1967. Mr. Viotti retired from the furniture business in 1980. He died in Camp Verde on September 28, 2011, survived by his wife, "Chiqui;" a daughter, Vicki, of New Mexico; and 3 sons, Mike Viotti, Tony Viotti, and Dino Viotti, all of Cottonwood. (The Verde Independent: October 5, 2011.)

The Kovacovich Mercantile property ownership changed several times during the 1970's and 1980's, with various business occupying the buildings. Some of the owners and the dates they sold are: Bruce M. and Nancy Van Kirk (October 24, 1973), Eugene H. and Esther Krause (November 20, 1975), Elwood L. and Mildred S. Justin (August 1, 1979), Martouny A. and Evelyn L. Sarkissian (January 15, 1988), John T. Livingston, the current owner.

On his way to the Farmer's Market in "Old Town" last week, John Livingston was asked about his property. When he acquired the buildings, the front addition with glass windows extended across the street side of the buildings. The City of Cottonwood forced him to remove the front addition, requiring an engineer and other professionals to provide various services. Removing the addition meant loss of floor space along the front plus the loss of the large addition on the front of the original Kovacovich Warehouse.

On April 7, 1997, John Livingston signed a "Lease with Option to Purchase" with Sustainable Industries, Inc., provided a deed during December, then the property was returned to him on March 21, 2000. Mr. Livingston said there was an interesting story about that, but he was too busy to go into details.

John Livingston said he has usually rented each of the buildings individually. He has also rented storage space in the buildings and usually has a tenant living in the upstairs apartment. He said he does not remember all of the renters or businesses, but there have been many. Some of them are:

THE NEW GREENHOUSE CAFE, a vegetarian restaurant, had new owners on March 20, 1999.

SOPHIA'S BOTIQUE was at 1124 N. Main by late 1999 or early 2000.

COOKS MARKET CAFE opened at 1124 N. Main on May 12, 2001. Jeff and Cindy Cook spent weeks remodeling and said the building had previously housed other cafes. They were still in business a year later. (The Verde Independent; May 25, 2001; February 18, 2002.)

CEDAR BUSH HELPING HAND THRIFT SHOP occupied the building during 2004. (The Verde Independent; November 24, 2004.)

BENT RIVER BOOKS & MUSIC opened their store during September of 2010, and were still there during July of 2011. (The Verde Independent; September 29, 2011.) Chris and Carla Wykoff eventually moved to the Charles Willard Building on Main Street.

NORTH BEND STUDIO had been in the building before the Historic Home and Building Tour on November 8, 2014. When they moved to the east side of Main Street in "Old Town," the name changed to CARTWHEELS.

MORNING GLORY by Beaumier's Design and Remodeling will be opening in September. The "shopable showroom" features home décor accessories as well as cabinetry, backsplashes, flooring, etc. Familiar with kitchen and bath design, new construction and remodeling, Donny and Arielle Beaumier outgrew their office.

KOVACOVICH WAREHOUSE, at 1126 North Main Street, has been a restaurant during recent years. CONCHO"S had a restaurant for several years before moving to a new location on South Main Street (where they are still serving Mexican food). MORAGA'S advertised their Authentic Mexican Food & Cantina. Currently, ADRIANA'S MEXICAN RESTAURANT is providing excellent food at reasonable prices.

See: The Verde Independent; "1917: COTTONWOOD; Kovacovich Mercantile;" November 6, 2014.

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