Known throughout West Texas as "a city within itself," Thornton's Store was one of Abilene's leading businesses for nearly seven decades. E.L. Thornton (1896-1964) moved to Abilene from Arkansas in 1919, after service in World War I. He opened a fruit stand in 1919, followed by a grocery store in 1920. Joined by his two brothers, Thornton soon expanded his business. In 1925 he added dry goods, followed by a drug store and a feed store in 1929. Radio and refrigeration departments were added in 1931.
By 1937 Thornton's filled an entire block of Oak Street, adding a café, a beauty shop, and shoe department. In 1941 a franchise for selling new Studebaker cars was added. The one-story properties were renovated in 1947 into a four-story structure of more than 100,000 square feet. Thornton's was famous for its Christmas displays. In 1959 the largest fire in Abilene's gutted the Thornton property. Reconstruction began at once.
After the deaths of E.L. Thornton in 1964 and his son Charles Eugene Thornton in 1965, surviving family members sold their interests to a chain store based in St. Louis. Thornton's continued in business under new ownership until 1985.