Phillip Lyles was a familiar face at the old Chatham Manufacturing plant where he handled computers.
He spent 32 years at the facility before being ushered out the door due to an economic collapse by the company.
“I went through all of the processes that came with losing a job, like many other families,” said Lyles.
Lyles reflected on the mill past and the greatness that he saw of it. An Elkin native, it was almost a guarantee that if you needed work, the mill would offer it. However, those robust days evaporated.
The computer programmer found himself at a crossroad in life with no job, but at minimum he had his dignity.
After dusting himself off, he and his wife, Jean Lyles, put together a small and ambitious plan that led to one of the greatest risks the couple have ever taken.
Nestled slightly across the street from the textile mill at the eastern end of Main Street, the Lyles’ purchased the building that was once a gas station and then a pawn shop.
The Yadkin Valley General Store was born. It’s located at 302 E. Main St.
“I have to give credit to the one who even put the idea of the store together. It was my wife Jean’s idea,” said Lyles. “I didn’t think the idea of the store was going to work. It’s a different kind of general store, but at the end of the day, I gave it a shot.”
According to Lyles, the store caters to a Pennsylvania Dutch-style of selling items — buy bulk, sell to consumers cheaper.
The Pennsylvania Dutch are German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most Pennsylvania Dutch who live around Lancaster, Pa., today are part of an Amish community. Their traditional foods and customs have survived the centuries well, and visitors to the area can enjoy the rich tastes of many of hearty dishes.
Nowadays, the store has some items that are shipped nationally or products that are packaged in what has been called “the greatest little store in Elkin.”
One of the products are chicken feet, a sweet tasting treat.
“The candy is most requested by kids who have moved away and remember getting them at the store. We get it to them at colleges,” said Lyles.
The idea of selling candy was Jean’s idea, too. She wanted to do something for the kids, and it’s been a hit since.
After the store purchases their products from suppliers in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the employees weigh them, package them, and label them.
According to Lyles, they can sell items at lower prices because they don’t pay for sophisticated packaging.
“We work with a company and style that would much rather concentrate on the ingredients and the product itself compared to the package it’s in,” said Lyles.
The no-frills approach to packaging was demonstrated in a small, but adequate weigh and bagging station located inside the store office. There, an employee scoops products, placing the item into clear plastic bags, and into a compartment that zip ties the bag opening.
“It’s pretty easy after you get the hang of it. I like the twist tie part to it,” said Suzanne Ray of the store.
“Slap a label on the item and it’s good to go,” said Lyles.
Just thinking about how it all came together, Lyles reflected on the journey his wife would commonly make to Pennsylvania when he was working at Chatham Manufacturing.
“She would drive here all the time and have a trunk full of stuff. We’ve been working at this store ever since,” said Lyles, smiling.
The store has two full-time employees and several part-time employees as needed.
The holiday season is the busiest time for the store.
“We’re constantly stacking the aisles and moving products not necessarily found at big box stores. Oats, soup mixes, an array of spices, baking supplies, every single item in here is packaged by us,” he said. “Don’t forget the candy.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.