John James: the name conjures up images of Jesse James, and one would not be too far off the mark as the man is larger than life.
A big tall Texan, he is southern as a bowl of grits, embraces with perfect Virginia cadence the term y’all, and fell in love with a Hackley woman by the name of Melissa. The rest is history. They nestled in recent years in Banco, both entrepreneurial spirits searching for a place to establish a small business. Last week, to a swarm of county excitement, the F.T. Valley Gas and Grocery was reborn.
Sherry Stewart, a much beloved Rappahannock mail carrier whose route includes Route 231, noticed over recent months the beehive of activity — constructions crews and vehicles — at the old store.
“Whatcha doin” she asked John in her inquisitive trademark Sherry approach, and he shared they were just about to reopen. Sherry was their very first customer and indeed contributed the symbolic first dollar framed above the store counter.
Shelves are now stocked with all manner of household items, canned goods, beverages, chips and sweets. A more inventoried grocery is in the making, a deli will soon be up and running, an ABC license is in play, WiFi is already available, an ATM is about to be installed, and diesel and regular gas is being pumped. Early customers could not be happier.
John, his wife relates with a smile, is an idea man, ever excited about new projects, and he has many ideas for the store. He’s also excited about offering great hamburgers with locally raised beef “that folks won’t mind driving 20 minutes or more to enjoy.”
Melissa and John welcome all ideas from their new customers and while she acknowledges that she herself isn’t the finest cook, Sherry King, who they now employ and who worked previously for the store, will happily prepare the food orders. Sherry’s daughter Courtney just joined the team as well.
The F.T. Valley store location has quite the history: “Back in the day, it was the gathering spot of the county,” this newspaper reported in 2010.
So much so that National Public Radio (NPR) and TV crews would often broadcast from the store, interviewing the famous and not-so-famous Rappahannock regulars “who visited every morning, especially Sundays, for the best coffee around and the best conversations in the county.”
The F.T. Valley Gas and Grocery will be open 7 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The phone number is 540-987-8042.