Bob Fullerton, known to most as “Bad Bob,” was hunting wasps the first time I visited the general store he owned in the rural village of Bend, just upriver from Colorado Bend State Park. Fullerton didn’t use bug spray or a tennis racket. Instead, he took a BB gun in hand as he stalked the winged insects colonizing the eaves of Bad Bob’s Bend Store. Past the front screen door and the cedar posts that hold up the building’s rusted metal roof, he pumped his gun and took aim in the vicinity of firewood being sold by the bundle.
Bend General Store
112 County Road 438, Bend
Opens 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
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A wasp fell. Fullerton turned to the customers who’d gathered to watch, and he nodded with obvious pride. “Confirmed kill,” he said.
In the decade he operated Bad Bob’s, Fullerton nurtured a reputation for eccentricity and eclectic tastes. With steady business from anglers and Hill Country campers, he avoided the fate of so many of Texas’ old-time general stores that fell victim to declining rural populations and competition from chain stores. Plenty of mom-and-pop shops have cleared their shelves of quotidian wares like canned vegetables and rolls of toilet paper to make room for antiques and tchotchkes meant to tempt tourists. But Fullerton got by selling a little bit of everything from his modest cinder-block store: minnows and worms, groceries, coffee, hamburgers, children’s toys, fishing tackle, camping gear, and other stuff he’d accrued over time.
I was looking for a can of Dr Pepper when I stopped by in March 2017. I left with a dusty pack of 1991-era Donruss baseball cards and two postcards of flathead catfish laid across the tailgate of a Ford pickup truck. A covered patio next to the store offers a meeting place for the area’s farmers and ranchers to sip their coffee in the morning. On the other side of the building, an open-air stage hosts live music on the weekends. As I was leaving, a long-bearded blues guitarist was setting up for a show next to a couple of worn-out couches and a pinball machine.
Fullerton also sings the blues and plays guitar. He acquired the “Bad Bob” nickname while performing with an Austin band called the Rhythm Rats. “We had two guitar players named Bob, and they called me ‘Bad Bob’ because the other guy was quite a bit better than I was,” he explained.
But it’s the end of an era in Bend: The store has a new owner and a new name. Bret Cali, who previously operated general stores in Sisterdale, Llano, and Alaska, purchased Bad Bob’s from Fullerton in January and rechristened it the Bend General Store.
Rather than shooting wasps outside the storefront, Cali was taking a load off in a hammock strung between two cedar posts next to a well-used community bulletin board when I pulled up on a sunny afternoon in February. Cali had already applied a new coat of bright red paint and moved in four one-room vacation rental cabins a short walk from the stage, where blues and country music concerts and a Saturday pickers’ circle are still being held.
“There are not too many classic general stores like this,” Cali said. “It’s a real score.”
For at least eight decades, the general store has served the community of Bend, settled in 1854 on a horseshoe bend of the Colorado River. Flowing just downstream, the river passes a couple of resorts called Sulphur Springs Camp and the Barefoot Camp and R.V. Park, which offer 6 miles of riverfront access between them, then arrives at Colorado Bend State Park. Beyond the opposite bank, Fiesta Vineyard & Winery offers wine tastings paired with small pizzas and meat-and-cheese boards.
Anglers are especially drawn to Bend when the sand bass travel upriver from Lake Buchanan to spawn in the early spring. When the weather warms up, Colorado Bend State Park visitors swim, float, and paddle in the river; others hike the mile-and-a-half trail to the state park’s nearly 70-foot Gorman Falls. Although there’s a lot to do in Bend, the village is more than 20 miles west of Lampasas and 90 miles northwest of Austin—far enough from any metro area that Cali isn’t worried about the community losing its rural character anytime soon. “This place is still small,” he said. “It’s not close enough to be a commuter city, but it’s next to a beautiful river and some of the best terrain in the state.”
As Cali manned the cash register, a silver-haired customer stopped in for two bags of popcorn. She held up her phone to show off a photo she’d snapped in the state park earlier that day of a rock shaped like a doughnut, with a hole inexplicably going all the way through it. A couple of fishermen came and went, picking up lures and snacks.
As for “Bad Bob” Fullerton, he has already opened a low-key swap shop at his home across the gravel road from his former general store. A sign in front of the house encouraged visitors to honk, so I did. Fullerton, who is 66 years old, came outside wearing a “Bad Bob” baseball cap and his “The Bobfather” T-shirt. His plan is to buy and sell cheap items like used furniture, which might be an easier way to make a living than running the general store. He’s also playing in a few bands, including a blues outfit called the Bend Cats and a Baptist praise band on Sunday mornings.
“It’s been an adjustment for me because I went from working seven days a week, and now I’m kind of retired,” he said, adding that he is proud to have kept Bad Bob’s open for a decade and found a successor in Cali.
There’s one other thing Bob is proud of: “I dropped quite a few wasps.”