PROGRESS 2019 | Hometown favorite: Winchester transplants brought life back to South Main Grocery 30 years ago
Three decades ago, James and Audra Young were looking for an opportunity.
Their son was getting ready to attend Eastern Kentucky University and play football. They wanted to be closer to Richmond than Pike County, so they started looking for a business.
James was a teacher and Audra was selling used cars, so it made sense to buy South Main Grocery in Winchester. Not quite.
But 30 years later, Audra is still working the front counter, greeting her regulars and keeping the store open.
“We contacted a realtor about a business to buy,” Audra said. “We knew our son didn’t get to come home much because of football, but we could visit him with food. We wanted something where we could have access.”
South Main Grocery was already a well-established business when they bought it from Mary Tyler and Dolores Christy in 1988.
At that point, the store had been around for at least 30 years, but business was starting to drop off, Audra said.
The first year, she said was just the start of the learning curve for the couple. It helped that their son was red-shirted as a freshman, which let them focus on the store.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” Audra said. “The business had been going down. You had to work on building it up. We had a boom back then. We catered to a lot of farmers.”
Good local help, including Liz Elswick and Michelle Turner, would run the store on weekends so Audra and James could travel with the EKU football team.
“If they went to Florida, we went to Florida,” she said. “We only missed one game.”
Audra and James kept upgrading the store. They started offering full meals at breakfast and lunch. They stocked it like a full grocery.
And the people kept coming.
Like everything, times change and customers’ habits change. Bigger chain stores moved into town and started offering full grocery stores. The business community changed as well.
“I built it up and it went down after the tobacco workers left,” she said.
Still people kept coming and they kept holding on.
“We have a lot of very loyal customers,” she said. “We have a good following. We have people who eat lunch here every day.”
Knowing your customers is something that’s not always possible with larger chain stores, Audra said. When one of her daily customers suddenly missed for two days, Audra went to her house to check on her. When no one answered, they called the police. They made their entry into the home and found she had died, she said.
“If you don’t come in and I know you, I’ll call the police,” she said.
The other side, she said, is she knows what her customers want.
“You tell me what you want and I’ll do my best to please you,” she said.
If you are a regular, she will remember how you want your sandwiches prepared, what kind of cheese, how thick you want the meat sliced and what you want on it.
Audra said she has considered retirement, but doesn’t know what would happen to the store or some of her customers. She said she would like to find someone who is committed to the store and the business.
“You have to stay with it,” she said. “It’s hard to get people who are dependable. I work most of it myself.
“I just enjoy it. I enjoy my people.” §
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