Community restores country store
FORT VALLEY – After more than a year, residents of Fort Valley can once again patronize the Fort Valley Country Store.
Originally open for more than 40 years, the store closed in January 2014. Where people came for gasoline, grocery items and community, its loss was strongly felt.
Ann Heap, one of the store’s new operators, said the closing was hard on everybody.
“People have really missed the store. And I don’t think they missed it only for what they could buy,” she said. “It’s really a community gathering place in many ways.”
A group of locals took it upon themselves to bring the store back. They formed the investment group Fort Valley Properties LLC in August and their goal was to purchase the property, renovate and then lease it to an operator who would run it.
Stephen Hunter, president of Fort Valley Properties LLC, said, “We realized the only viable way to get this store up and running was to separate the owning of the property and operation of the store.”
On May 22, that vision was realized when Heap and her daughter-in-law Melody Heap re-opened the store for business. They started with very little inventory and have been adding products and services with each passing day.
“When we opened, we had a little basket out there and we told people to write down what they would like to see in the store,” said Ann Heap.
Melody Heap noted, “This is the community store, so it’s important to have what the community wants and needs.”
Made-to-order deli sandwiches are available each day, as well as carryout suppers. Homemade treats made from old family recipes are sold by the “Fort Valley girls,” Ann Heap said.
“Just by accident, we have started being called the Fort Valley girls. Someone said that once to us kind of half-joking and it caught on,” she added.
Ann Heap has begun building a consignment area in one section of the store where local residents can sell their work. Whenever possible, the operators are working to stock the store through local means.
Melody Heap said they hope to get some local produce to sell.
“There is a man that has honey we would like to get on the shelves,” she said. “There are lots of people in the community that do jellies and things like that we would like to get, too. We’re just trying to get as much of the community involved as we can.”
Along with the increasing number of products they offer, they are in the process of becoming licensed retailers of the Virginia lottery, alcohol, and hunting and fishing licenses. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is considering establishing the store as a bear check station.
They are also working on being able to accept Virginia Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, Ann Heap said.
“There have never been food stamps accepted here. We know there are people in our community that have that need,” she said. “Fort Valley is a very special place. This is a caring community and it’s one that has always responded to help its own. If you have a need in Fort Valley, we’re going to take care of you. The community really pulls together.”
This commitment to community is why Fort Valley Properties LLC ultimately chose the Heaps to run the store, Hunter said.
“This was not just someone who would come into it as a money-making thing. We wanted someone who lived in the community and missed the store like we did,” Hunter said. “We had several good candidates but Ann really was the best.”
The Fort Valley Country Store is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fortvalleycs.
Contact staff writer Hilary Legge at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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