Travel

Seven Southern Country Stores with Retro Appeal

These small-town mercantiles offer up an extra scoop of nostalgia along with sugar, milk, the occasional cast-iron skillet or pallet of lumber—and everything in between

A country store

Photo: Fred's General Mercantile

Fred's General Mercantile in Beech Mountain, North Carolina.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, my paternal great-grandfather operated a general store in the unincorporated tobacco farming community of Hyman, South Carolina, that sold everything from “penny candy to coffins,” my grandmother once said. Today, the old building at the intersection of North Pamplico Highway and Big Swamp Road remains, but the store itself is long gone, an echo of the past like so many other rural country stores replaced by Dollar Generals, Walmarts, and the might of Amazon.

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Despite that corporate creep, a handful of stalwart enterprises endure across the South. In South Carolina, Cooper’s Country Store is still a popular pit stop between Columbia and the Grand Strand’s sandy shores, nearly a century after it opened. The two-story shop sells gas and other grocery basics, but it’s the locally cured country ham (sold whole or by the slice) that most folks seek. My parents often make the hour-and-a-half drive up from Charleston just to secure one of their famed hams, which they’ll slice and layer inside homemade biscuits, tailgate fodder for Clemson football games. In rural Gravel Switch, Kentucky, Penn’s Store—the nation’s oldest country store still run by the same family—is beloved by the G&G contributor and poet Maurice Manning. 

Discover seven more country stores with deep roots and the kind of retro road-trip appeal that will have you rolling down the windows and hitting the blacktop, below.

Floyd Country Store 

Floyd, Virginia

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After serving its Appalachian community for most of the twentieth century, this quaint operation nearly shuttered in the 1990s. It survived thanks to the store’s now famous Friday Night Jamboree, a weekly bluegrass concert and old-time dance party featuring local string musicians and vocalists. A revamp in 2007 returned the store to its prime; there’s now a full-service country café and an ice cream parlor as well as a robust inventory of locally made goods. But the music plays on. The store has added Americana performances and mountain music jam sessions that run throughout the weekend. In the summer and fall, the shows are often standing room only, so plan ahead if you want a seat. 


Fred’s General Mercantile 

Beech Mountain, North Carolina

photo: Fred’s General Mercantile

“Fred’s is a lot of things to a lot of different people,” says the store’s general manager, Bernie Knepka. “Our motto is: If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Founded in 1979 by Fred and Margie Pfohl, the place started small with a single room of basic groceries and hardware supplies. Today, the charming blue-and-red clapboard mercantile occupies three stories and includes a clothing and shoe department, a gift shop, and a deli that’s open for breakfast and lunch. There’s even a ski and snowboard shop come winter. Fred’s takes its role as a hub for the High Country community seriously, and whether blue skies or blizzard conditions, the store hasn’t closed a single day since it opened. 


HUM Grocery 

Rockville, South Carolina

photo: Natalie Humphrey
The owners’ son, Huckleberry, enjoying his daily popsicle outside the shop.

Chef Andrew Humphrey and his wife, Natalie, discovered the old P.M. King’s market in the coastal community of Rockville when they got married on Wadmalaw Island, just outside Charleston. Built in 1947, the rural roadside grocery had been closed for thirteen years when the couple purchased it in 2017. Four years later, they reopened under the name HUM Grocery, and today’s visitors will find island-grown produce and jarred goods along with take-and-bake seasonal items like squash or green bean casseroles. HUM also stocks beer, wine, and other grocery essentials, allowing locals to avoid the fourteen-mile drive to the nearest chain store every time they run out of milk or sugar. And if you’re passing by around lunchtime, brake for Humphrey’s menu of comfort classics, including pulled pork, pimento cheese, and heirloom tomato sandwiches along with a standout chicken salad. 

photo: Natalie Humphrey
HUM Grocery’s WadmaSLAW dog.

Pierce and Co. General Store 

Hallsboro, North Carolina 

In one memorable Google review, a customer likened this 126-year-old market to Lee Chong’s grocery store in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row: “A miracle of supply…within its single room a man could find everything he needed or wanted to live and to be happy.” Never mind that homemade North Carolina pork sausage and liver pudding were probably not on Lee Chong’s inventory list, nor the pair of EV chargers that now sit out front, which are proof that while much stays the same at this institution—they still use the same 1923-built cash register and continue to stock lumber and penny candy—Pierce and Co. is no relic. 


Studley General Store 

Studley, Virginia

Inside this red-sided outpost—a rural Virginia landmark since the late 1800s—are grocery basics like cereal, coffee, milk, bread, beer, and wine, but it’s Studley’s fresh-made offerings that keep folks returning to this crossroads northeast of Richmond. Last year, Yenny and Doug Gutierrez took over for Yenny’s mother and stepfather, but the kitchen continues to turn out standards like stick-to-your-ribs breakfast sandwiches along with homemade chicken salad, pulled pork, and fried chicken. If you happen by on the right day, you might score a slice of apple or sweet potato pie. Maybe a slice of coconut cake or a half-bushel of Virginia oysters. 


Sunrise Grocery

Blairsville, Georgia

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This low-slung, red-roofed country store nestled in North Georgia’s Choestoe Valley celebrates its centennial this year. Run by the Clemmons family since 1983, the mountain market chooses inventory that reflects the uniqueness of its Appalachian community: farm-fresh produce, American-made cast iron, local sourwood honey, blackberry and brandy jam, chowchow, relish, and old-fashioned lime pickles. The work of area potters and woodworkers line the shelves, too, along with handmade soaps and candles created by Jessica Clemmons, wife of current owner Jason. But for the generations of travelers who seek out the Blue Ridge mountains, it’s the paper bags of boiled peanuts, cooked fresh over an open fire, that are the siren song.


T.B. Sutton General Store 

Granville, Tennessee

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On Saturday nights, T.B Sutton’s is the place to be in Granville—located an hour east of Nashville—when the weekly Sutton Ole Time Music Hour fills the air with the thrum of fiddles, banjos, and mandolins. Walk-ins are welcome, but for $25 you can join locals and visitors alike for a pre-show dinner served family-style. Situated on the banks of the Cumberland River, this two-story clapboard general store, built in the 1800s, boasts a retro ice cream counter and dishes out old-fashioned floats and hand-dipped scoops as well as Southern lunch counter standards like homemade pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches. (The thick-cut fried bologna sandwich is a house favorite.) Upstairs, check out the work of local artisans—quilts, ironwork, pottery, baskets, and more. 


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