While small town U.S.A. is truly the backbone of middle America, all across the country these small towns are disappearing. Thus, when the community of a small-town bands together out of love and loyalty for each other to thrive, it is a story that warms one’s heart and must be told. Such a place is tucked away in the small charming town of Gail, Texas and exemplified by the music of the Coyote Store.
This is the story of Becky Justice Ford, her sister Rika Jo Law, and the Coyote Store, a place that is built on love, loyalty, and respect for the community. As Becky shares, “It’s all about the land, the people, and the music.” So much so, that Becky and Rika have transformed the Coyote Store from a former general store established in 1985 into a place that now features famous music greats, including former Nashville headliners, while delightfully keeping its country store magic. In fact, this past May, the Coyote Store hosted country music great, Moe Bandy.
Here’s how this inspiring story has unfolded:
Born in Post, Texas, Becky and her sister Rika were inspired by their grandmother Bertie Copeland’s work ethic. As children, these young girls would walk “hand in hand” to sell their mom’s burritos to the community. After Bertie acquired The Coyote Store in 1992, everyone in the family worked there at one time or another.
Becky reflects lovingly on the tales of her grandmother Bertie, well known for being “blunt and cantankerous” and “loved for her honesty that you could count on.” For instance, she shares a story of Bon Jovi who came thru town, and her grandmother telling him that he needed a haircut. When Bon Jovi reportedly responded with, “You know who I am right?”, Bertie was quick to say, “I don’t care. You need a haircut”.
In 2014, while working a case in her area of expertise in criminology, Becky heard that her grandmother was selling The Coyote Store. With the nostalgic love she had for this place while growing up, Becky purchased it from her grandmother, and saved it from becoming a taco stand. Becky declares that this decision was the “best thing that ever happened” to her. In fact, the day Becky purchased the store from Bertie, her grandmother grabbed her arm and said, “This store will be your salvation and it will be your sister’s, too.”
Well, Bertie was right! Inspired by their grandmother’s work ethic to maintain the stamina to run a small-town business, Becky and Rika began ideas for an amazing transformation. They put up curtains to cover the windows to begin a renovation and gave their children ages 7-12 sledge hammers, and told them to “go to town.” As they toiled tirelessly for six weeks, it was unclear how this small community of slightly over 200 people would react to the change in ownership. Everyone had a special affection in their hearts for Bertie and in fact they mourned the loss of this piece of history when the keys were exchanged, and even posted photographs of their last purchases on Facebook.
Well, as expected, the delightful community of Gail and the ounty of Borden rose to the occasion and embraced Becky and her sister. According to Becky, it was “a welcomed change due to lifetime friendships and close relationships. When a town this small with generations share the love for this community…the community is a story in itself…the way they loved this place.”
Becky and Rika started Friday night fish frys, using the recipe they used on the riverside fishing with their father as the “boys he never had.” As the word spread, the inside business started growing and they needed to expand to the outside to accommodate more people from surrounding small Texas towns. In her never-ending inspiring entrepreneurial spirit, Becky looked upon the cement patio that was added and envisioned a small stage and the music which now makes the Coyote Store nationally famous was born.
The first to perform at the Coyote Store was a charming local group of gospel singers, and courtesy of the enthusiastic power of “Facebook Live” and her “mom’s famous pies,” the Coyote Store was soon booking big names from Nashville greats of times remembered fondly, like The Kendalls and Johnny Rodriguez. As the guest list grew and space dwindled, additional cement patio blocks were added in front of the building to accommodate more guests. Becky smiles as she notes that every time they sold out of tickets, the space was enlarged in the spirit of Johnny Cash, “one piece at a time.”
After four large cement patios had been added to the front of the store to accommodate The Kendalls and Johnny Rodriquez, it was time to expand. From this moment on, the Coyote Country Store learned the power of its charm, as people preferred to enjoy music in this warm community than moving the venue off site. Within 10 days, the teens and adults from the community rose up to help provide 675 seats for Jean Watson to perform in the backyard of The Coyote Store. The rest is history. A large stage was built, and many more country western greats have performed, including Gene Watson, T.G. Sheppard, Shenandoah, Doug Stone, and Johnny Lee, to name a few.
On May 18th, 2019, the community was thrilled to welcome Moe Bandy. Three back up performers/bands played, and each were fabulous in their own rights. These included Jeff Smithart, the Texas Pride Band (Richard Klitz, Gerald Dykes, and Cecil Bingham), and Will Banister and the Modern Day Ramblers (William Banister, Johnny Mulhair, Jill Mulhair, Paul Goad, and Danny Darling). By the time that the iconic Moe Bandy graced the stage with his band (Nick Ochoa, John Clark, Dennis Casey, Buster Sharp, Tommy Rials), the dance floor was filled to the brim. It was a truly memorable night full of great barbeque, dance, and beautiful country music. Enhanced by the vision of these two amazing ladies, the heartwarming sense of this loving community was truly felt.
This coming weekend, the Coyote Store welcomes The Bellamy Brothers, with a sold out crowd of over 1000 people, five times the population of the town. Fortunately, if you hurry, you may be able to squeeze in a standing room only ticket. On October 12th, Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee will be performing, with most of the cast members of Urban Cowboy in attendance. For a full list of all upcoming performances and to purchase tickets, please visit: https://www.outhousetickets.com/Venue/The_Coyote_Store
The authors would like to thank Becky Justice Ford for sharing her story of heroic courage, and the beauty of what makes the Coyote Store along with the supportive community, truly the heart of Gail, Texas. For the best of small town great southern cooking, southern hospitality, and music, join people and celebrities alike from all over world, and mosey on over to Gail, Texas and visit the Coyote Store, and the dynamic duo of Becky Justice Ford and her sister Rika Law. Great people in a small town with a Big Heart!
In addition, a special thank you to Moe Bandy and his manager, Nick Ochoa, for sharing time with Jim Storm and Valerie Pronio on their concert bus.
Featured Photo: Becky Justice Ford and her sister Rika Jo Law with country great musician, Moe Bandy, just prior to his concert at the Country Store on May 18th, 2019. Photograph by Valerie Pronio
Article written by Valerie Pronio, in collaboration with the interview conducted by Jim Storm with Becky Justice Ford. Photography by both Jim Storm and Valerie Pronio.