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From the Publisher's Desk – Communities had much in 'store' (March 18, 2015 issue)

I love driving along back roads. However, I am saddened to find what was once the heart of the community now boarded up. I am talking about the little community stores. Most of them are closed now due to larger grocery stores and super stores shooting up somewhere nearby and putting them out of business.
In their time, they were the main source for all staples and the gathering place for all news. Cane back chairs would be found in one central location for men of the community to gather around and eat a Moon Pie or pack of crackers and peanut butter. The treat would be washed down with an ice cold RC, Orange Crush or Chocolate Soldier. Of course a nice cold Coca Cola would need a bag of peanuts poured into it. There is just something about the sweetness of the drink with the saltiness of the peanuts.
There are few stores in Unicoi County remaining with these treasured traditions. Beyond the community general store, there are few businesses that offer the bonding and hometown chit chat appeal.
I think Jones’ Hardware in Unicoi still has a small group of men that start their day off sitting around in a circle and discussing everything from politics to local crops. It is refreshing to walk in there and see that tradition carried on. I hope someday, when I retire, there will still be some place to ease into the start of my day by hashing out the latest news with others.
Some of the local eateries have little groups. Clarence’s in Unicoi and McDonald’s are a few. My mom goes most Wednesdays to Steel Rails Coffee Shop on Main where she joins friends Dorothy Fortune, Connie Denney and Ralph Hood for a cup of coffee and some friendly conversation.
Growing up, I remember McInturff’s Store near Gentry Stadium. Sometimes classes at Elm Street Elementary would walk to the stadium. We got to go in and purchase Pixie Stix, Sweet Tarts, suckers and more. It was a fascinating store and Mrs. McInturff was always so friendly and patient with us.
Hensley’s little store on Spivey was close to my home. It had been open for years and supplied the necessities in basic food, animal feed and gasoline. It also had some special items such as ice cream varieties, cold drinks and candies.
I remember going in and asking for a dollar’s worth of chocolate drops. My grandmother loved them. The owner’s son, Dale Hensley, would sling open a small brown “poke,” stick his hand down in the large jar and grab up handful after handful of the delicious treats to fill the bag. This was before dozens of government regulations, but I’m still around to tell about it.
Dale worked at the store a lot and later took over entirely after the passing of his father, Van. The business had long been a stopping point for my grandfather. Van would let patrons run a tab and pay when they got their checks. Evidently my uncles would stop by and pick up candy when their dad wasn’t with them. When he got the bill he would bring it home and read it off around the dining table. The listing for candy was termed “trash.” The rundown would go $1 for trash on this day, another 50 cents for trash spent on this day.
The store also took payments of the community’s electric bills for French Broad and sent them in as a bundle. Once you paid there, it was as good as sent.
Another store I loved was Farnor’s at Ernestville. It was much larger and the “Food Lion” of my time. This store was always packed with several aisles of candy and home goods. It also had a small kitchen off to the side and I could always smell something wonderful being cooked up by store owner Clella Farnor.
Clella would also have some local items to sell. My grandmother had two milk cows. She had regulars wanting fresh milk, buttermilk and clover-mold butter. Farnor’s would even request some from time to time for customers to purchase.
Another one of my favorite stores was in Green Mountain, N.C. It was Clayton Whitson’s store. He was a cousin on my dad’s side. That store offered anything you could need. I guess you might say it was the Walmart of country stores.
Clayton, or “Clayte” as most would say, had it all. There was animal feed, gasoline, groceries, home needs, cigarettes, shoes, pants, shirts, home supplies and, of course, a gathering spot for locals. He had benches outside for nice weather and cane back chairs inside for anytime.
As a small child, this store was overwhelming. I cold stand and stare endlessly at the massive stacks of supplies. To the average shopper, the store would look like it had just been ransacked. If you couldn’t find it, just ask Clayte and he could put his finger right on it.
He was a friendly man and well liked by all. His business seemed to thrive and he seemed to thrive on the company of all and the pleasure of serving the community. His home was located across the creek, behind the store, but he ate most meals at the store counter, while waiting on customers.
Times have changed and the small store service is pretty much gone. I’m glad I got to experience it before it faded out. I still enjoy driving along and seeing the remains of the old stores. Most are covered in vintage tin signs that have rusted, but the memories are still colorful and sharp.