01/04/05 — One of the last store of its kind closes

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One of the last store of its kind closes

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 4, 2005 2:04 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Ralph Casey's Grocery and Auto Parts store is a piece of living history every day the door stays open.

People have told the family there are no more small country stores like the one they have on N.C. 55 at Seven Springs.

And now the store has gone the way of others like it. It officially closed on New Year's Day.

The store will remain open this week as vendors come by to pick up their goods. Customers are still coming in, too. But the proprietors say they are too old to keep it running and are trying to sell it.

All of the auto parts are gone, but some groceries remain, said owner Ralph Casey, who turns 79 today. He's had the store open for 40 years. He doesn't want to close it, but he says he has to.

It's going to be hard not to come to the store every day, said his wife, Lena, while she deals with several customers who have come into the store.

She rings up their purchases on an old crank-open register that the family uses when the power goes out.

She said the store has not been the same since her son-in-law, Ricky Thompson, died. Thompson surprised a burglar at the store at 4 a.m. on May 24, 2003. He was shot.

"If he was still here," she said, "we wouldn't be closing."

Mrs. Casey said she woke up that night and saw the back of a man's head inside the store. She saw him on a security camera she can watch from her bedroom. She called Thompson, then called 911.

Thompson arrived first. He went inside. The man inside saw the door open and started shooting, said Mrs. Casey.

"It didn't only hurt us," she said of Thompson's death. "It hurt the whole community."

Roy George Legg has been charged with the murder and is in jail awaiting trial. He had been a regular customer for about a year, said Mrs. Casey.

"We've had regular customers since we've been here," she said. "We have a lot of good memories, something that can't be taken away from you."

Casey doesn't know what he'll do in retirement. He has worked all his life.

"I'm no fisher, no hunter," said Casey. "I don't go to the beaches."

The couple worked at the store seven days a week for about 20 years. It started out as a grill with a small dining room and a few groceries. He kept adding onto it, bringing in more groceries, more auto parts.

The grill stayed open about 10 years.

Teresa, their daughter who later became Thompson's wife, was too young then to work the grill. But she would come in at night and help clean up -- after cooking herself a hamburger.

In those days, the store was open from 5 a.m. until midnight. But for the past 20 years, the family has been closing the store on Sundays. The hours for the past year and a half have been 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Casey is not able to spend much time at the store any more, and Mrs. Casey says she can't do it by herself.

"Somebody could make a living here," said Mrs. Casey. "We're not rich, but we're paying the bills, and we have a place to stay."

But after what they have been through, they don't want to just sell the store and live in the house behind it, which they have been in for 41 years. They want to sell the store, the house, the auto repair shop, all of it.

Mrs. Casey said their daughter has urged them to get out of the grocery business for their safety. And they agree that it's time to move away from it and the old store that has been a big part of the Seven Springs community.