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Country stores mix old traditions with modern-day conveniences

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By Kate Darnell

Miles away from the heart of Cynthiana, sometimes off the beaten trail and hidden away like a good secret, there’s a country store.

“It’s kinda like a good friend... like family,” said Jim Dyer as he walked into the Leesburg Grocery one Monday morning.

Dyer said he’d been making daily visits to the store for years.

Past the counter, shelves of food and drinks, and a pool table, Dyer sits down at a table next to Jack Irvin.

Irvin said he’s been coming to the Leesburg Grocery since 1960.

The two watch a flat-screen television mounted on the wall - the only hint of technology among the old-fashioned characteristics of what is this country store.

“It has all the channels,” said Dyer.

The two sit back in their chairs. Someone lights a cigarette. The morning ritual continues.

Last Friday, despite what has become the modern hectic rush of life, Paula Wilson opened the doors to the Buena Vista store.

“I’ve been wanting to get in business for myself,” she said.

Wilson said while her first day of business was slow, she knows the convenience of her store will draw customers.

“A lot of people are going to pay a little more for something instead of driving into town,” Wilson said.

The Buena Vista store had been closed two months before Wilson painted, cleaned, filled the shelves and unlocked the door.

“They’re glad I opened back up,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s said that.”

Besides coffee, Ale-8, candy and food, a country store has to have “regulars.”

And along with dog food, Wilson said she has them as well.

“There’s regulars in here everyday,” she said. “All the men come in and have their big conversations.”

At Shadynook Store, some might argue that the conversation is more prized than owner Hattie Rankin’s homemade pies. It would be a heated argument, though.

“It’s never a dull moment here,” said Hattie, who owns the store with her husband Burnie.

A group of “regulars” sat at the table around the store’s old stove and underneath a sign that reads ‘The Gathering Place.’

Not many minutes pass before there’s another wave of laughter.

“When I want to know something, I come here,” said “regular” Paul Colson, as he shuffled a deck of cards. “It’s just a good thing to have a community store.”

Hattie came out of the kitchen from cooking a stromboli sandwich and sat down across from Colson.

“I play rummy with him,” she said. “Deal ‘em Paul.”

Hattie serves up daily specials for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

“What’s the best thing I make, Paul?” Hattie asked.

“Probably the cheeseburgers...” Paul answered, after much consideration.

Hattie serves cheeseburgers “made any way you want ‘em.”

In the summer, the Rankins sell ice cream. In the winter, the Rankins sell pies.

Breakfast at Shadynook Store costs around $3. Dinner costs around $5.75.

“The kids come up here a lot,” said Hattie.

“My memory goes back with the store... I used to be just a child coming in here... My whole family grew up around here,” said Shadynook Store “regular” Gary Crump. “This store means a lot. It has in the past and it always will.”

Hattie said the store had been standing for over 100 years.

Crump said he remembered buying a coke for a nickel.

“Man, that was great,” he said.

Hattie said business at the store had been good. They had 47 customers that day, and she said that was a slow day for the Shadynook Store.

“I think we’re going to see more country stores in years to come,” she said. “We’re going to have to revert back to how it used to be.”

High gas prices have kept country store customers from traveling into town, and had kept them shopping close to home, Hattie said.

Ewalt’s store on US 27 South near Lair served as Montie and Martie Clough’s second home when their great-grandfather, their grandfather and then their father owned and operated the business.

“We’ve been here all our lives,” said Montie. “...It’s just like a family farm.”

But times, Montie said, have changed.

“People depended on the country store back then,” he said. “We’re hanging in there now... that’s just part of business.”

Montie said country stores took a hit when larger retailers entered the county.

“Have a good one, bro,” Martie said to a customer.

“But it seems like some of the country stores are making a comeback,” Montie said.

Where Montie and Martie’s father sold “everything,” the brothers have focused on high-quality farming and hunting clothing and footwear.

But Montie said they still carry the grocery essentials like milk, bread, lunch sandwiches and drinks.

“We see a lot of the same people come in, plus a couple new faces,” said Montie. “Being on the main highway helps a lot.”

Glenn Doolin would agree that location is everything.

Placed almost exactly in between Cynthiana and Mt. Olivet, the Claysville General Store owner said he gets customers from Bracken, Robertson and Harrison counties.

“It’s like the old-time store that carries a little bit of everything,” he said. “We have changed a bunch, trying to modernize a bit, yet keepin’ it a country store.”

Along with the groceries, Doolin also sells gasoline, kerosene, diesel, farm supplies, outdoor wear, plumbing and power tools, and hot meals.

“We’re a true general store,” he said.

Doolin’s father was a store owner and now Doolin works alongside his son-in-law Brad Stump.

It appears like so many other country stores, it’s going to be a family affair.

Open seven days a week, Doolin hasn’t been gone from the store more than three days in over six years.

“It’s basically your life,” he said after owning a country store for over 25 years.

Don Guy and Brenda Lindsey, owners of the Colemansville Grocery and Grill said the life of a country store owner is demanding.

“We’re working harder than ever,” Guy said one afternoon. “We’re building up the business right now.”

The town of Colemansville dates back to 1831. Guy and Lindsey’s store is the last one standing out of the four that used to sit there.

“We’re a necessity,” Guy said. “People depend on us.”

Guy said many of his customers walked to the store because they had no other mode of transportation.

“Without this little place here, where would they go?” Guy asked.

But his customers’ dependence doesn’t mean that the owners haven’t felt the sting of the worsening economy.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the worst yet,” Guy said. “I hope we make it through.”

Because perhaps, Guy might argue, these country stores are just as much a necessity now as they were so many years ago.

For those sitting around Shadynook Store on a Friday afternoon, it’s the simple pleasures of good food, good laughs and good friends that has become a necessity to them.

“The country store’s just a good community focal point,” said Hattie Rankin.

“Deal ‘em again, Paul...”