The Bradford Store

For ten years I have lived my idea of a fairy tale existence. It ignored the obvious— the world spinning by at 60 miles an hour, and focused instead on life turned inward on our family farm. The Farm is a term that can refer to my old homestead, or to the working farm and home that belongs to my brother and sister-in-law, Grier and Kim, or to the historic totality.

Our little compound is bisected by a busy highway that was a dirt road before the Depression. As most of the farmland around us has been ceded to other uses, The Farm has become, every year, a greater anomaly. I loved, always, that we ignored the obvious.

Ten years ago, Kim and Grier had the Bradford Store moved off its original foundation, back onto higher ground in the middle of a field and turned their hobby of growing massive vegetable gardens into a business.

The old counters were freshly painted, the ancient floor cleaned and polished, the wood stove put back into commission and the Bradford Store started the business of dispensing love and good food, in that order.

Some businesses really do run on love. It could be a hot dog stand or a repair shop or, in this case, a local foods store, with the common thread that all decisions flow through a filter of love. The driving force is not profit—instead everything every day is done in the name of love of one’s fellow man. And that’s how it was with the Bradford Store.

My witty former husband coined a southern phrase we all use with regularity about all enterprises— “can’t nuthin be easy”. It’s not a question. It’s a statement. Even if it looks as easy as falling off a log, it will not be. And the Bradford Store, standing tall in a vast garden of flowers, pouring love into every transaction, selling the very best food the earth has to offer was, behind the scenes, a tough job. Kim worked six days a week for ten years, and often checked in on the seventh day. Every year nature provided a new pestilence to make harvesting crops difficult to impossible. It could be hail, a late frost, or a deadening drought that lasted the whole summer. They endured them all.

Meanwhile I was one of the many beneficiaries. Kim and Grier’s love and hard work showed up on my table day after day. I could step across the road and find food that had been growing 15 minutes earlier, take it home and shock myself with the intensity of my own dinner. Kim, the brilliant cook and food curator, taught me more about food in ten years than I had learned in the previous fifty. The milk she drove four hours a week to bring to the store literally had the flavor of sweet pasture grass. The eggs came in a dozen colors and have spoiled me for anything less.

Kelly, Kim’s right hand, brought in fresh made breads daily from her farm. The corn meal came from a historic grist mill. And when combined—these ingredients from other businesses that were also run on love— the result was food nirvana.

Kim surrounded the store with acres of flowers, the soil so rich some grew as tall as me. My mama, in the early years, living at The Pines retirement community, would come out, sit on the store’s front porch and create unique fresh flower arrangements, sold in Mason jars. She loved working with flowers, and the store and Kim and Grier, were her lifeline to the larger community, to family, to companionship. My son Stewart had the privilege of working at the store as a teenager and came away with many important life lessons in horticulture, customer service, salesmanship and hard work as did many other local teenagers.

When I was a little girl, my grandfather operated the Bradford Store. It ran on love when he was alive too. It served as a kind of community center for neighboring farmers.

The store was home to one of the few telephones in the community. A family friend told us how she would come to the store to talk to her fiancé who was off serving in WWII. Papa had a roll top desk full of receipts and ledgers listing items sold on credit. He also had a “pet” blacksnake that lived under the store to keep it pest-free. When holes in the old floors appeared he would patch them with a piece of advertising tin.

On the front of the building my dad, as a boy, painted the words “Free Air” beside the pump for filling tires. When I was young that always cracked me up, because, back then, air was always free. The ground outside the store was literally paved with multicolored bottle caps from sodas, and a life-size cardboard Santa drinking a Coke was the primary Christmas decoration. There was a bench out front where Papa would sit at day’s end, the sun setting behind the store.  And on one afternoon, back in the 30’s, my great-grandfather Will, the store’s founder, died peacefully inside its walls while reading Zane Grey.

Kim and Grier, from love, knowledge, courage, imagination and boundless enthusiasm, have built something that will always live in memory for hundreds if not thousands of people. I think of all the little children I have seen come in the store, or sit on the porch with an ice cream, and wonder if their memories will be as sweet as mine are— if 50 years from now they’ll talk about what it was like.

Seeing this era come to a close makes me so glad for my tired family who have given so much to so many. And glad for the thousand images in my head of bounty and beauty, kindness and community that came from running on love.

 

 

20 Replies to “The Bradford Store”

  1. Wow. Part of me doesn’t understand why I had to live far from you. I would have loved to lived nearby and eaten the bounty from the store. I’m happy for Kim and Grier.

  2. Well, this is sad, but what a lovely tribute you’ve made to the store and to Grier and Kim. Love the photos, too! I guess I’m not surprised that they sold it, but what a standard the new owners will have to maintain!

  3. A beautiful tribute and my best to Kim and Grier. Here is to the next episode life offers, I know it will be outstanding!

  4. A touching tribute, Elizabeth. Thank you to you and your family. The store was part of a tradition my father-in-law and I shared each year on the day before Thanksgiving. We’d buy unpasteurized apple cider and two jars of pickled eggs. It will be missed.

  5. I have loved that store since I moved here about 10 years ago. My granddaughter is now 16 and that’s a place she has to go every time she is with me. The time there is so relaxing whether inside or outside. Such a family atmosphere is hard to find and I know new management will keep the same values. Godspeed.

  6. Elizabeth you have done it again! You have artistically captured your family’s memories and laid them out for all of us to enjoy . Kim and Grier have worked so hard and their labor of love has benefited our community. It’s going to be interesting to hear about the next leg in their journey. and yours too! God bless you all!

  7. Not sold, just leased, thank heaven. Thank you, Sarah. I’m pretty sure my punctuation makes you cringe. I think of you every time I edit, and reedit, and reedit.

  8. I’m so sorry to hear of this, no offense to the next proprietor . Visiting you, your family and your farm was my breath of fresh air and will sorrily be missed.

  9. My husband Nathan and I frequented the Bradford Store during the early part of our marriage and when we had our first son. As life got busier, our Saturday visits became less frequent, but we still valued our relationship formed with Kim and her staff. She has carried both our babies while we shopped (not at the same time, LOL) always had a warm “HEY Y’all” and treated everyone with such kindness. Thank you for the wonderfully written tribute. She definitely deserves a well -earned retirement. Nathan, Philip, Levi and I will all miss you!

  10. I live in Georgia and always love to go to the Bradford Store when visiting my daughter. I loved buying the cheddar biscuits, cheese, hand pies & especially the peanut brittle. There is no other store that I know of that had such an abundance of great food. Good luck – I will miss you.

  11. I have never been, but I would love to before you close up shop. When is your last day before you lease it?

  12. Very sad that the store is closing. Thankful it is a lease. I grew up on a farm too, and it pains me to…
    I don’t even know how to describe my feelings. Gentrification on the west side of Davidson is killing me…so is the loss of family farms.

  13. Wonderful article. I visited the store and enjoyed it very much. What I remember most is teaching Hurd, Sally, David and Stewart at Davidson Elementary.
    Terrific family with great history.
    Fondly,
    Perry Kell Smith

  14. My son and I loved getting fresh veggies from Kim. She welcomed us with a smile and always showed my four year old son the table in the corner that was full of crayons, cars, and wooden toys. After my basket was full we would grab a seat outside on the rocking chairs. My son would test out each of the child sized chairs until he found the perfect one. Other days we would walk around the farm and talk to Olivia the rabbit and Big Red the rooster. The people leasing Bradford have some BIG shoes to fill. Thanks Kim & Grier for the wonderful memories!

  15. Beautiful story, beautifully written. Zane Grey was one of my favorite authors years ago. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to go than reading a good story.

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