In the 1890s, William Joseph Couch and his wife, Ella Laughlin Couch moved to Tullahoma from Bedford County to open a grocery store. Their incentive for this move was because the trains had started coming through Tullahoma, and the passenger trains did not have food cars in the early days. And since the train station at that time was two blocks south of where it is located now, when the train would stop there to take on mail and new passengers, passengers wanting something to eat, would get off the train and go across the street to W.J. Couch & Co. grocery store to buy cheese and crackers for their trip. Since there was no such thing as bottled water in those days, I have no idea what they had to drink. Mr. Couch was better known in the community as Daddy Billy, and was much beloved by all who knew him. He practiced extraordinary customer service and tried to assist all who had a need.
The Couches had two children, Robert Laughlin Couch and Nelle Elizabeth Couch. After living in Tullahoma for several years, they moved to a home at 308 North Atlantic Street, next door to the Crouches. The two homes had been built by one of the local bankers who had had them built to give to each of their daughters as wedding gifts. And later they were sold. The Couches continued to live in their home for the rest of their lives, and when the Couch’s son married a young lady from Texas and brought her home to Tennessee on the train, they moved into “308” as well, and all three of their children, Robert Jr., Mary Searcy, and Dorothy Ann, were born in that home and raised there. The first of precious memories were also born in that home.
The Sr. Robert Couch graduated from the old Fitzgerald-Clark School and him and another Tullahoman, William J. Sanders, left for college in Atlanta, and became students at Georgia Tech. A couple of years later, WWI had started, and these two young men decided to join the Marine Corps, left college, and went to Parris Island, S.C. for Training. When that training was finished, Robert was sent to Norfolk to a ship, the USS Nevada, in preparation to deploy to Europe where they were needed. This was in 1918, and he contracted the Spanish Flu which took many lives. His family was called, and they were told that if they wanted to see their son alive again, they should come to Norfolk immediately. His Mother, Ella, and the family doctor, Dr. Dossett, went. Luckily the only son of the Couches survived and not long after, WWI was over, and he returned home.
It was a given that he would join his father in the grocery business which he did. After the war, another veteran came to Tullahoma and was hired by Daddy Billy as the butcher in the grocery store. He was a good match for Daddy Billy as he was much beloved as well. His name was Bill Raney and had a wonderful recipe for chocolate cake, and it was duly named the Bill Raney Cake, and it became the cake of choice for every birthday celebration and is still the favorite!
Robert, because of his schooling at Georgia Tech, had a hankering to deal with things electric and mechanical, so he opened a business that dealt with electrical appliances along with a department that had cameras (photography was a hobby of his) and a department where records were sold. When radios became available, he wanted to sell them as well. But there was no market for them because there was nothing to listen to. So Robert started the first radio station in Tullahoma, installed it in the home place at “308”. And then there was a demand for radios, and he sold many. There was an opening between the two businesses, but when Daddy Billy retired, Bill Raney bought the grocery store, so the opening between the two businesses was sealed so that both businesses could have more wall space.
Robert had learned the value of customer service from Daddy Billy, and he strived to continue that trait. Seldom was there a holiday meal that he wasn’t called because of a stove that wasn’t working or the refrigerator that wasn’t keeping things cold. Many a time he was called from a family holiday meal to go “fix” something as he did not want to call his service people away from their family on a special day. One time he had employed a mime to stand in the front window of the store, and a prize would be given to anyone who could make the mime laugh. The people outside the window would do all kinds of strange and crazy things trying to make the mine laugh, but the mime remained stoic all day!
All three of the Couch children worked in the store from time to time. When WWII ended, son Robert Jr. completed college after majoring in business and returned to Tullahoma to join his Dad in the family business. He had developed an interest in photography from his Dad, and he expanded the camera and photography department. Robert Sr. had a darkroom upstairs and taught Robert Jr., how to use it as well. It still remains untouched.
After Robert Sr. died in 1967, Robert Jr. (also known as Bob) invited his wife, Dot, to join him in the running of the business. Bob and Dot have two daughters, Fran Gray and Candy Couch. Candy followed her Dad in the photography business, and has continued to operate the business since her Dad’s death. And now the business has come to a close when its doors closed on 20 November. The torch passes, and another historic business in Tullahoma will become a part of Tullahoma’s history.