The Little Centers of Commerce and Community

Posted August 2, 2017 at 8:58 am

by David Cross

The closing this week of Pierce’s Grocery on the Burkesville Road marks the closing of a true county landmark. A store has been in that location for over sixty years, and Bill and Barb Pierce have been selling groceries and making sandwiches there since 1958. It is truly the end of an era; Pierce’s is one of the oldest businesses in the county continuously operated by the same family.

Pierce’s benefitted greatly with its proximity to the VFW ball park and the Shamrock Stone quarry. How many thousands of pounds of chipped ham were sold out of there, nobody knows. It also sure was a handy stopping point for a youngster who walked past it to attend Albany Elementary.

As was often the custom, Bill and Barb had a house next door to the store. However, they didn’t live there. They lived at the store.

Pierce’s may be the best little store in town, but it surely wasn’t the only little neighborhood grocery on the edge of Albany.

Out on the Old Monticello Road, Mary and Ray Rogers purchased a store from Sid Scott in 1963 and operated it until 1988. Walker Gibson had a store across from what was known as ”Ray’s Little Super Market.” There was also a store on the Tennessee Shortcut operated by Robert Armstrong; both buildings are still standing.

On the Tennessee Road across from the Red Ace station, J.O. and Olene Brown had Brown’s Foodliner, later operated by MacArthur and Donald Stockton. Cowan’s Grocery was just out the road, and at the junction of US 127 and KY 696, at the heart of what some called Stockton Town, was Dollie’s Market, operated by Jim L. and Dollie Stockton, and in later years by Morris and Phyllis Smith. On the north end of town was J & S Handi-Mart.

Those were the days of bicycles and deposit bottles; you could send a child to buy cigarettes, no questions asked, and be sure to shake up your Ski to shake up the pulp in the bottom. All of those stores had thriving businesses; many people in the neighborhood would walk to do their shopping. Many people, particularly older women, did not drive.

But there were little stores everywhere in the county: Fairland had two, operated by sisters Jean Stearns and Gay Davis, within sight of each other. Their mother, Rosa Conner, had operated a store in the heart of Fairland for many years and later opened up the old W.T. (Till Tal) Williams store at Aaron, where Herlan Polson, and later, Hack Perdew was a mile south and Ruby Ryan a mile to the north (The big Double Cola sign said N.C. Ryan, but his wife ran the operation). Aaron was named for Dr. Addison Aaron in 1908. Alphabetically, it was the first post office in the United Staes until it closed in 1990, being the last rural post office located in Clinton County.

At Highway the Mackey Brothers’ store was a landmark for decades into the 1960s; however, being good Nazarenes, they refused to sell tobacco products.

The post office at Shipley was originally named after a store (W.P. Shipley and Sons); over the years, Charles Albertson, Vernon Cole, Ethel Pierce, Vida Melton and Howard Cross were among the storekeepers in the area. Duvall Valley also had several including Francis (Drake) Armstrong, John Frost and Minnie Rains. Cartwright had Lewis Vitatoe, Harrison Sidwell and later Audrey Burchett; M.A. Perdew operated the store at Alpha; the post office was then in Clinton County, where his wife was postmaster.

Piney Woods had various merchants, including Nimrod Pierce (they did business as “J.N. Pierce and Wife”), Eddie V. Clark, Ike Guffey and Les Shelton at Cumberland City and Eb Pierce and Otha McWHorter at Watauga, which was named after a shoe company, not an Indian tribe. W.P. Cook had a store at Osco, now beneath the waters of Lake Cumberland.

Paul Pennycuff established a store on the Burkesville Road near the Cumberland County line at Seminary and obtained a post office there (the last one established in the county) in 1936. That building still stands.

There were stores at Snow, Narvel, Bug, Huntersville, Brown’s Crossroads, Wago, and Ida, as well as others scattered about in every community. Every mile or two the county store was the place for folks to pick up essentials, learn the news, get the mail, and just get to know the folks in the community. The most prosperous store in the county was I.L. Warinner and Son at Seventy-Six, which closed in the 1940s. The one most difficult to find undoubtedly would have been the W.T. Antle store, tucked away in the Antle Hollow on the Clinton-Russell line.

A complete listing would be impossible, but other country merchants included Tim Armstrong, J.B. Gunnels, Les Brown, Coy Smith, Fred Stockton, Gib Pryor, Bob White, Otha Marcum, Bill Upchurch, L.E. Burchett, George Ferguson, J.R. Craig, Susie Sawyer, Henry Clay Witham, Rufus Choate, Teddy Staton, and the list goes on and on. (See if you can identify the locations of those named.) Sometimes the country merchants would move to town, as Belknap Byers and Porter Guinn did.

Sadly, the days of the community county store are nearly gone.

Where there were once well over fifty little stores in the county, the only little places of commerce left in the county now are at Static, Cartwright, Fairland and Cumberland City; we can’t call Junction Station a “little store” but its function today is similar to the old country stores–a place to loaf at “Pea-Eye” (or was it P.I.?) York’s at Seventy-Six (the Rook capital of Clinton County) or at Rosa Conner’s or some other little country commercial enterprise. There are many factors to the demise of such little places; people are more mobile, the world is on wheels, and there are Dollar General Stores every few miles.

We all have memories of our visits to the little country store, where talk was the most important commodity. Let’s hope the little stores that remain hang on for a long time–they’re not just the closest place to get a soft drink or loaf of bread, they are also the place where you might actually get to know your neighbors. Meanwhile, I got my last pound of chopped ham Saturday, and my last Ski from the place where I bought my first.