Shadwell farewell: Old store demo provokes memories
Sometimes the loss of an old building, even an unremarkable one, can feel like loosing an old friend. So it goes with the old Shadwell Store, the small, white-bricked building that stood on a one-acre spike of land at the intersection of Louisa Road and Route 250 for nearly 80 years, which was finally demolished earlier this month.
Until last year, the store was being run by the owners of Foods of All Nations, but they decided not to renew their lease, says owner Lloyd "L.F." Wood, whose family (which includes his brother, developer Wendell Wood) has owned the store since the 1930s. Wood has an approved plan for a bigger, more modern store, but he has yet to find a willing tenant. In the meantime, he figured it was best to demolish the seriously deteriorating structure.
"I didn't want it to become an eyesore," says Wood, who operates another local landmark, the Putt-Putt minuature golf course on Rio Road. "So we decided to put it to bed."
It wasn't an easy decision for Wood, who remembers riding to the store in his father's '39 Chevy and buying a cold Coke for a nickel. In fact, he says the reason he held on to the store, which served as a food market, post office, greasy spoon, auto repair shop, and full-service gas station over the years, was largely sentimental.
Indeed, for Pettie Craddock, 56, who remembers working summers at the store for his grandparents, buying 10-cent Cokes and Twinkies, and listening intently for the gurgle as he filled a gas tank so it wouldn't spill over, the store's demise is bittersweet. Ironically, he served on the Albemarle Planning Commission when Wood's new store plans were approved, and voted to demolish this link to his past.
Craddock says that his grandmother ran the post office, an important job for a woman back then, and that his uncle, a World War II veteran, fixed cars in a small bay behind the structure.
"It was like a country store back then," he says. "My grandparents lived in a house behind the store, and were always there. I remember them running tabs for locals, who'd eat real well all month and then just come in at the end of the month and pay their bill, which would be like $8 or $10."
Craddock says only items like Cokes and chips were self-serve, unlike today's convenience stores, while everything else, from canned vegetable to bologna, had to be requested across the counter. When the state sales tax was implemented, Craddock says his grandfather put a cigar box beside the old cash register, which was unable to calculate the tax on a sale, and dropped pennies from each sale into it to cover the tax.
In the evening, Craddock recalls driving down the road and looking for the enormous GULF Gas & Oil sign on the roof.
"If it was lit up," he says, "we knew it was open, and we'd be getting a treat."
During the summers, Craddock remembers the yellow jackets that always swarmed around a shed to the side of the building where the empty soda bottles were kept, and where he was often stung as he tried to sort them. Each week, a truck from the local Coca-Cola plant would come by to collect and re-use the bottles.
Back then, says Craddock, you were charged extra for the bottle, unless you drank your Coke on the spot and gave it back. If you took your Coke with you, you made sure to bring the bottle back next time to get the discount.
Even for newer residents, it's strange to see an empty lot where the store once stood.
Jeanne Bruce-Phillips, 52, wistfully photographed the July 8 demolition. She can't say she's sorry to see the old store go, as she thought it was becoming an eyesore; but, emotionally, she says, it's been difficult to accept that its gone.
"It's like a national monument around here," says Bruce-Phillips, who moved to Keswick four years ago. "We always say, 'let's meet at the Shadwell Store.' Of course, it isn't there now, but that's still what we've been calling it."
Craddock, too, admits its strange to see the empty lot, but he believes that demolishing was the right thing to do, as the building had changed and deteriorated so much from the way he remembers it.
"We have a fantasy," Bruce-Phillips admits bashfully, "to create a drive-thru grocery, a place where you could pick up milk, ice cream, eggs, donuts, things like that. "
Wood, unable yet to find any willing grocers, appears to be all ears.
"If you know of anybody who wants to open a store," he says, " tell them to give us a call."