DOBSON — In many communities, the traditional country store lives only in memories filled with sticks of peppermint candy or licorice, a 5-cent bottle of pop and the potbellied stove in the middle of the floor.
Not only does Surry County still lay claim to such an establishment, Rockford General Store south of Dobson, the longtime business has been recognized as one of the best of its type in the entire southern U.S.
Rockford General Store, which was built in 1890, is listed among “The South’s Most Charming General Stores” in a recent compilation by Southern Living magazine.
The local landmark nestled in the historic village of Rockford in southern Surry is one of only 17 stores included, and one of just three in North Carolina. The others are Fred’s General Mercantile in Beech Mountain and Mast General Store in Valle Crucis.
Floyd General Store in Floyd, Virginia, also made the list along with two other stores in Virginia, three in Kentucky and two each in Georgia and Missouri. South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas and Florida are each represented by one site in the “most-charming” rankings.
In listing Rockford General Store, Southern Living cites its distinction as an outlet for blackberry and sweet potato sonkers, the deep-dish fruit pies that are unique to this region. Also mentioned were its other products such as RC Colas, moon pies and fried bologna sandwiches.
Aside from those tangible treats, Carolyn Carter, a co-owner of Rockford General Store, says she believes one of the reasons for its widespread appeal is the age of the building itself.
“I think the thing about our store is it is truly authentic — it was built in 1890 and it’s still standing,” she said Wednesday regarding the store’s recognition by Southern Living.
Carter pointed out that some businesses, including chain operations, operate out of new facilities that are made to look old-fashioned and quaint to the public — yet Rockford General Store is the real deal.
“You can’t build this today,” she said. “You can’t build the feeling you get when you walk through the front door.”
When customers come in, they “know they’re on old floors,” Carter added, pointing out that the same goes for some of the store’s furnishings
“There is an old stool that has been here since the 1920s,” she said of one example. “There are little treasures in this store that have been here who knows how long.”
Rockford General Store also is unique in another respect, in a world where businesses come and go or sometimes close and reopen under different formats.
“This one actually has never closed,” Carter said of the store that has operated continuously for 127 years.
Rockford General Store was launched by two brothers-in-law with the last names Reece and Saunders. A McCormick couple bought the business in the 1920s and operated it until around the 1940s, when their daughter Eva and her husband, Paul Anthony, took it over.
It was sold to Glenn and Annie Barnett in the early 1970s and remained in Barnett hands until Annie died in 2003.
Although some of Barnett’s family members only operated the store on a limited schedule during that period, it remained open, Carter is proud to say.
She and her husband Paul, and his sister, Pam Foy, bought the store and returned its operation to a full-time schedule in 2004. Since then, other family members have joined the enterprise.
Yet Rockford General Store has maintained its core business formula through the five sets of owners.
“It has always been known as the candy store,” Carter said of its appeal in offering an array of old-time treats, among other products.
“We have generation after generation bringing their kids here,” she said. “We call this a destination for generations.“
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.