A working man’s store

Andy Stokes cuts a slab of sharp cheese for a customer inside Stokes General Store in Front Royal. The store has been in the family for 70 years. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — During the darkest days of World War II, amidst rationing and shortages, Alvin Stokes decided to open a general store in what used to be a blacksmith shop.

Stokes went to military surplus sales, buying gas cans, coats and boots for his store. He started a moving company and a storage facility. The present building was erected in 1946.

While the moving venture was eventually discontinued, the store remained.

Located at 533 E. Main St. in Front Royal, Alvin Stokes General Store has been a community institution for more than 70 years. Selling work wear, jeans, boots and knives, Stokes General Store has been in the family for three generations.

Andy Stokes, Alvin’s grandson, started managing the store in 1976. He said his store serves “the working man.”

Mike Rosenberry, sales clerk at Stokes General Store, pulls out a box of boots from a shelf inside the store. Boots have been traditionally one of the staples of the working man's store. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We are here for people who need to get outside and make a living with their back,” Stokes said. “We sell the stuff you need, everything from jeans to outerwear.”

According to Stokes, his grandfather was always an entrepreneur.

“He bought and sold hides, recycled metals, did everything he could to make a living,” Stokes said. “His goal all through his years was get back property that once belonged to Stokes.”

Stokes said during his time as manager, the store has undergone some changes.

“We don’t scrap metal anymore, we don’t buy and sell furs or hides anymore,” Stokes said. “At one time we had an archery shop in here, but then a lady down the street opened up one. She went out of business, but we had replaced our archery with biker wear.”

Charlene Weaver labels and boxes merchandise inside Stokes General Store. Rich Cooley/Daily

According to Stokes, one way to gauge how the store has changed is to look at the boots.

“These days, we sell Wolverine, but I remember in the ’50s, our whole wall was covered in Walker boots. Everybody wore Walker,” Stokes said. “Then it went to Georgia Giant, then Carolina, it’s evolved every generation, it seems like there’s a new leader.”

Whenever he can, Stokes said he tries to carry brands made in America.

“We have about 10 or 20 styles of boots made in America, all our socks are made in America, most of the jeans are made in North America, if you’re counting Mexico,” Stokes said. “We try to do our best to carry American when we can.”

Recently, the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority bought Stokes Mart, just down the street from the store. According to Stokes, his father started that store in 1972, in what used to be an old gas station.

Stokes said he credits his shop’s success to their relationship with goods suppliers.

“You need to buy in bulk, so we had to stop carrying groceries and hardware because we weren’t selling enough,” Stokes said. “We decided to focus on the boots and clothes and we have a great relationship with those suppliers.”

According to Stokes, the business has had its ups and downs over the years, particularly when the last recession hit.

“The recession really slowed things down, but we’ve been able to find ways to make some gains,” Stokes said.

One of the store’s biggest draws is a large wheel of sharp cheddar cheese, Stokes said.

“Everybody loves it,” Stokes said. “People buy it for presents. Some days before Christmas, we have one person sit there and cut cheese all day.”

Stokes oversees three full-time employees and two part-time workers. Stokes said while his staff is “spread thin” over a seven-day work week, they make up for their numbers with their work ethic.

“There’s no lost motion with the people I work with. They know how to get the job done,” Stokes said.

Alvin Stokes General Store is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com