Downsville store back in business

June 16, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

by RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


Downsville General Store

The new "regulars" already have claimed their stools at the marble counter of the Downsville General Store, a community landmark that reopened at 5:30 a.m. June 3 after sitting vacant for two years.

Bill and Judy Blair bought the Downsville Pike store and the house next door and moved there from their home in Halfway. It was a welcome change for the couple, who are enjoying the peace and quiet of the small town.

"The rooster bothered us at first, but we got used to it," said Bill Blair, laughing.

The Blairs have two children, 22-year-old Jenny and 17-year-old son Billy, and two grandchildren. Bill Blair, 44, is working full time as a sheriff's deputy while his wife runs the store.


The Blairs don't plan on making many changes at the store.

"We're going to leave it pretty much like it is inside, but we would like to fix it up on the outside - do some painting and maybe put up some siding," Bill Blair said.

"It's a typical country store. Just plain old country," said Judy Blair, 40, who left her job of 17 years at Kmart to take over the store.

If there's any decorating to be done on the inside, the Blairs hope it will be in the form of old pictures of the store, which was built in the 1920s.

"We're looking for pictures we can borrow and have blown up," Bill Blair said.

The Blairs have stocked their store with a little bit of everything, from staples like bread and milk to razors, batteries and playing cards. There are jars full of candy for the kids.

Judy, who enjoys cooking, starts serving breakfast at 5:30 a.m. The store has a deli, and makes made-to-order subs and sandwiches. The Blairs say eventually they will put in a couple more tables or booths for folks who drop in for meals.

The Blairs said they are learning as they go. They keep a list of what customers want them to stock, and then they get those items.

"After all, this is their store," Bill Blair said.

Beer is available at the store, as are cigarettes. By early July the Blairs said they should have lottery tickets for sale, and a keno game in place.

One corner will be devoted to hunting and fishing. Bill Blair said local outdoorsmen are telling him what he should stock. The store already has a tank full of live minnows and a refrigerator full of nightcrawlers, and will soon be equipped to sell hunting and fishing licenses.

The couple said they're looking now for part-time help, preferably someone who is retired or semi-retired.

When the store first opened and curious townspeople dropped in, the Blairs said they seemed as hungry for the good ole days as they did for breakfast.

"They're happy as they can be that we're open," Bill Blair said. "We turned the 'closed' sign around, and that was our advertising. Mostly it's been word of mouth."

Business has been steady, and the Blairs say they are thankful for their customers, whom they already know on a first-name basis.

"The night before we opened, I didn't get any sleep at all," Judy Blair said. "But it turned out OK. The customers made me feel comfortable."

Judy Blair's days start at 5 a.m. and end when the store closes at 10 p.m. She said the long hours don't bother her.

"I love the people," she said. "I serve them meals, and sometimes they bring us meals. One of our regular customers has brought us homemade soft cinnamon pretzels and homemade rolls ... all made from scratch."

"These are honest, down-to-earth people. They don't put on any airs," Bill Blair said. "They're different. They're so nice."

For Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy Bill Blair, the people of Downsville have reaffirmed his belief in the basic goodness of man.

"After all these years dealing with what I've got to deal with day in and day out, this makes you understand that those people aren't all of society," he said. "The people here have shown us that there are still decent, honest people in this life."

If there was any doubt about whether the Blairs did the right thing when they bought the store, it was dispelled by a large, old ceramic piggy bank they found inside. The pig is wearing a pair of blue jeans and a blue hat. On its breast is a badge that says "sheriff."

"I've got to get him painted and in the right uniform," Bill Blair said.

Sometimes things are just meant to be.

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