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Payne’s Store: ‘I hate to see it go’

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A weathered Payne’s Store on Route 33 in Hartfield is in its final days.(Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Any day now, a Middlesex landmark will be gone.

Payne’s Store has stood for about a century on Route 33 between Hartfield and Deltaville. “Turn by Payne’s Store” is how directions to Bush Park Campground have been given for years.

The old store has been through hurricanes and storms and bleached by the sun. The wood sides, now weathered gray, are tenuously attached with rusted nails. Window panes are missing. The door threshold is worn from the thousands of feet that have crossed it.

Having stood empty too long to renovate, the store will be demolished.

But the memories created at this crossroads live on for many who remember the good times that were had at Payne’s Store.

Purley and Myrtie Payne bought the store in the early 1930s, said their granddaughter Brenda Brownley. It was not self-service. Canned goods were kept behind the counter and the customer would tell the clerk what they wanted.
Cigarettes were a penny, aspirin were two for a penny, and of course, there was plenty of penny candy.

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The photo above was taken in the fall of 1976 when Payne’s Store in Hartfield was the scene of Saturday night jam sessions. From left, a spectator listens to musicians Pat Willis, Myrtie Payne, Ouida Payne (Archinal), Mickey Lawson, and Dalton Brownley Jr. by the stove. (Photo by Tom Hardin)

A wood stove
In the middle was a wood stove that radiated warmth that drew people to it. On it was a small frying pan where customers could make a fried baloney sandwich, or warm up their beans and Vienna Sausage.

Payne’s Store never sold alcohol or bloodworms. Even when money got tight, Myrtie resisted the temptation, all the while knowing there was a bigger profit in selling beer, said Dalton Brownley Jr.

Leona Brownley recalled when her grandfather, Callie Butler, would take her to Payne’s Store, where, for a dime, she could get a soda and Hostess cupcake.

Now 70 years old, Leona said Payne’s Store was “the social place” when she was a child. After supper her dad would go up to the store, like most of the men in that area, to visit. “He’d come back with all the news,” she said.
It’s not feasible to put a business in the old building, said Leona. “I hate to see it go.”

Over the main doorway is the shadow of a “lucky” horseshoe. The horseshoe is gone but the U-shaped imprint is left behind from where it had been painted over.

If the walls could talk, they would echo with live music that was played almost every Saturday night in the 1970s. 

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Miss Myrtie

Live music
In 1971 Myrtie Payne started playing the banjo at her store on Saturday nights. She came from a musical family and picked up the talent from her father, James Henry Williams, who played the fiddle.

Dalton Brownley, who played guitar with her, recalled how Myrtie’s son Randolph played the guitar, as did the late Charles Ward.

In a short time, word spread that Payne’s Store was the place to go on Saturday nights. By the spring and summer of 1973, singer-guitar picker Mickey Lawson of Topping joined them as did Ouida Payne (Archinal), Myrtie’s granddaughter. The late Glen Blaylock of Mathews rounded out the band. They played many types of music from country, bluegrass and gospel to old rock ‘n roll.

Visitors from Bush Park Campground came for the toe-tapping good times. Within a couple of years the parking lot was full and people would fill the store. In warmer months, people listened to the music from the parking lot.

A reporter from a Richmond newspaper once happened upon the Saturday night hoedown at Payne’s Store. He declined to do a story. “I don’t want to ruin it,” the reporter told Dalton.

What a deal
Dalton recalled that on one Saturday night a visitor listening to the music looked on the counter and saw bottles of “Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root,” a patent medicine made by a man who lived near Urbanna. He did a double take, then scooped up every bottle and bought them.

“That was a good deal,” Dalton said. “She got rid of bottles that had been sitting around and he got something he couldn’t find anyplace else.”

After Myrtie died in 1978, the band got together at the store to play one last time—but it wasn’t the same without her, said Dalton. The most important person was missing. “She was the glue that held it all together,” he said.
Myrtie Payne’s legacy remains what she gave to the community which, in turn, remembers fondly her warmth and the good times that happened at Payne’s Store.

See more photos on Wilton Cottage & Garden’s Facebook page.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 10.09.2013

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