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Local store was the gathering place

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The store is gone; the name lives on

By John Barnhart

    Marie Overstreet, who serves as secretary and treasurer of Overstreet General Repair, was no stranger to a family-owned business when she married into the Overstreet family.

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    She grew up in one. Actually, she grew up living over her father’s store.
    Her father, Virgil Shepherd, owned Shepherd’s store which was located at the intersection of Dickerson Mill Road and Shepherd’s Store Road.
    “We moved there when I was 8 years old,” said Overstreet. “I was born in 1937.”
    Overstreet said her father, a farmer who lived in the Joppa Mill area, purchased an existing store that had been there for a long time. The store was on the first floor of the building and the family lived on the second floor.
    “There were always people around,” she said.
    The store opened between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and closed between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sometimes, however, it was open later than that. If there were customers in the store, they stayed open. If somebody was watching TV, they stayed open.
    Shepherd’s store had the first TV in that area and neighbors watched it. Overstreet said her sister, who was a decade older than her, was working for Sears in Roanoke, and got the TV. Her father set it up in the store.
    The store was already a community center before the TV. Overstreet remembers, as a child, listening to people talking about farming, fishing, hunting and moonshine.
    “Then, there were some of them telling ghost stories,” she said. “I didn’t sleep well at night after them talking about seeing ghosts and haunted houses.”
    The store sold a wide variety of items including chicken feed in 50 pound bags. These were printed cloth bags and women would make dresses and curtains from this cloth. So, they wanted matching bags.
    Most groceries came from Bedford Grocery, a grocery wholesaler located on Depot Street in Bedford. Salesmen would come to the store and take orders. The groceries would then be delivered in a truck.
    Virgil Shepherd picked up other items himself. He would drive to Roanoke every week to get bananas.
    “I used to go with my dad to get them,” Overstreet said.
    They went to a warehouse where “there were all these stalks hanging up.” Virgil Shepherd picked out a stalk to take it back to the store where he would break it up into bunches.
    They had no frozen foods. The store sold all kinds of groceries, canned goods, candy and Coca Cola products. They sold salt fish from big barrels, taking the quantity of fish out of the barrel that the customer wanted. The cheese they sold came in big, round wheels and they would cut chunks off according to the customer’s order. They also sold cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
    They also had a gas pump.
    “We sold Texaco gas,” Overstreet said.
    Her father usually pumped the gas for customers, but everybody chipped in as needed.
    “I think all of us did from time to time,” she said.
    Customer service, for Virgil Shepherd, included delivering groceries to people who couldn’t get out. It also included maintaining charge accounts for customers allowing them to buy on credit. Customers paid their bill when they got paid, or sold stuff from their farm. Most of the people he opened charge accounts for were people he knew. Most customers came from the neighborhood.
    Customer service could be demanding. Occasionally somebody would come by who had a little too much to drink. Sometimes somebody would come by wanting gasoline in the middle of the night and her father would get up and pump it for him.
    Customer service paid off.
    “The snows used to be deep in the wintertime when we lived there,” Overstreet said. “It would drift in front of the store.”
    When that happened, neighbors would help her father clear the front of the store.
    “There were a lot of country stores back then,” Overstreet recalled.
    But they’re gone now.
    Overstreet said her father stopped running the store in 1955. He rented the store to others and the family moved into  a house next door. After he died at the age of 94 in 1993, the family sold the building.
    Now it’s gone, but its memory continues in the name of a road.
    “He would have been real proud to know they named a road after him,” Overstreet said.