The argument can be made that there is nothing general about the feelings of nostalgia summoned by stepping into a locally-owned general store. It's a unique love we feel for things that remain frozen in time - a special appreciation we experience as we age and realize that rarely does anything truly remain unchanged. But, the country store might be the exception.
Before Lowes, and especially if your town didn't have a hardware store, the general store was where you found home improvement items. Before Walmart, it was where you found groceries. Before fast food chains were everywhere, it was where you stopped for a snack, a soda, or some candy. It was where older gentlemen sat and talked about the weather over an old checkers board. It was where women stopped at the end of the aisles in passing to bend their heads together over the latest local gossip. Where kids sat on the porch or on the sidewalk or in the dirt outside chasing melted ice cream down their arms from the cone they clutched in their hands. The general store was a metaphorical crossroads (often located at a literal one) where old and young, Baptist and Methodist, well-to-do and not so well-to-do met and mingled in the unified pursuit of shared needs. The people behind the counter knew the people in front of it and vice versa. If the Small Town South was a universe, the general store would be its microcosm.
It used to be that we didn't have to seek out these havens of locally-owned, Mom-and-Pop, back-to-the-basics pieces of Americana because it was all there was. People born before the 1970's can speak of general stores with the same fondness they speak of purchasing a glass bottle of Pepsi for a nickel. To which I say, "huh?". But thanks to the love and dedication of some people there are general stores alive and well today, and some coming back to life, to reclaim their ability to remove you from the drive-thru speed of our modern world and return you to a simpler time. Johnston County has 4 general stores operating today, all focused on providing the things that have always made them so integral to small town life - local products, candy, cold soda, and the bare necessities.
Stanfield's General Store - 105 N Main St., Four Oaks, NC
We have actually written about Stanfield's before, when it first opened. Find toys, games, local art, cold glass bottles of soda, as well as hardware and lawn supplies. Stanfield's is located in a storefront in Downtown Four Oaks that can claim a local general store heritage all the way back to 1914.
Ronnie's Country Store - 280 US Hwy 701 S., Four Oaks, NC
Don't let Ronnie's outside appearance fool you. Inside you'll find items that range from animal feed to cowboy boots to ice cream to tires. Started as a BP service station in the early 80s, Ronnie's has been around for over 30 years.
Clayton General Store - 10522 Hwy 70 Business, Clayton, NC
Fresh baked sourdough bread, pies, Amish cheese, whole watermelons, and locally made gifts are all on offer at this general store. Take a load off in the white rocking chairs on the shaded porch. Clayton General Store might not have a ton of history behind it, but they're doing the name of general stores proud.
Whether you call it a general store, a country store, the store on the corner, that store down yonder, that place that the so-and-so's own, or any combination thereof, it's here to remind you that shopping local is still possible. The memories of your childhood can sometimes be reclaimed to be shared with a new generation. There is still gossip to be shared, weather to be discussed, pieces of gum sold from a bucket, and ice cream cones to be scooped. Next time you find yourself near a general store, stop in and experience the love and contentment you find when you realize that some things don't change.
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For more than ten years, the staff of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has been curating unique content about the people, places, food, attractions, and shopping throughout Johnston County to share with you, our visitors! Keep in touch and read our weekly blog posts -- and we hope you visit us soon! #visitjoco