Waltons buy historic buildings in Kingston

Family plans renovations to Kingston store, cafe, mercantile

The old Bunch grocery store in Kingston, Ark., one of three buildings purchased by members of the Walton family. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bill Bowden)

KINGSTON -- A building on the downtown Kingston square has been the center of much intrigue over the past couple of years.

The old Bunch store, built in 1890, is six inches out of plumb, but the doors and windows are plumb.

Oral history has it that a wind storm came through during construction, blowing things out of kilter, but the builders proceeded undeterred.

A storage building was constructed on the east side, possibly to keep the store from keeling over.

On Dec. 7, 2021, mysterious buyers purchased the historic building for $240,000. They went by the name of Kingston Holdings LLC, with an address that traced back to a UPS Store in Omaha, Neb.

Rumor was that the building was bought by members of the well-known Walton family of Bentonville.

That turned out to be true.

Runway Group of Bentonville recently announced that Walton family members had acquired three historic buildings on the downtown square of Kingston, population 97, in Madison County.

Runway Group was founded by Steuart and Tom Walton, grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

Besides the old Bunch store, the Waltons also purchased the Valley Cafe and Valley Mercantile buildings. They're on the same side of the street as the Bunch store, a bit to the east.

The new owners plan to "update" the buildings and "open their doors to the community," according to a statement on its website. "While we don't yet have a timeline for the opening, we will share more when we do."

"Runway is a holding company making investments in real estate, outdoor initiatives, hospitality, and businesses making Bentonville, and Arkansas, the best version of itself for everyone," according to the website.

Runway is particularly well known for trail building and making Bentonville a mountain biking destination.

Runway has come under fire recently for funding a survey of residents of the Buffalo River watershed about whether they would like for the Buffalo National River to be redesignated as a national park and preserve.

In theory, such a redesignation would bring in more visitors and more economic development. The survey indicated 64% were for it.

But many people who live in the area are against the idea.

About 1,200 of them attended a townhall-style meeting in Jasper on Oct. 26. They said the redesignation would result in overcrowding and would change "our way of life."

They also criticized Runway for approaching U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., about the idea over a year ago, long before the survey was conducted in September and the Madison County Record broke the story about it on Oct. 4.

Westerman, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said such a change would require much public input before anything is done, and it's just in the early discussion phase right now.

Runway has said it has no other plans in the works regarding the Buffalo National River, which is about 10 miles southeast of Kingston.

"We think it is an idea worth considering, but it is not our decision to make," according to a Runway spokesman. "There is no new action at this time."

The Madison County Record has reported that other Walton family entities own thousands of acres of land near Kingston. A spokesman for the family said that land isn't related to any redesignation effort regarding the Buffalo National River.

The Kingston buildings:

On Dec. 7, 2021, Joel and Joyce Bunch sold the old Bunch store to Kingston Holdings LLC of Omaha, Neb., according to Madison County real estate records. The price was $240,000.

Located at 100 Public Square in Kingston, the two-story, wood-frame building was built in 1890.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Between 1890 and 1916, a "false front shed-roofed storage area" was built onto the east side of the store, according to the National Register nomination form.

Regarding the store itself, "the entire building is about six inches out-of-plumb to the east (even though the floor is less than two inches out of level across its seventy-foot length," according to the nomination.

"The obvious appearance is that the whole building is leaning to the east," according to the nomination. "The doors and windows are plumb, but the framing is not, so it is difficult to determine how this condition came to be.

"One possible explanation from oral history is that there was a violent windstorm during the construction that blew the frame out-of-plumb, and it was decided to continue the work regardless. This gives rise to a theory that the storage addition might have been built not just for storage but also to help brace the store."

Joel N. Bunch started a general merchandise store in Kingston and built the existing building in 1890, according to the nomination.

"In addition to general merchandise he was then able to offer a full line of hardware, medicine, farm machinery, harnesses, feeds, seeds, wagons, and various other goods," according to the nomination. "Practically anything needed by the people in the Kingston area could be found at Bunch's store, which was also home of the first telephone in Kingston in the 1930s.

"The store became well-known not only for its extensive variety of goods, but also as a community center for marketing the products of local farmers. Local herbs such as ginseng, golden seal and many others were sold to pharmaceutical houses in the east. Pelts of opossum, mink, fox, and polecat were marketed to a fur company in St. Louis. Cowhides were bought, tanned and made into leather goods and sold through the store. Eggs, dried fruit, honey and molasses were packaged and hauled in Bunch wagons to railroad centers in Fayetteville, Berryville and Pettigrew."

For many years, meetings of the Masonic Lodge were held on the second floor of Bunch's store.

Joel Bunch died in 1927, and his son Alvin B. Bunch ran the store until his death in 1959, according to the nomination. Alvin's son Hugh Bunch took over and ran the store until he died in 1995. The store was closed and sold at auction in 1998 to Hugh's nephew, Joel Bunch, and his wife Joyce. Afterwards, the building served as Kingston Square Arts, a gallery and studio for pottery and local artisans.

On April 6, 2022, Reuben W. Waldron Jr. and Jenna Marie Waldron sold the two-story Valley Cafe building to 127 Madison 2645 LLC for $165,000, according to county real estate records. The building was constructed around 1950 and also served as a bed and breakfast. 127 Madison County Road 2645 also happens to be the building's address, just three lots east of the Bunch store. The limited liability company used the street address of a UPS Store in Houston, according to the deed.

On July 8, 2022, by Jessica Lynn McKinney sold the Valley Mercantile building for $175,000 to Valley Mercantile LLC, according to property records. The buyer used the street address of a UPS Store in Bellevue, Neb., an Omaha suburb. The one-story building, located at 153 Madison County Road 2645, was constructed around 1925, according to property records.