Step right up: Shelves empty at Page's Store

ADDRESS: Plank Road

NEIGHBORHOOD: Batesville

ASKING: $285,000

SIZE: 2400 fin. sq. ft., 1000 unfin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1887

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Norm Jenkins at Prudential Charlotte Ramsey 996-6652

That wailing you hear is a collective lament hither and yon over the demise of country/general stores. Once bastions of small town living, places where locals could catch up on relevant news– and where gossip gave it some spice and color– these stores are on the wane everywhere. Many historical societies are busy trying to change county ordinances to keep country stores from disappearing altogether from the landscape.

Page's Store in downtown Batesville symbolizes what once was a thriving rural community. In operation as a retail space since its inception in 1887, it has sold everything from fly paper to cheddar cheese to onion sets in the spring.

At the turn of the century, Batesville boasted five stores. The main thoroughfare between Scottsville and Lexington quickly became a muddy track, so it had to be planked over. Hence the name.

Today, the longest surviving store sits empty and forlorn.

There's no bench for sipping lemonade or meeting residents from the handful of gracious homes hidden behind lush hedges. As a country store goes, it's huge. A front landing that has in the recent past hosted a small table and chairs opens up into a cavernous space.

It's cool and musty, abandoned, and one must use imagination to foresee future incarnations. A white beaded-board ceiling makes a plea for light, but it's pretty dark. Two rooms, at around 1,000 square feet, could easily hold several antique boutiques, a restaurant, a junk store, or one can always dream– an actual grocery store.

But don't get too excited. According to county law, because Page's Store has been grandfathered in under the zoning laws, it's only commercial option is retail space– and that permission– set to expire two years after the registers stopped ringing– expires in December 2004.

The building abuts the road with little room for privacy. While the dark interior lends mystery to the quest for an ice cream sandwich on a hot summer day, its offers less joy for a discerning homeowner.

A half bath is the only sanitary facility currently usable. A small, 400-square-foot wing houses a post office, which still has 10 years left on its lease. The property does come with 11 parking spaces, which, as any urban dweller would readily testify, seems like a major plus. But only if there were someplace to go!

One thing that might transform into a nice dwelling (with a lot of work) is the upstairs. Reached by climbing over hill and dale in the back and across a small gangplank, the loft, however, needs someone with vision to imagine its potential. Even though never used as more than storage, the unfinished room nevertheless has character.

A counterweight system hangs from the rafters in true historical and sculptural beauty. Two rectangular handmade wooden boxes filled with rocks suspend from round wooden pulleys. On closer inspection, a neo Nancy Drew can spy the door in the floor that reveals a hidden stairwell. The pulley system was used to make sure the heavy stairs didn't come plummeting down on some hapless bystander in the store. Because of the steep incline in the back, though, this was the only way to haul and store the copious amounts of feed and grain needed for travelers. It's a neat thing to have in a house, even if it's totally unnecessary today.

All in all, the store sits as a sad and lonely tribute to country stores everywhere. As noble as one can feel about supporting local businesses, the lure of behemoth discount warehouses offering practically everything has all but obliterated the lure of family-owned (except for Sam Walton's family) enterprises.

Oh, well.