Grady's grand finale
By Nelson Bland
Published in News on August 2, 2010 2:03 PM
DUDLEY -- There used to be one every few miles, a small country store where friends and neighbors could go for a cold soft drink and snack and pull up old wooden soft drink cases to sit on to enjoy some fellowship.
Those old stores are rare now, diminished by changing times and overshadowed by more modern convenience stores.
And Saturday was the end of the another local store, when Annie Grady Parrott, 70, closed the doors for the last time at Grady's Grocery on Arrington Bridge Road near Dudley.
"I've been here for 38 years," she said. "There comes a time when it's time to quit."
Ms. Parrott said her father, the late Oscar Grady, had the store built about the mid-60s (she didn't recall the exact year) and operated it until his death in 1972, when she returned from New Jersey to run the business.
She said the number of customers has declined over the years as younger people work and shop in towns where they can find grocery items cheaper.
"I've seen children in this community grow into adulthood and now have children of their own," Ms. Parrott said. "Used to, kids would get off the school bus and stay here until their parents picked them up after getting off work."
Ms. Parrott, whose brother, Stephen Grady and his wife, Geraldine, operate the popular Grady's Barbecue restaurant near her store, said her father decided as he got older that he wanted something to do other than farm, so he built the small store.
Ms. Parrott said at that time she was in New Jersey, having moved there in 1959 after graduating from Carver High School in Mount Olive.
After coming home in 1972, Ms. Parrott said her three daughters were growing up and often helped her in the store. They are Bonita Parrott of Goldsboro, Bernadette Dove of the Indian Springs community and Belinda Parrott Bethea who lives in Hampton, Va.
"Me and the girls ran the store. But since they got out of high school, college or whatever, I have been running it by myself for the last 20 years or so," she said.
However, Ms. Parrott said she had some part-time employees who assisted her over the years -- Lamont Christopher Kelly, Andre Kelly, Antoine Dove and Brandon Dove.
The store sold general grocery items, soft drinks, milk, ice cream, candy, snacks and hot dogs and pre-packaged cold or hot sandwiches. A microwave oven was used to heat sandwiches.
"We used to sell rabbit food, chicken feed, just about anything a store would have in the old days," Ms. Parrott said.
An antique set of scales in the store is a reminder of the by-gone days.
"We used to use that to weigh things like smoked sausage or hoop cheese on that, but everything is pre-packaged now," Ms. Parrott said.
Shelves are mostly bare in the store now since Ms. Parrott has not restocked any items in a while in anticipation of closing.
"I don't sell as much as I used to," she said. "There are new convenience stores here, one five miles down the road and the other six miles the other way."
Some faithful customers, however, still frequent the store like some employees of a large turkey growing firm in the area.
"Those guys have really been a great blessing to me, you know. They always come by to have their breakfast or lunch," she said.
Victor Chavez, who was at the store buying some snacks, said he was saddened to learn that the store was closing.
"I come here all the time," he said.
Ms. Parrott said Chavez is one of many faithful customers.
"I've been knowing him since he was a kid," she said.
In years gone by, farm workers would come to the store to get a quick lunch, such as a can of pork and beans or Vienna sausage, saltine crackers or a pack of "nabs" and a soft drink, Ms. Parrott said. But with new methods of farming, there are fewer farmworkers, too.
Ms. Parrott said in "the old days" people from the community would often come to sit around on old wooden soft drink crates to play checkers, cards "and what have you" and stay over until late in the evening.
"They would talk about everything from politics to religion. We would even have 'church' in here sometimes," she said, laughing. "We had an old heater in the back room and would cook something to eat on it, like chicken or smoked sausage."
Ms. Parrott said she has many customers who often buy the same thing when they come in. She remembered one man who almost always got "a short Coca-Cola" and a BC powder.
"He said he didn't hurt but took the BCs because they made him feel better," she said.
Ms. Parrott still has what is often called "penny candy" in large jars on the counter. But the "penny" candy costs from two to five cents now.
She said she doesn't yet know what she will do after she closes the store, but she plans on "finding something to do" because she likes people.
"I am a people person. I have been in some kind of store work all my life," she said. She said has worked with Safeway convenient stores, a major department store and another "country store" in New Jersey.
"Even in high school, I worked at the school store," she said.
Ms. Parrott said running her own store "has been a challenge" but that it has been satisfying and fun. She said she just believes it is time "to do something different," although she confessed that she has no real hobbies.
Ms. Parrott said she hopes to sell her store, her four-bedroom frame house that sits right behind it and a half-acre of land. After that, she plans to move into an apartment.
Meanwhile, a hand-lettered sign on the front door of the store sums up her feelings after all these years. In it, she thanks her customers for their "support for over 38 years." It ends, "May God continue to bless you.
"I will miss them. They hate to see me go and I hate to go. But there comes a time when everything comes to an end."