By Amy Cobb from May 2014 Issue
Credit: Su Festen
Stop for a sandwich, directions, or sit for a spell at one of Kentucky's remaining country stores
Barbershop, bus stop, post office, town hall—country stores once did it all before shopping malls and chain stores existed. Today, they are still the heart of many small Kentucky towns. Step into living
history and spend a lazy summer day soaking up the nostalgia and
reminiscing about the "good old days" at a country store.
In business for nearly 84 years, Blevins Grocery in Preston has been owned by Helen Blevins and her husband, Rube, for 45 of those years. Blevins, born and raised in Preston, remembers shopping there as a child with her grandmother. While much has changed in the world since then, time has seemingly stood still at this quaint country store in Bath County.
Footsteps still thump across the wooden floor, swept two or three times daily to keep the dust down. A vintage King-O-Heat coal stove in the back provides heat and a storytelling hub during the winter. And in the summer, the regulars gather out front. "Just as soon as it's the least bit warm," Blevins says, "men are out there on the porch. And they whittle all the time."
The store, in its original condition with no running water, restrooms, or air conditioning, has also been untouched by technology. Blevins says the cash register doesn't even work. "We have an adding machine, and we just count our money out."
Besides stopping in for the renowned Preston steak sandwich and a cold bottle of Ale-8-One, customers keep returning because they feel welcome. "Customers can come as they are," says Blevins. "They can stay and loaf as long as they want to."
Rabbit Hash General Store
Watch steamboats roll down the Ohio River while sitting a spell on the covered porch of Rabbit Hash General Store, established in 1831 in Boone County. Proprietor Terrie Markesbery says the array of eclectic antiques like a cream separator, scales, and a spool cabinet give the store a museum feel, steeped in history. Part of that history includes surviving three major floods, one that completely submerged the store in 1937, leaving mud in the attic.
And while this rustic store has retained the feel of a past era, present-day shoppers will find modern products, many of them locally made. Markesbery says, "We have a little bit of everything." Besides groceries and other staples, the store offers hand-picked items like candy, coffee, T-shirts, candles, and memorabilia.
Markesbery attributes the store's longevity to the community, which she says has always had an interest in seeing it thrive. "It's a small business," she says. "And it needs continual support."
For visitors, Rabbit Hash General Store isn't just a quick trip to buy something. It's about soaking in the ambiance of what the world used to be like. "It's a slice of Americana," Markesbery says. "It's unlike any other place. It's magical."
Stull's Country Store
"If we don't have it, you don't need it," says Marlinda Stull, owner of Stull's Country Store on Highway 144 in northern Meade County. While owned by a member of the Stull family since 1972, the store has served the
Andyville community and northern Meade County since the turn of the 20th century.
Stull's, served by Meade County RECC, offers grocery staples, a deli, and a gas station, all with a down-home feel. Rocking chairs and a checkerboard greet customers on the front porch. The antiques, like pedal cars, vintage signs, and a cash register, that line the walls inside the store have a history all their own.
The store is also well-known for its pulled pork barbecue and pork tenderloin sandwiches, made fresh daily except Fridays during Lent, when it offers fried fish, fried frog legs, and a good microbrew. With a recent smoker purchase, the store will serve smoked barbecue beginning this month.
Maybe most importantly, Stull's serves up a heaping portion of Southern hospitality. Is your car in need of a fill-up? They'll pump your gas for you. Stull has even been known to lend a gas can or delay closing on occasion to accommodate customers. "We never meet a stranger," Stull says.
The store is one of the few places left in Andyville where folks still gather to swap stories and share local news with their neighbors. "It hearkens back to times when life was simpler," says Stull. "It's what we do down here."
The Hitching Post & Old Country Store
Since 1941, The Hitching Post & Old Country Store has been a favorite Land Between The Lakes-area destination. The 175-year-old log walls, from disassembled cabins that were rebuilt at the present Aurora location, are lined with displays of old-fashioned toys and old-time candy, as well as Kentucky-made products such as relish, jams, sorghum, and honey.
One customer favorite is the homemade fudge, in 45 flavors from basic chocolate and peanut butter to the more unique jalapeño and apple pie moonshine. Another attraction is the All American Soda Showdown. This weekly soda pop tasting boasts more than 150 nostalgic and gourmet flavors (20 each week), including Dang Butterscotch Root Beer, Lemmy Lemonade, and fun flavors with kid appeal like Dog Drool, Zombie Brain Juice, and Bug Barf. The soda pop, made with real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, is served in glass bottles.
A trip isn't complete before snapping a photo of the 100-year-old life-size papier mâché horse out front, or strolling the grounds to see the copper moonshine still, blacksmith shop, and antique buggies in the buggy barn.
Owner Su Festen says The Hitching Post is a breath of fresh air, bringing back fun childhood memories. "It's one of those hidden treasures that people don't forget coming to," she says.
See 'em while they last
Sadly, over the years many beloved country stores have closed their doors due to various factors, such as the economy or owner retirement. We couldn't list them all, but send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will add it online! Check out these treasures:
6825 Preston Road, Owingsville (606) 674-2726 , Facebook: Blevins Grocery
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, except 6:30 a.m.-noon Wednesday and 6:30-10 a.m. Sunday. While the store now has an Owingsville zip code, for many years it was home to the Preston post office. In October, Blevins Grocery participates in Court Days, a community-wide event featuring vendors and antiques.
Bobby Duncan's General Store
155 Strunk Highway, Strunk, (606) 354-2202
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. In business since 1939. General merchandise, with a wide variety of hardware, household items, and groceries.
Boyce General Store
10551 Woodburn Allen Springs Road, Alvaton, (270) 842-1900, Facebook: Boyce General Store LLC
Hours: Opens 6 a.m. Monday-Saturday; contact for closing time. In business since 1869. Breakfast and lunch served daily, offering a variety of homemade baked goods. Festivals held in April and October.
8430 Dixie Highway, Williamstown, (859) 824-4376
Hours: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday- Saturday; 1-7 p.m. Sunday. This third-generation, family-owned business opened in 1936. Gas, groceries, meat department, shoes and boots, hardware, electrical, plumbing, livestock feed, seasonal garden plants, and seeds. Broaster chicken served daily, except on Sunday.
Hardscratch Country Store
7694 Highway 55 South Road, Columbia, (270) 384-4671, www.hardscratchky.com
Hours: 5 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Catfish dinner served 5-8 p.m. on second and last Friday each month.
Maggard's Cash Store
8153 Highway 119 South, Eolia (606) 335-3951
Hours: 9 a.m-9 p.m. daily. Celebrating 100 years of business in July 2014. Featured in the movie Coal Miner's Daughter. Convenience shop selling soft drinks, chips, candy, tobacco products, and gasoline. Homemade chili hotdog sale on Sundays.
Oven Fork Mercantile
8494 U.S. 119 South, Oven Fork, (606) 633-8909, Facebook: Oven Fork Mercantile
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Owner Barbara Church opened in 1992 (it was Sumpter's Grocery and Service Station in the 1920s). Stop by for snacks, homemade chili dogs daily, and homemade fudge while you sit and chat or get directions. Ten rooms offer antiques, original watercolor paintings by Church, and hand-made hickory bark chair bottoms (bring your chair or purchase a chair there). Make it a weekend: the log cabin addition houses a bed and breakfast.
Rabbit Hash General Store
10021 Lower River Road, Rabbit Hash, (859) 586-7744, www.rabbithash.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Annual Old Timer's Day Festival held the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, featuring crafts, live music, food, and "Barnival" for the kids.
Stull's Country Store
4385 Rhodelia Road, Payneville, (270) 496-4169, www.stullscountrystore.com
Summer hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Celebrating Andyville Day on September 13 from 2-9 p.m., featuring a picnic, live music, and old-fashioned games like horseshoes and cornhole. (It's in the Andyville area, but plug in Payneville if using a GPS.)
The Hitching Post & Old Country Store
16474 U.S. Highway 68 E., Aurora (270) 474-2266, www.hitchingpost.us
Summer hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. The All American Soda Showdown, held every Thursday May through Labor Day 4-7 p.m., features more than 150 nostalgic and gourmet glass-bottled soda pops. Cost of souvenir tasting glass is $4.95, filled with 20 samples that vary weekly; additional tastings are $1 if returning with glass. The highlights of Bubbles and Beans, September 20, are more than 75 sodas for tasting, a chili cook-off, and live music.
The Rusty Springs General Store
633 Main Street, Russell Springs, (270) 866-9566
Hours: Monday–Thursday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Specializing in "Rustorations—taking old rusty items and making them unique and awesome," they sell antique signs and soda machines, Coca-Cola merchandise, and more. Be sure to visit the antique candy counter!
Tussey's Round Hill General Store
801 Kirksville Road, Richmond (859) 328-4000
Summer hours: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. In business since the turn of the 20th century. Deli, breakfast, and lunch menu, grocery staples, gasoline, kerosene, and diesel. Summer fish fry every other Friday night, 4-8 p.m.
Wayne's Place & Coop's Diner
11061 U.S. 431, Dunmor (270) 657-2636, www.waynesplaceandcoopsdiner.com
Summer hours: 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Monday; 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Serving the Lake Malone area for more than 30 years. Deli, grocery, household items, bait, and what it bills as "the best ice cream in Kentucky." Self-serve gas, diesel, and kerosene open 24 hours.
There's a new general store in town: Poppy & Clover
Follow a winding country road through western Hopkins County to the small town of Dalton, and you'll stumble upon a newly opened general store called Poppy & Clover. Originally Taylor's General Store, it was built in 1923 and served the community for about 50 years before closing in the 1970s. It was then used as a workshop until Riley Jo Dever and her mother and store co-owner, Gina Boyd, purchased the business and began renovations in February 2013.
This mother-and-daughter team preserved the one-room store's original wooden floors and counters, along with several vintage metal signs. The walls were refurbished with lumber cut from Dever's farm.
With the addition of new windows and a new ceiling also came the new name, Poppy & Clover, in remembrance of Bill Clark, Boyd's father and Dever's grandfather. Clark, affectionately called Poppy, was a master four-leaf clover huntsman. Dever inherited this skill and says she has clovers hidden in books all over her house.
Poppy & Clover officially opened for business in September 2013 and features many one-of-a-kind items handmade by Dever and Boyd.
"Our homemade products are a great alternative to other high-volume products you may find at other stores," says Dever. These products include 100 percent Kentucky soy wax candles, available in 14 fragrances, including Kentucky Toddy and Butternut Pumpkin. Four new candle fragrances–Pipe Smoke, Maple-Glazed Bacon, Leather, and Barnfire Bliss–were created to appeal to men.
Homemade soaps, made with natural products, boast 10 fragrances. Other popular natural items are lip balm and deodorant.
Handmade pillows are a top-seller, particularly a customized-to-order pillow with a hand-painted design of Kentucky that is personalized with a small heart shape left unpainted, indicating the customer's geographical location within the state. There's also the store's No. 1 wedding gift, the Established pillow, hand-painted with the newlyweds' last name and wedding date.
Dever's grandmother, Joyce James, adds to the family affair by hand-sewing items such as zipper pouches, purses, and canvas bags, and creating original paintings.
Dever believes it's important for customers to shop locally and offers patrons several Kentucky-made products, like Ruth Hunt Candies from Mt. Sterling and D's Jerky from Dixon. Visitors can also enjoy sitting in rocking chairs on the covered front porch while sipping a cold Dr Pepper bottled in Madisonville or Ale-8-One bottled in Winchester.
Future plans at Poppy & Clover include a wedding registry and seasonal events. And at the request of some lifelong Dalton residents, sandwiches can be purchased on Sandwich Days scheduled throughout the year.
But one thing that will stay the same is the time Dever and Boyd spend making items to offer their customers.
"Our store's unique because we put a lot of love into our products," Dever says. "I feel like a lot of people are looking for that."
AMY COBB, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.