When I saw the red for sale sign in front of the Country Store, my heart broke. No bigger than your average living room, the little store holds many memories for me, spanning from my childhood into my early adult years. When I was a child, my father often took me to the playground behind the store, allowing me a few pieces of penny candy if I behaved. We ate the candy on the small bridge that connected the path to the playground. As a child, that tiny wooden bridge seemed so large and scary, and I was sure I’d die if I fell into the stream below. Years later, friends and I rode our bikes onto that same bridge, anticipating the five-inch drop onto the parking lot of the store. It was the neighborhood hangout, far enough from home but not too far. The only thing to do after school on a cool fall day was to ride your bike to the Country Store.
When I was 16, I got my first real job. I was a clerk at the Country Store. I became even more connected with the place and the characters around it. I call them characters because working there felt like a sitcom sometimes. Each day at 4:00PM, three UPS guys bustled in for their break, flipped the TV to ESPN, bought hot dogs and sat on the ice cream cooler for an hour. Occasionally they teased me but mostly they were a security system, defending me against any unruly customers. The crazy mailman came in around the same time, used the “private” bathroom, bought a hotdog and a coke, mumbled something crazy, and was on his way. The neighborhood cat, Sam, was let inside the store and jumped on the counters, knocking everything down until we gave him some treats. I became familiar with the regulars. When I saw a car pull up, I knew what brand of cigarettes to have waiting when the customer walked in. I knew what lottery ticket they were going to buy. I knew they were going to pay for their coffee and newspaper with a five so I had their change ready.
Each day was the same. Same people, same purchases, same tasks for me to complete before closing for the day. When I went away to college, I came home each year to work a few shifts over winter break and during the summer. It was as if time stood still. You could always count on the store to be there exactly as it was the last time you were there.
The store closed for good yesterday, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to take my children there for penny candy someday. You probably can’t get penny candy anywhere these days. It marks the end of an era, and nothing will be the same.
To all my friends at the Country Store; I’ll never forget you, and I’ll always have your memories in my heart. You’ve done more for me than you could ever know.