In the 1950s, Osage Beach and Lake Ozark residents had to drive to Eldon or Camdenton for simple necessities such as bread, milk and meat until one man took a risk and opened up a one-room store at the junction of Highways 54 and 42. Carl’s — as it was known — was owned and operated solely by Carl Williams. Williams' last store, Carl's Village, will end its grocery operations this week.
In the 1950s, Osage Beach and Lake Ozark residents had to drive to Eldon or Camdenton for simple necessities such as bread, milk and meat until one man took a risk and opened up a one-room store at the junction of Highways 54 and 42. Carl’s — as it was known — was owned and operated solely by Carl Williams.
With an old cigar box serving as a cash register, Williams did everything on his own from cutting meat to servicing cars. His store was a one-stop shop for locals. Many would stop by for stamps and telephone messages each evening. The store became a landmark and throughout the years, a piece of lake-area history.
In 1960, Carl’s One was built across the street from it’s humble one-room beginnings. It was considered a variety and hardware store. Williams built on to his pride and joy seven times over the years. He expanded his brand into the Lake Ozark area in 1982 when Carl’s Two was built on Bagnell Dam Blvd. Residents today would know the location of the former Carl’s Two as the vacant lot next to LO’s Crab Shack. According to Williams’ daughter, Belinda Phillips, Carl’s Two was the talk of the town with ‘top of the line’ equipment that year. Ten years later, Carl’s Village was built on Horseshoe Bend.
As years went on and the lake area grew into what it is today, Carl’s One and Two eventually closed up shop. Carl’s One closed in 2000 while Carl’s Two closed in 2005. Hardware was then moved to the lower level of Carl’s Village where it has remained until today.
This summer is the end of an era for Phillips and her family. She has decided to phase out the grocery store and move the hardware store upstairs at Carl’s Village. The store will continue to sell ice, beer, milk, snacks and other items but will not have the majority of groceries like they have in the past.
For Belinda, this was not an easy decision. Carl’s has been a part of her entire life.
“When you grow up with it, you just know it,” she said of the family business.
Standing in the partially empty store, tears welled in her eyes as she recalled visiting Carl’s One every weekend as a kid and working side by side with the man she loved and respected more than she could put into words.
At the early age of eight years old, Belinda Williams would pop into the different departments visiting with employees, locals and tourists on any given Saturday. As she grew up, she worked at Lee Mace’s Opry which was also a Williams family business since Carl Williams’ sister, Joyce, married Lee Mace. Belinda worked at the theater in different roles including three seasons on stage as a part of the square dance team. At age 15, Belinda became a cashier at Carl’s and began, unbeknownst to her at the time, the path to taking over the family business.
After attending Drury University and living out of the area for a few years, Phillips and her husband decided to move closer to the lake area to start a family. Since her husband found a job in Lebanon, she traveled back in forth from Lebanon to Osage Beach to work with her dad at the store. She did everything from office work to ordering supplies and stock to training cashiers. She was lovingly known as Carl’s right hand and when customers would come in and ask if he had a partner, he would look over at his daughter with a smile on his face and point directly at her.
As an only child, Phillips got to know her dad, the beloved lake-area grocer, like no one else.
“He was the best, very honest, very caring and had a soft spot for kids,” she said of the late Carl Williams. “He always helped those who needed him.”
The giving spirit that Phillips’ father instilled in her at an early age is still a part of her today. When she wanted to officially phase out the grocery section in Carl’s Village, she gave three or four charitable organizations the opportunity to come and shop for free. For her, it was about paying it forward because that is what Carl would always do.
The new phase for Carl’s Village will take some getting used to for Phillips.
“It’s an adjustment,” she said. “I’m ready to do some different things.”
With one child just graduating from college and the other from high school, Phillips hopes to spend more time with her family doing things she did not have time for before.
No matter what the future is for Carl's Village, one thing remains: the Williams family and the Carl's brand has left a lasting legacy on the lake area.
"I am really proud to be a part of this family," Phillips said. "To have seen what we have seen and to have done what we have done."
Passers-by can see a bench dedicated to Carl Williams near Carl's Village at the corner of Bittersweet Road and Route HH. The bench was placed there in his honor and has the words 'Lake area grocer for 58 years' inscribed on it.
The official moving of the hardware store into Carl’s Village begins on Tuesday and should be complete within a few days.