Rural grocers carry on tradition of service

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Many of us over 40 have fond memories of visits to the country store as children, back in the days when &uot;Mom and Pop&uot; groceries liberally dotted the local landscape.

Whether it was Miss Alice’s in the Midway Community, Tucker’s and Mason’s groceries in Honoraville, or any number of other country stores, these places were part of the rural community’s daily life.

You stopped there to gas up before driving to work, and picked up milk and bread on the way home.

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Everything from fish bait and plumbing supplies, to fresh meats and cheeses sliced on the spot, even a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream to serve those unexpected guests, was available at your country store, just a short walk or drive away from your house.

This was a place to chat with your friends and neighbors and catch up on the latest news, as you stocked up on staples, or filled a small brown paper bag with a selection of penny candy for the kids (and kids at heart).

Most of these stores were simple frame structures, with a gas pump or two out front, and a screen door that made a delicious squeak when you stepped in. A bench offered old-timers a spot where they could &uot;set a spell,&uot; work out the world’s problems, and enjoy a cold drink fished out of the store’s cooler. It was a locally-owned place where pretty much everybody knew your name.

Sadly, many of those family-owned businesses have long since closed their squeaky screen doors.

You see them as you drive down county roads today, these lonely shells of once lively businesses.

Vines now climb sagging front canopies, while vintage pumps quietly rust away. Some are on the verge of collapse, disappearing beneath the kudzu and weeds.

In an era of &uot;big box&uot; businesses and mega-chains, it almost looked like the end of the line for the traditional country store.


Today, places such as the Country One Stop in Crenshaw County and Lloyd’s Country Store and Heartland Grocery in Butler County, carry on the tradition of old-fashioned, personal service &uot;with a smile&uot; offered by the country stores of yesteryear.

Carrying on a tradition

Welcome to Kathy’s Country Store in Honoraville. The old screen door still offers a satisfying squeak and loud thump; there’s a comfortable wrought iron and wood bench out front, where you can &uot;set a spell.&uot;

And there’s still bait to be had (if the fish are bitin’ down at the creek).

You can even pick up a cold &uot;Co’-Cola&uot; in a genuine glass bottle. And while penny candy has gone the way of the rotary dial phone, there are plenty of Baby Ruths, Hershey’s and other candy bars to capture a kid’s interest without breaking the bank.

Owner-operator Kathy Hallford is carrying on a tradition that goes back decades. Her store, located in the old Mason’s Grocery building, serves plenty of local customers, along with many outdoorsmen who travel to the area to hunt.

It’s Saturday afternoon.

A steady stream of customers keep Hallford busy: a woman needing plumbing supplies for her do-it-yourself spouse, a man filling up his truck, kids looking for sweet treats, cold drinks, and toys. The screen door squeaks and bangs routinely as folks cross the wooden floor, just as they have been doing for decades.

&uot;Please, Daddy, can I have this?&uot; pleads six-year-old Amber Coshatt, as she spies a trinket on display, while big brother Kenny, nine, searches for his favorite brand of ice cream sandwich.

Another little girl pops the top of her bottle of Sun-Kist with a little help from Dad.

&uot;Do you have any ice cream in containers?&uot; one customer asks.

&uot;Not yet, but we’ll be getting some Mayfield in any day now,&uot; Hallford answers with a smile.

Most everyone who walks through Kathy’s Country Store’s screen door is called by


Expanding for the future

While she strives to keep the old-time &uot;feel&uot; to her business – plank floors, ceiling fans, et al. – Hallford is also looking to the future.

She’s been ripping out a few walls to do it.

&uot;Some of the hunters from Louisiana stopped by here recently. When they walked in, they wondered if they were in the wrong place,&uot; Hallford says with a laugh, as she waves a hand toward the store’s recent remodel, which has effectively doubled her retail space.

&uot;We had to tear out the original outer wall on that end, which was a major, major job. I still have interior painting to do, and a few other things. It’s all done a little bit at a time, you know,&uot; Hallford says.

She has been hard at work expanding and improving the property, and her efforts are paying off.

&uot;People have been stopping by, or calling us to ask if we carried certain items, and up ’til now, I simply didn’t have enough room to expand. Now, I finally do, which is nice,&uot; Hallford says.

Since the spring of the year, the business owner has added two new counters to the front of the store, where she currently offers deli/snack bar service three days a week, offering burgers, chicken fillets, corn dogs, hot wings and more. A small cooler offers a variety of ice cream novelties to satisfy the sweet tooth.

Additional coolers in the rear offer more cold beverages to customers. There is a new section offering plumbing supplies and other hardware items, along with feed supplies.

Hallford has also added a tanning bed to her operation and put in a new air conditioning unit to keep things nice and cool for customers on a hot summer’s day.

&uot;Look, I know I can’t compete with a big box store.

But if someone needs a hammer, or a plumbing fitting, or basic groceries, maybe I can save them a trip to Luverne or Greenville,&uot; Hallford says.

&uot;Sometimes folks around here call us ‘the mini-Wal-Mart,’&uot; she adds with a grin.

(And, yes, she does now offer a few shopping carts for her customers.)

Since selling her former home in Montgomery this March, Hallford says she has been able to channel more funds into updating the building.

She plans to paint the exterior and do some additional &uot;sprucing up&uot; in the coming months, including revamping the business’s parking area and – once she gets the time – putting up the letters proclaiming the store’s new name.

&uot;I think you have to spend money to make money. Whenever the store comes out ahead and makes a little extra, I put it right back into the store,&uot; the owner says.

Once she gets the interior work finished, and the facelift completed on the exterior, Hallford says she plans to &uot;sit back, relax and enjoy my customers.&uot;

&uot;These are good folks around here. It’s a good place to be in business,&uot; she says.