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Posted October 4, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Baker's Store to celebrate 152-year history on Saturday

By Sally Voth - svoth@nvdaily.com

TOMS BROOK - Though they've only owned the Shenandoah County institution for a short time, Darlene Clark and Fred Dodson are planning a birthday party for Baker's Store this Saturday.

While its ownership has changed hands many times in the past 152 years, the name of the country store at 12363 Back Road near Toms Brook has stayed the same.

"That's one of the things in our lease, we do business as Baker's Store," Clark said. "They want to keep the nostalgia."

They would be the building's owners, David and Donna Bean.

Today the store offers home-cooked meals and baked goods, staple grocery and toiletry items, cold drinks and snacks and a vast array of antiques and collectibles.

In years past, the store would've been the equivalent of Wal-Mart, Clark said.

"People said they used to come in here and do their all-around Christmas shopping," she said. "They would get their clothing ... groceries. It was literally like an old-time hardware store where you could get everything."

Bean said the country store had been closed for two or three months after its previous owner died. The Beans ran it themselves for 10 years at one point.

Dodson had been interested in operating the store several years ago, but didn't follow through. He saw an ad for it more recently, and reopened Baker's Store in March.

"I had done stonework for 38 years," Dodson, 57, said. "I was just looking for something a little easier to do," he said, adding that it really isn't that easy.

Clark came on as Dodson's partner in July. They hadn't met before. She does most of the cooking and Dodson does most of the stocking.

"This is his passion - the antiques are his true passion," Clark, 45, said. "I tell him he's out picking. He's the picker.

"I like to cook. That's my passion. I really enjoy it. I like to cook. I love to bake."

"And, I love to eat," Dodson said and laughed.

The store is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, so most of the food served is breakfast and lunch. Clark said they hope to extend their hours during hunting season and become a check-in station.

Breakfast is available all day, and the menu includes a variety of sandwiches, nachos, pizza, meatloaf, soup, fried chicken, vegetables and desserts. Hot dogs are 75 cents.

"Our biggest crowd right now is our breakfast crowd," Clark said.

A group of about a half-dozen older men comes in every morning.

"A couple of them [have been coming here to breakfast] over 60 years," Clark said, adding they usually eat the same thing.

She's hoping word of the store's latest iteration spreads.

"Daily, it seems like people come in here and say, 'Oh, I didn't know you were open again,'" Clark said.

They hear stories from customers who have childhood memories of the store "and rode their bikes here, the big candy jars," she said.

An attempt by previous owners to make the site a place for upscale wine tastings wasn't well received, according to Clark.

"Someone said, 'I see you're trying to put it back more so like it used to be,'" she said.

And, although the store originally opened on Oct. 8, 1860, Clark and Dodson are having an early birthday party for it on Saturday.

"We'll have cake and baked goods and probably some samples of food, finger foods," she said.

Baker's Store has retained its original hardwood floors and Bean thinks its shelving is original as well.

There is not enough shelf space to hold all of the antiques and collectibles for sale: metal lunch boxes, old bottles, dishes, glassware, furniture, ash trays, oil cans, toys, videos, books, jewelry, pottery, Christmas ornaments, art, cigar boxes and more.

Dodson said he can't pass up a yard sale or auction.

"I just collect a lot of stuff, but I never really even thought about having a store," he said, adding that he needed somewhere to put it all "because my daughter was like, 'Dad, you're starting to look like one of them hoarders.'"

He added, "I've sold a lot of antiques in the last two weeks."

Besides locals and their relatives coming into the store, Dodson and Clark get some tourists. Clark has gotten the store listed on the Virginia Bicycling Adventures' website.

Dutch cyclists Ben Kolster and Tinka Daudeij stopped by Monday afternoon for a cup of coffee.

"We're on a bike [tour], and when we see something where we can eat something or drink something, we always stop," Daudeij said.

On Monday, they were cycling a 40-mile loop starting and ending in Strasburg.

"It's interesting," she said of the store. "What I'm seeing with the paper tags [listing prices below grocery items], that's something new I haven't seen before."

Kolster added, "That's a lot of work."

"I was wondering how they make much money out of this because it doesn't seem too big," he said. "I hope they will [succeed]."

Tremain Hatch has been doing some work at a vineyard in the area and stopped in to get a sandwich shortly after Kolster and Daudeij arrived.

"It's fantastic," he said of the store. "It's a nice treat to stop in, grab some snacks, [and later] stop in on the way home to grab a cold drink. It's kind of a neat feel to come inside. I was surprised to see how many years it's been in operation. It's great to see it's still going."

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