A place of community: Fort Valley Country Store continues its legacy

FORT VALLEY – “It was and still is just an old country store,” Ann Heap, a long time Fort Valley resident and proprietor of the Fort Valley Country Store said.

The aroma of baked goods and hospitality greets Fort Valley residents and tourists alike when the front doors of the Fort Valley Country Store open at 7 a.m. each morning. Residents can be heard discussing the day’s headlines, solving world dilemmas and sports, all while enjoying fresh cups of coffee, sausage, biscuits and conversation.

“People come in, especially on cold winter days and warm up by the stove and chit chat for a bit,” Heap said. “Some come in multiple times in the same day. It’s a meeting place. A gathering place for our residents.”

A staple of the community for over 40 years, the country store is booming since its reopening in 2014 thanks to Fort Valley Properties LLC, formed by a group of over 70 Fort Valley residents who rallied together to save the old country store when it closed due to financial reasons four years ago this past January.

Charlie Ashman, president and shareholder of Fort Valley Properties LLC, said for decades it was where Fort Valley residents would buy their groceries, their gasoline, their newspapers and beer.

“We knew as a community we couldn’t let this store go,” Ashman said. “So, a group of Fort Valley residents came together to find a way to make that possible.”

The result of that community group became known as Fort Valley Properties, LLC.

What originated as an old garage has been transformed over the years at one time or another into restaurants, pizza dens and various convenience  stores. Today it resembles an old country store with modern updates, including a beer den, updated gasoline pumps and an artists, artisans and authors den, where locals sell their art and books.

“It’s more than just a store,” Heap said. “It’s a place of community.”

Ashman said when the LLC purchased the store and surrounding acreage, which was made feasible by contributions from community members, they decided to establish a proprietorship making it easier for a proprietor to maintain the store.

“We learned from past owners that maintaining the store and the land was too difficult monetarily,” Ashman said. “This way the proprietor maintains the store and we maintain the land.”

Three years ago, Heap took ownership of the country store.

“It’s a place to meet people. It’s a place to go,” Heap said. “We don’t have a lot centered here in Fort Valley, but we do have the store.”

Heap, a retired teacher, is known throughout the Valley as the “Fort Valley Girl” because of her traditional, time honored baking and culinary talents. Since taking over the store, food enthusiasts come from as far as Stanley, Harrisonburg and Winchester to delight in Heap’s three signature items: steak and cheese subs, carrot cake and chicken salad.

“We’ve done a lot with the food since I’ve been running the store,” Heap said. “But there’s always been a history of food here.”

The deli also offers a wide selection of cold and hot subs and sandwiches made to order while the convenience store provides cold soda and drink, beer and wine, ice cream, home cleaning products, pet food, tobacco products, nature supplies and even pounds of sugar, in case a resident realizes they forgot to pick it up on the journey into town.

“The reason the community group got together was not having a store here in Fort Valley was a devastating loss for those of us that live here,” Heap said.

This spring Heap said she hopes to retire. Ashman added that the community is aware of Heap’s plan to retire and is already searching for a new proprietor.

“We’re not worried,” Heap said. “The right person will come along. I mean, there years ago they had no idea where they were going to find someone to open the store. And I appeared. It’ll happen. I have faith.”

Ashman and Heap agreed that their continued success is not just from Fort Valley residents but added that local tourism throughout the Valley has also boosted their success.

“We’re in the middle of a recreation area,” Heap said. “We are also a big game check station, including bear which is a big deal here in Fort Valley.”

Hunters, fishers, hikers and bikers are just a few of the colorful visitors the store sees throughout the year.

“The store is also a place of community,” she said. “When a resident needs to know something, they call the Fort Valley Store. It’s been that way for generations. And it will continue to be that way for generations to come.”

Visit the Fort Valley Country Store at 7091 Fort Valley Road or find it online: www.fortvalleycountrystore.net