Father, daughter renovate store as tribute to family matriarch

HAWKINSVILLE – For years and years it sat dark and neglected, collecting dust and cobwebs rather than customers.Now, after more than a year of work, Kimberly’s is again a jewel of Hawkinsville’s historic downtown.Which is only fitting. For most of its life, the Commerce Street building was home to one of the town’s leading jewelry stores. Now reincarnated, Kimberly’s is a fine antiques and gift shop featuring English furniture, silver, linens and baby gifts.Built in 1912, the red-brick building was first a grocery store. But then the Kimberly family moved their jewelry store from smaller quarters three doors down.“They had custom wooden cabinets with leaded glass doors, and marble-based glass display counters. People said it was like walking into a jewelry box to come in here in its heyday,” said Harris Hardin, who along with daughter Jill Niblett had the building and cabinets restored. She is now proprietor of the new antique store.Hardin and his wife, Barbara, both graduates of the pharmacy school at Auburn University, moved to Hawkinsville in 1964 after buying Batts Drug Store, across the street from Kimberly’s Jewelry Store.They raised their three children and became active in their community. Barbara later became the chief pharmacist at Taylor Memorial Hospital, where one of her good friends was nurse Francis Kimberly, wife of jewelry store owner Carl Kimberly.The years marched on, and the Kimberlys, who had been leaders in the effort to preserve and restore Hawkinsville’s old opera house and begin a renewal of downtown, passed away.Then, two years ago, cancer claimed Barbara.“She was the Jackie Kennedy of Hawkinsville, so fashionable and charming, a real southern belle,” said Karen Bailey, director of Hawkinsville’s Better Hometown program and Downtown Development Authority. “And she was the heart of her family.”Hardin had sold his drug store some years ago to concentrate on his companies that managed nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Niblett, a nurse, had started a clinic in Houston County.But after Barbara’s death, they decided to step away from the health-care business. They were looking for a way to stay busy but not forget the woman they had loved.Then a door opened. Literally.One day heading to his office next door, Hardin noticed the front door to Kimberly’s was open.“After Carl retired and he and Francis died, the place sat empty just slowly decaying. Scott Murphy, a local fellow, bought the building from their estate about three years ago, thinking he might open a restaurant. But other than sweeping it out and cleaning up a little, he hadn’t gotten around to doing anything with it.”Hardin peeked inside, and asked if he could bring Niblett to see it.“I didn’t know if she remembered what it looked like inside,” Hardin said.Her first thought was that she seemed to be peering through dirty, smoked glass.“It was so dark and dusty,” she said. “The marble and brass work on the cabinets was black, and the wood was painted an awful mauve pink. The floor was a checkerboard of black and white tiles. There was a suspended acoustic ceiling that was in horrible shape. It was just awful.”But it was also, she quickly realized, just wonderful.Rescuing the store, and the remaining fine furnishings, would be the perfect project.“We were looking to throw our energy into something positive for this community, for a way to work through our grief and equal out the stress it brings,” she said.Within a week they had agreed to buy the building. The renovation began in September 2007, and this past October they opened the new Kimberly’s.The old tile flooring, which had been applied with hot tar, was pulled up to reveal three tongue-and-groove pine floors on top of each other. The acoustic ceiling was torn down to expose the old wooden ceiling. Inch thick plaster walls were repaired or torn out to reveal brick walls. The many coats of ugly paint were stripped from the Brazilian cherry and pine cabinets, and they were refinished, with the brass work and glass cleaned.“The amazing thing about the cabinets was that none of the glass had been broken over the years, and none was broken in the renovation,” Hardin said. “All the sliding doors still worked, though they work better now that they’ve all been cleaned.”The floors were refinished, and the ceiling repaired and repainted. A square opening in the center of the ceiling that had been boarded over – Hardin figures it once was a skylight – was expanded into a scalloped opening featuring one of the black-iron chandeliers they imported from Turkey.In the back of the building, a large window discovered leaning against a wall was converted into a pocket door. A mirror that may have been part of one of the cabinets was restored and hung on the wall.Bead board paneling and a rolling ladder from another downtown building were secured, refurbished and installed.Then they began bringing in antiques and new merchandise.Along the way, their vision for the store evolved.“We were thinking at first to have antiques and gifts in the front and a tea room/coffee shop in the rear. But then we realized we’d have to sell 3,000 cups of coffee to make as much as we could with one antique chair,” Hardin said.So the space was filled with antiques and new imports from England and Italy, and the dusty old store became a showplace.“We’ve had a downtown rehab program going for about 10 years now, and we’ve had a number of businesses do very nice renovations,” Bailey said. “But none to compare to this. What Jill and Harris have done with Kimberly’s is remarkable for a small town like Hawkinsville.”Hardin said he and his wife had never really considered having an antique store, “but she would be all over this if she were here.”Niblett is sure she is.“She liked nice things and had some antiques, but she wasn’t a huge collector,” Niblett said. “But she introduced me to fine silver and linens and antiques, so as we were doing all this, I would try to think of what she would have liked and done. A lot of times when we’d hit a roadblock, I’d just come and sit and stare at the problem area and wonder what she would do until I’d get a vision, and then that’s what I’d do.“Her influence is all through this store.”