Mom and Pop shop has withstood the test of time
CLEAR FORK, W.Va. (AP) — On a chilly Wednesday morning, the gravel lot of Kathy’s Grocery and Restaurant - a quaint little country store in Clear Fork on Raleigh County’s western end - is lined with several large pickup trucks.
A large sign in the front window is brightly lit, flashing “OPEN,” for visiting patrons.
Old wooden steps lead to the front door and inside a group of men sit on worn, comfortable looking chairs positioned directly across from the counter where customers wait to make their purchases.
The men are just a few of the regulars who frequent Kathy’s almost every day for their morning coffee or homemade breakfast biscuit or just to shoot the breeze with the store’s owners Glenn and Kathy Duncan.
The business, previously known as Butch’s, has been a staple in the Clear Fork area since the 1950s and has been in its current spot since a fire destroyed its previous location across the street in 1957.
“I can remember, as a little girl, going to the old store across the road ...,” Kathy recalls. “And the old man Butch. He was funny. He was a good, old man.”
Kathy’s husband Glenn, a disabled coal miner, worked at the original store stocking shelves and delivering groceries when he was in high school.
But the couple never imagined they would one day own the store in which they spent so much time at as youths. That’s what happened in 2004, though, when the couple received a phone call asking if they might be interested in buying Butch’s.
It was a decision Glenn says he and Kathy prayed about and then decided was meant to be.
The shelves of Kathy’s are stocked with staples like milk, bread, ketchup and spaghetti and the coolers are stocked with ice cold soda pops — old-fashioned glass bottles in addition to more modern styles.
Kathy’s appeals to customers through both sight and smell as the aroma of banana nut bread fills the room and mixes with the sweet scent of bear claw tarts — a warming sample entices customers from a nearby tart burner.
A variety of vintage collectibles are scattered throughout, as items ranging from coal miner helmets to race cars and old metal Peanuts lunch boxes line the shelves.
But not everything in Kathy’s is for sale. Some of it is for sentimental value.
“You’d have to ask Glenn,” Kathy says of some of the collectibles. “Those are his babies.”
Glenn and Kathy have their own set of responsibilities when it comes to work.
Glenn tends to stay up front, helping customers and chatting with regulars.
And Kathy spends a great deal of time in the back. The banana nut bread and tarts are not the only tempting smells coming out of the building as Kathy stays busy in her large industrial kitchen.
“Kathy is one of the finest cooks I’ve ever seen,” Glenn says.
Kathy and Glenn deliver food to local coal mines, schools, medical offices and some of the elderly residents in the area who cannot drive. They also have a small restaurant-style eatery in the back of the store where customers can sit down and order a hot meal.
Another of Glenn’s duties is to deliver the food. So when Kathy is finished, he and his childhood friend Leon Stover, also of Clear Fork, load it and 90 sodas, into his car.
“They make some of the best pizzas you’ll ever eat in your life,” Leon says before heading out with Glenn.
But although Kathy has just completed a large order, she has more work to do.
“Have you ever had a burger with an egg on it?” she asks, before getting to work preparing a “Kitchen Sink” special. The large ground beef patty comes with an egg, hot sauce and hot peppers. Crispy crinkle cut fries are an optional add-on.
Kathy’s is closed on Sundays, but the couple spends the rest of the week at the store.
On Thursdays, Kathy even comes in as early as 1 a.m. to prep dozens of homemade breakfast biscuits from scratch.
“I just love to cook,” she says.
And it’s a good thing, too. Kathy’s Grocery and Restaurant is pretty much all that’s left in the small mining community.
Glenn says he and his regulars often reminisce about the booming town Clear Fork used to be.
“It’s a pretty, everyday subject,” he says. “They talk about how much the area has changed. They’ve lived here all their life, too. There used to be 15 stores in this valley. The coal industry went down and there’s just no jobs.
″...This is the only ball game in town. It’s the only store around. I tell everybody, I’ll be the last one to turn off the lights.”
But despite the changes in his hometown, the 62-year-old says he’s not going anywhere.
“I’m too old to go any place else,” Glenn said thoughtfully. “My roots, they’re deep.”
Glenn says he can recall a time when Kathy’s used to have a line out the front door. That doesn’t happen often now, but he says they stay busy enough to make it.
That success, they say, may be partly because you often get from the community what you put into it.
“It’s angels unaware,” Kathy says as the couple talk about helping out others in times of need. “I think what goes around comes around.
“I would hope that one day if my kids were out in a strange place, and they didn’t have money and were hungry or working that somebody will pay them back. That’s just how we are.”
Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com