July 27, 2005 News & Features » Cover Story


Minding the Store 

In search of a vanishing piece of rural Virginia.

Stanley's Store

Intersection of Routes 622 and 33

The old boys had been up all night, fox-chasing. This muggy July morning, George Harris, 75, and his buddy, Carter Muse Borden, 66, huddle at a picnic table under the canopy of Stanley's country store in Hanover County, 12 miles northwest of Richmond on Route 33. They relish their last, moist bites of breakfast.

"These are the best bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches in the world," Harris says.

"The world," echoes Borden.

The two men, from Newport News and Gloucester County, respectively, had spent the night in nearby fields and forests trailing their 24 hounds. "Our hounds chase the fox and we're the dummies following along in a pickup truck," Harris says.

"But we don't kill the fox," Borden adds.

It's been a long time since the Hampton Roads area had open land for fox-chasing. And from the look of the heavy traffic flowing past Stanley's, where Ashland Road (Route 622) crosses two-lane Route 33, this part of Hanover won't be rural for long either. The construction trucks, delivery vans, concrete mixers and suburbanites in SUVs — all backed up at the traffic light — are harbingers of change. New homes, office parks and retail pods are fast transforming former green spaces, not just here but throughout the region. And as roads are widened to meet demand, vestiges of 20th-century highway culture that once stood hard by the roads — including the last remaining country stores — are being zapped and replaced by Fas Marts and Wawas.

But for now, at least, the 65-year-old Stanley's Store is reaping a bonanza from the flurry of growth in Hanover.

Just inside Stanley's weathered front door and behind an L-shaped counter, Donna Brock, who has cooked here for 13 years, is in high gear as the early lunch bunch arrives. "I'll probably fix 40 Stanley Burgers today," she says, smiling and adjusting her red baseball cap as if she's stepping up to the mound. "It's a third-of-a-pound burger, whatever you want on it." This being Tuesday, meatloaf sandwiches are the special.

A few feet away, Dawn Bennett, a 10-year employee, adeptly punches the cash register with one hand and fields phone calls with the other. "Truckers call orders in, and we'll have it ready when they get here so they can keep on traveling," she says. "For them, time is money." Bennett says that busy parents often telephone ahead for pickup orders and Stanley's delivers to shut-ins.

"We stay busy," says Bennett, as the phone keeps ringing, "and it's getting busier. There's more traffic and more folks. But we've got a good reputation and good food."

Among the lunch customers is a first-timer, Elias Archiebeque, an asphalt contractor from Capitan, N.M. He's been paving subdivision roads and driveways in the area for three weeks. "There's a lot of work here, and I go where the jobs are," he says.

As he pays, Archiebeque gives Stanley's the once-over approvingly: A mounted stag's head hangs on a far wall and peers out amid chewing-tobacco posters. Nine floor coolers packed with beer, soft drinks and frozen goods line the back wall. Plastic Budweiser banners crisscross overhead. "Places like this are dying out back in New Mexico," he says.

Across the room, Dave Redbird, a distributor who's been filling Stanley's pastry racks each week for 10 years, says he enjoys his route, especially the country stores. "You can't beat the service," he says. "There is more pride; they know their customers and they take care of them."

"Now this is a good one," he says, grinning as he stashes a few dozen Brownie Baker Gourmet Cookies on a shelf: "Five ounces of pure fat."

At the counter, Chuck Waters, a FedEx driver, pays for lunch: "The best bologna burger ever," he says. "This is one of the few places on my route where I stop."

Back in front of the vintage, rambling, whitewashed two-story structure, buddies Harris and Borden stroll to their trucks for the drive back to Hampton Roads. They realize that Stanley's represents a fast-disappearing piece of rural Americana. "This is the closest thing to what we knew," Harris says.

"My grandfather once had a country store just a few miles from here," Gordon says. "P.E. Muse Country Store at the intersection of Staples Mill and Parham roads. Back then, every crossroads had country stores, or at least one. They were famous for giving people things on credit. My grandfather was too good-hearted. It was the Depression; people were hungry and he could never say no. He went of out business."

As the men pull off, their hounds yapping from the back of the trucks, two boys arrive in a pickup: Logan English, 16, a high-school senior from New Kent County, and his friend are going fishing and stop for soft drinks and bait. "I like these places because they're down-to-earth," English says. "Folks talk to you a little more. At the big chain places, they don't care about anything but a paycheck."

Apparently, country store charms are not lost on a younger generation.

Stanley's Store is located at 14242 Mountain Road, Glen Allen. (804) 752-5858. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m.-5 p.m.

Crump's Store


To stumble upon Winterpock, a hamlet just minutes from the constant traffic stream of Hull Street Road near Brandermill, is pleasantly startling — like discovering Brigadoon. Somehow, miraculously even, this spot's hardly changed as Chesterfield County propels itself into double-digit annual population growth.

Huge shade trees create a green canopy, and the simple but dignified architecture of the frame Reform Baptist Church and its ancient graveyard across the road suggest a Grant Wood America. A few yards away, on a recent summer evening, a softball game is under way at a recreational center. The only nod to modernity is the electrified Citgo sign at the two gas pumps of the village's institution, Crump's Store.

Since 1925, Crump's has marked the crossroads of Beach and Winterpock roads. Now the white clapboard structure abuts Beach Road precariously.

"The road has come to us," says Suzanne Crump Rudd, 56, a former Chesterfield County elementary music teacher, who is the fourth generation to operate the family store. Crump's porte-cochere, which once sheltered the front door and gas pumps, is now too close to Beach Road to be serviceable. A new store entrance has been opened on the north side of the building.

Inside the store, however, little has changed physically through the years. The room's most charming characteristic is its original broad wooden floorboards with worn gray paint that only add to the patina.

The store was founded by Suzanne Crump Rudd's great-grandfather, Julian Crump, and later run by her grandfather, Stanley M. Crump. In 1994 (after the store had been leased to another retailer for a few years), Suzanne Rudd and her husband, Donald, took over the business.

"My father and my uncle were born in the back of the store," Suzanne Rudd says. "I lived in the back of the store until I was 3."

"Some people think that it's an easy thing to run a store, but there are a lot of facets to it," she says. "You have to think about the same things a big business does."

Crump's has 13 full- and part-time employees, a large number compared with other country stores around Richmond. When asked what items drive sales, two clerks are quick to reply: beer, cigarettes and soft drinks.

Rudd, however, flinches slightly at their assessment. "Our biggest attraction is food," she says. "We've had barbecue and hot dogs since day one. But we also do breakfast biscuits, pizza and now have a pot-roast sandwich that people find unique."

Traffic is mostly local, she says, but there's a lot of traffic from nearby construction. "Then there are people who come from a little ways off. Someone might come because they like our fries; someone else has another favorite."

"It's nice because we have repeat business and know a lot of people by name," she says. "Some people come not just every day, but a number of times during the day."

Will there be a fifth generation running Crump Store? Rudd — probably wisely — won't go there. "We have a son who's in college and who worked here as a teenager," she says. "I'm not sure what he's going to do."

Crump's Store is located at 14350 Beach Road, Chesterfield. (804) 739-9788. Hours: Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

M.L. Kersey


While the cash register still rings at Kersey's, a general store located where Routes 635 and 610 meet in the extreme southeastern corner of Louisa County, the meticulously maintained store is also a time machine.

Today, Matthew Kersey Sr., 66, runs the store that his grandfather established in 1940. Kersey was reared in the back of the store with his five brothers and sisters. "It was quiet around here when I was a kid," he says. "You knew everybody going up and down the road."

The breadth of Kersey's offerings is impressive: groceries, tools, hardware, cleaning materials and office supplies. There is even a wall of shelving with collectibles for sale. A separate metal shed houses fertilizers, and an attached room off the sales floor stores feed for horses. Wood for the potbellied stove is stacked neatly near the store's front porch.

"Back in the '60s we were more like a grocery store," Kersey says. "We sold sandwiches until the health department recently asked us to add additional sinks and make other changes." Too much expense.

A coveted piece of paper, with a hand-printed price list, is displayed on a post in the middle of the store. It lists Kersey's prices from 1971, when President Richard Nixon imposed price freezes to combat a recession and high inflation: cold drinks, 15 cents; pork and beans, 20 cents; a pound of margarine, 29 cents. Gasoline is listed as 36.9 cents per gallon.

Kersey seems to be a meticulous shopkeeper. Merchandise is placed on shelves with almost clinical precision. One could eat off the polished linoleum floors. He says, "A friend recently told me, 'You wear out more brooms than any man I know.'"

The immediate community Kersey's serves is so small that apparently even mapmakers and officials can't agree on what to call the place. Holly Grove is the name printed on maps, but the official road sign reads Inez (the U.S. postal system also designated the crossroads Inez, but the post office closed in 1939).

Kersey says there was a time when almost everybody on the surrounding farms grew at least some tobacco. Recently, a new generation of landowners has been establishing horse farms in the vicinity, adding a gentrified air to the community.

What hasn't changed is the photogenic presence of Kersey's exterior, a two-story white frame structure with a bright red door and a single gas pump in the gravel drive. Were it not for the price of gasoline — $2.27 a gallon posted near the pump — the scene could be straight out of a 1930s Walker Evans photograph of the rural South.

Unlike most other country stores, Kersey's doesn't sell beer. "My mother was a teetotaler," he says, "and I don't want to sell it."

Kersey points to a sign hanging above the potbellied stove that reads: "Politicians and drunks not permitted on premises."

"I don't know which is worse," he says with a sly smile.

M.L. Kersey Store is located at 19 Factory Mill Road, Bumpass. (804) 556-4832. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday.

Kelley's Country Store

U.S. Route 301, Hanover Courthouse

There's no sign in front of Kelley's Country Store, a white frame building that blends in naturally with other old buildings lining U.S. Route 301 as it passes through Hanover Courthouse. A single gas pump is the giveaway that this is a retail operation.

To step inside is to be enveloped by reminders of a simpler time. There is penny candy in large glass jars. A dozen flavors of ice cream await hand-scooping. In the back of the rambling store, deli meats and cheeses are sliced order by order.

But what is most striking about Kelley's is how Bill and Catherine Cross Kelley have interwoven the store's staples — groceries and meals — with an exhaustive array of antiques and collectibles that fill every available space and surface. Old dolls, furniture, tools, toys and signs all vie for attention.

"People bring me stuff all the time," Bill Kelley says. "It's part store and part museum." Are they all for sale? "I couldn't start selling this stuff," he says, "it wouldn't be the same."

A unifying feature of Kelley's Country Store is the handsome unpainted wood floor, which the Kelley's say they oil twice a year. But it's also food that attracts customers here.

In a booth on a recent afternoon, David Fitzgerald, whose company, Fitzgerald Oil, supplies Kelley's and a number of other country stores with retail gasoline, finishes his lunch. "The food is good here, and this place has soup that puts Shoney's to shame," he says. "On some days you can't get in the door between 11:30 and 1."

Catherine Kelley waves to Fitzgerald as she heads out the door to cut the grass. Bill Kelley rings up the sale.

"How much do I owe you for this 10-cent meal?" Fitzgerald asks.

"Fifteen dollars for your attitude," Kelley replies.

Fitzgerald shoots back: "You're gonna get four dollars and like it."

Kelley's Country Store is located at 13311 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover. (804) 537-5832. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Studley General Store

Studley Road, Studley

David Beasley, whose wife is postmistress of tiny Studley, a Hanover County village just four miles west of busy Mechanicsville Turnpike, steps into Studley General Store to check in with store owner, Ross Nigro. On this hazy, hot day, he's busy behind the counter filling takeout orders. Deviled crabs, seafood pasta salad and deviled eggs are popular items on this particular Thursday afternoon.

"How's it going?" Nigro asks.

"Same old, same old," Beasley answers.

Studley General Store is located on a stretch of road that is rich in history. Patrick Henry was born nearby in 1736. In 1864, during the Civil War, one of the largest cavalry engagements in American history, involving 10,000 men, took place just a few miles west at Enon Methodist Church.

"This is downtown Studley — it's more the locals' store than anybody else's store," Nigro says. "But we get a number of tourists visiting local battlefields. They come from South Carolina, North Carolina and up North," he says.

Custom T-shirts and baseball caps printed with Confederate flags are part of his merchandise mix. A framed print of Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson hangs in a prominent spot near the deli counter.

The store itself, a low-slung frame building painted dark red, was built in 1880 and originally housed a blacksmith shop. In the 1950s it was converted to a country store. Back then, there was a pool table in the middle of the store and the local post office operated from here until a few years ago.

"Food-to-go is our best seller," Nigro says. "Cigarettes, sodas and beer do well. Groceries don't sell very well." He does, however, promote local produce. Containers of fresh potatoes, cantaloupes and Hanover tomatoes are displayed near the cash register.

"We do fried chicken on Tuesdays in a cast iron skillet," says Nigro, a Marine veteran who has operated the store with his fiancée, Susan Lane, for only 15 months. "You walk in the door and the aroma will knock you out. People walk in and can't help themselves but order it. We do pork chops on Fridays."

Before taking over Studley General Store last year, Nigro was a retail grocer in South Richmond. Can he make a go of it?

"You wouldn't believe it, but we do a helluva business here. We're not making a million dollars, but it's a good business."

Studley General Store is located at 5407 Studley Road, Studley. (804) 746-0919. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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