Roy’s Orchard: A farm store with more

At first glance from Old Hollow Road in Sperryville, it looks like a normal orchard and farm, complete with a split-level home surrounded by numerous outbuildings, perched at the top of a hill. If one didn’t see a sign along the road, it would be easy to drive by without noticing.

Roy and Janet Alther pose with one of their signature pies ordered earlier that day (in this case, cherry). They plan to continue operating the store until old age forces their retirement.Kay Beatty | Rappahannock News
Roy and Janet Alther pose with one of their signature pies ordered earlier that day (in this case, cherry). They plan to continue operating the store until old age forces their retirement.

But at the end of a long fruit tree-lined driveway is a place where many Rappahannock County residents and tourists have found an eclectic wonderland with hundreds of items one would expect in an orchard and farm store — and hundreds one wouldn’t.

In a converted garage and several other outbuildings, items such as chutneys, pickled vegetables, gelatins, nuts, rice, hams, frozen meats and fish, organic oats and grains, flours, spices, pastas, dried beans and produce adorn the shelves and coolers. And, of course, seasonally, there are a vast array of fresh fruits and vegetables from the surrounding orchard and gardens and from other local farms. There are also homemade pies to tempt even the most dedicated dieter.

In a cooler in the front of the converted garage is a counter with two cash registers nestled among packages of fruits and old-timey candies; it’s there a shopper can grab some eggs that hens laid just hours earlier in a meticulously crafted chicken house located behind the split-level home. One can even visit the chickens, along with lambs and pigs, as the farm area has been designed for tours.

Other buildings on the property hold antiques and old farm equipment for sale, and flea market items such as record players and antique glass lamps. And of course there’s a building designated for orchard fruits, and a large cooler to store vegetables produced on the farm. All this is part of Roy’s Orchard & Fruit Market.

Roy and Janet Alther started the farm store in 1983, as a way to sell products from their orchard and garden, which they started soon after buying the property in 1975, seven years after they married.

“I’ve worked in orchards since I was 6-years-old,” Roy said. “My dad, brother and I worked for my grandfather, who managed C.E Johnson’s orchard in Sperryville. Times were tough back then and orchard work helped our family make ends meet.” Alther loved the work and continued to help out in the orchard throughout his school years.

After high school, he married his high school sweetheart, Janet, and they started a 27-year career at the Aileen clothing factory in Flint Hill. While working at the factory, and after it closed, they also held numerous other jobs simultaneously, all while working in their own orchard and large vegetable garden and selling the produce.

“People might not believe me, but for about 14 years, I lived on about three hours sleep each night,” Alther said. “We worked hard to send our two daughters and our son to college.”

These days, Alther and his wife work solely at their orchard and farm, which is open from 8 to 8 seven days a week, closing only from 11 to noon on Sundays for church. They hire helpers and seasonal workers, but the Althers work there all day, every day. Both are usually visible to greet customers and tell them what fruits and vegetables are in season and what new products are in stock.

“We seldom get away,” Alther said. “And even when we do, it’s hard. The orchard and store are a big responsibility.” Alther said once while he and his wife were in church, a customer tracked him down, walked into their church, sat down beside them and smiled.

“I knew what he wanted,” Alther chuckled. “Every year he comes from Northern Virginia to buy our York apples. And he got them, right after church.”

Alther and his wife try their best to please their customers, whether they’re local, from Northern Virginia or beyond.

“If a customer asks me for something we don’t carry, we do research to make sure it’s high quality,” he said. “If we think we can sell it, we’ll get it.” Items such as locally-produced kombucha tea and their large inventories of gluten free, non-GMO and organic products were stocked because customers requested them.

“We have a little bit of everything here,” Alther said, smiling proudly.

Customers notice that the Althers cater to them. Kerry Hannon, AARP’s jobs expert and an author, appreciates the Althers’ hospitality — and Janet’s pies.

“When we first arrived in Rappahannock nearly six years ago, Roy and Janet made us feel welcome instantly,” Hannon wrote in an email. “They were warm and easy to talk to, and once I bought my first pie, I was sold on being a regular and supporting their business. It quickly became the go-to-spot on my weekly drives from our home in Washington, D.C. to our cottage in Boston.” She mentioned that Janet’s pies are a go-to for her when guests are coming to dinner.

“They always taste amazing, and the crusts are perfection,” she said.

Barbara Adolfi and her husband Ray Boc, who own a Sperryville vacation-rental home called The House on Water Street, are also regular customers. In a brochure for their guests, Adolfi includes a long description of Roy and Janet’s store, so guests know it’s an important part of the Rappahannock experience.

“Indeed, you need to carry a hand basket or bag because there are no wide aisles or carts, and you may need to go into more than one of their multiple buildings, but you can really find it all, at very reasonable prices,” Adolfi wrote.

She also noted an ambiance of bygone days. “There is definitely that old country store feeling here . . . and be prepared for a dose of nostalgia when you see the variety of old time country store candy,” she wrote.

Amissville resident and local community volunteer Bev Hunter also frequents the Farm Store and, like most other customers, always comes out with more than is on her list.

“They carry Trickling Springs Dairy, which you cannot get in all supermarkets, and they have a lot of local and regional produce, including their own,” she said. “That’s a big deal. The prices are really good, and they pay attention to what their customers want. Some people complain we have no supermarkets in the county, but Roy and Janet’s is really, in many ways, better than a supermarket.”

One of the aisles in Roy and Janet’s first farm store building, a converted garage. The other buildings were added as the store grew.Kay Beatty
One of the aisles in Roy and Janet’s first farm store building, a converted garage. The other buildings were added as the store grew.

Molly Peterson, who, along with her husband Mike, founded Heritage Hollow Farms in Sperryville, also frequents the store.

“They know their customers well,” Peterson said. “And strangers aren’t strangers for long. The atmosphere reminds me of the theme from Cheers, ‘Sometimes you wanna go / where everybody knows your name.’ That song often plays in my head while I’m out in Rappahannock and I love it.” She noted that Janet regularly reminds her to buy some Trickling Springs ice cream for her husband, who is always happy to see it in her grocery bag.

“They are devoted and caring people who work really, really hard,” Peterson said. “I love that they are a small, family-owned business. I feel much better about the value of my dollar, spending it with neighbors.”

Roy and Janet plan to continue running the store until old age forces them to retire. After recently finishing the chicken and livestock area, making it a place for youngsters to explore, Alther and his wife feel their orchard and farm store is complete. Almost.

“We’re going to put an old fashioned popcorn machine in front of the [pie and fresh tomato] table,” Alther said. “I think the kids will love it.” Alther said he and his wife enjoy seeing children have fun at their farm store.

“You know, we’ve been here a long time,” he said. “We’ve had many children come in with their parents. The kids grew up and now come with their own children. I can’t describe how that makes us feel. This why we do it. We love people.”

Roy’s Orchard & Fruit Market is located at 64 Old Hollow Rd. in Sperryville. For more information, call them at 540-987-8636.