Closing of Harris Station store ‘like losing a family member’
Posted: Thursday, July 1, 2010 5:53 am
William Murphy’s musings early Tuesday morning at Shell Grocery in the Harris Station community sound like a sad country song.
“She moved in and got my heart and she’s moving away with it,” he said, as if thinking out loud.
At the time, there were few customers in the store — Murphy, 30, and his daughter, Olivia, 7; Elnor Land, a part-time employee; Walter Forrester, a regular; and a couple of teenagers who didn’t stick around long enough to leave their names.
Behind the counter, Judy Shell — she of whom Murphy spoke — prepared one last chuckwagon sandwich for Forrester. He probably won’t get another one; today, June 30, 2010, is the store’s last day. The well-worn grill, the meat slicer, the coffee bean grinder and such will soon be just a memory.
Owners James and Judy Shell are shutting the store down. They plan to remodel the 1,800-square-foot building and make it a rental house.
Thus does Shell Grocery reach the end of its road after a run of 10 years under the Shells and undoubtedly many years under previous owners. Records are unavailable that tell the whole story of ownership and longevity.
The Shells bought the store in March 2000 from Oscar Faulkner, who is said to have run it about 30 years.
Thus Tuesday, on the eve of the last day of business to the farming folks of Harris Station, was a day of remembrance.
With shelves empty except for a few items here and there, and as Judy sold the last of the lunch meat, the sprinkling of customers reminisced about yesteryear.
Murphy continued his spontaneous soliloquy.
“I’ve been a customer here 23 years,” he said. “When you have good people — and they are good people — you hate to see them go. They’d give you the shirt off their backs. Miss Judy made me some mean catfish and hushpuppies. We will miss them.”
He pauses a moment, then adds a poignant thought.
“It’s more than ‘miss.’ It’s like losing a family member. That’s how much he meant to me,” he said.
Undoubtedly, Murphy means much to Judy and James. “He was my first customer when I opened the store 10 years ago,” she said.
Just a café
James said the small business was the only one for miles around. Its clientele were farmers and their families, employees of Jiffy Steamer, county workers. The store was handy because it not only had a line of grocery products — sugar, bread, coffee, canned goods, soft drinks — but also some hardware and automotive products such as nails, staples, transmission fluid and motor oil.
“We sold milk, too, or tried to. It just wouldn’t move for some reason. So we dropped it,” he said.
The centerpiece of it all, though, was the restaurant business. It was the natural draw for what became a rural community center. You could go in early of a morning and get breakfast and a cup of steaming hot coffee, and later in the day a plate lunch, or a cheeseburger or barbecue sandwich, with soft drink or iced tea.
“We made a restaurant out of it, but we never changed the name from grocery to restaurant. It was really a little café,” James said.
Many’s the time, he said, when he and his wife prepared 25 or 30 plate lunches for the workers at the Tyson plant a couple of miles down the road.
James and Judy have told of their plans for the building. It’ll be somebody’s residential dwelling some day. But what of her and him? What are their plans?
“Some fishing,” James quickly replied. “And a little traveling. She likes to fish as much as I do, too.”
And what are their favorite fish to catch? It’s crappie for her and catfish for him.
“‘Yeah, we’ll do some fishing for a while, then come back and turn this building into a rental house,” James said.
By the way, James is a Vietnam veteran. He served two years 1968-69 in South Vietnam with the 20th Engineer Battalion based at Pleiku in the central highlands. He said he’s worked several places over the years and now is fully retired.
“We decided two or three months ago to close down,” he said. “We’d been talking about it a while before that. So now we’ve done it. We’ll go ahead and shut her down.”
She said she will miss the people, the customers, the good friends who became familiar faces at their small business.
“We made a lot of friends here. I guess you could say we had a kind of general store. It’s brought a lot of people together,” James said.
They plan to have a garage sale Friday and Saturday and sell off many items from the store.
Reporter John Brannon may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 6.30.10