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End of an era: P&P Produce closes

by Larry S. Chowning

P&P Produce in Saluda

That first beer

For many a young lad growing up in Middlesex in the 1950s and 60s, “Pokie” Davis’ little store beside the State Highway Department facility in Saluda is where they lost their innocence. Usually, on a hot summer night, the habit of buying and drinking beer started there.

Pokie’s little store was one of only two places in the middle and upper end of the county that sold beer to anyone of any age—provided they had the money to pay for it.  The other country store was Baker’s Store on the road to Water View.

On Fridays after school closed for the week, local boys would pool their quarters and, well after dark, the bravest would go to either Pokie’s or Baker’s to buy their weekend beer. The beer would be iced down and served for a Saturday night romp at either the drive-in theater at Warner or in the parking lot of the sock hop dance at the old armory in West Point.
That first beer buy could get rather exciting. One particular Saturday night two Urbanna boys made their first-ever beer run to Baker’s Store. A pair of nervous youngsters just old enough to drive walked up to the counter and ordered a six-pack of beer.

Mr. Baker asked to see their money, and when they produced enough for the six-pack, he provided them with the first purchase of alcohol in their lives.

Unfortunately for the young hell-raisers, they did not notice a neighbor of theirs in another part of the store who, just minutes after they left, used Mr. Baker’s phone to call the boys’ parents and notify them of their sons’ dreadful act. 

Back then, word traveled faster than the internet. By the next day on Sunday morning the evils of drinking was the main lesson being taught in the teen class at the local Baptist church. One of the culprits was in the class, and he got a stern lesson in humility.

This event drastically hurt the underage sales of beer for quite some time in Middlesex. Word of the purchase passed from parent to parent, and many youngsters got caught before they could get the cap off that first beer.

Small country stores are now but a memory of simpler times—when no ID was no problem. 

The closing of P&P Produce in Saluda marks the end of a nostalgic and exciting era in Middlesex County history.

The recent closing of P&P Produce in Saluda is just about the final chapter in a long and colorful era of general country stores in Middlesex County.

Just a half century ago, small country stores speckled the countryside, from Laneview to Stingray Point, and across the county from the Piankatank to the Rappahannock rivers.

Communities of Regent, Revis, Topping, Remlik, Christchurch, Coopers, Dew, Syringa, Sandy Bottom, Wake, Warner, Butylo, Laneview, Water View, Church View, Amburg, Hartfield, Samos, Healy’s, Stormont, Forest, Harmony Village, Locust Hill, and other communities, with names only some old-timers still remember, all had at least one country store.

Larger communities of Urbanna, Saluda and Deltaville had several large general merchandise stores and offered more variety of products than the smaller country stores.

The steamboat wharves on the Rappahannock and Piankatank rivers had stores either on the dock or along the shoreline. The Rappahannock River had Bay Port, Water View, West Urbanna, Burhans, Mill Creek and North End. On the Piankatank side there was Jackson Creek Wharf, Ruark, Conrad and Stampers.

The neighborhood country store of just a few generations ago was extremely important to the day-to-day lives of so many people in this area. Transportation was mostly by foot or horse-and-buggy and having a store nearby was a necessity. 

The store and storekeeper were a vital part of the community they served, and when times were tough the storekeeper’s willingness to sell his goods on credit helped keep families going.

Those personal service days are pretty much gone, and the closing of P&P Produce is testament to that.

The store was started in the 1930s by Aaron “Pokie” Davis. He and his wife Laurence owned and operated the store until the early 1970s. Pokie sold Amoco gasoline, had an automotive repair shop on one side and ran a little store on the other side.

When Pokie and his wife decided to retire, Peter Eubank and Percy Duffy were selling vegetables on weekends near the courthouse green and they took over the business. They renamed the store from Davis Store to P&P Produce after themselves—Peter and Percy. They sold a little of everything but primarily produce.

Earl and Edith Collier took over the business in 1984. Earl had worked in the store for Pokie Davis and also when it became a produce store. Edith had experience in working in country stores, including her father’s country store at Mattaponi in King and Queen County.

When the Colliers ran P&P, they sold fresh Rappahannock River oysters during the oyster season, ice and bait during the summer, and staples such as bread, milk, sodas, cigarettes and beer year around.

After Mr. Collier died last year, his wife Edith and their daughter, Brenda Brown, ran the store for a while, but they opted to give it up.  “What I enjoyed about the store was seeing the people every day,” said Edith. “Our customers were our friends. We knew them for years and cared for them. I will certainly miss them.”

Like many country stores, P&P Produce often extended “tick” or credit to those who would then come in on payday and settle their accounts.  “You can’t do that hardly anywhere today,” said Edith.

The building is located next door to the VDOT headquarters and maintenance shop in Saluda, and Edith said the VDOT workers were some of their best customers.

The current owners of the building are Alan and Kathy Gagnon of Saluda. “The building is in bad shape and we are not sure what the future holds,” said Mrs. Gagnon. “We’d love to reopen it as a general store and make it as original as possible, but there are insurance issues and county laws that we will have to look into. There are a lot more laws now than there used to be.

“I know it has been a landmark in Saluda, and we hope we can keep it that way,” said Gagnon.

posted 04.29.2009

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