Chester Gap Grocery, which has graced its mountainous namesake as an alternative to the bigger corporate grocery stores in nearby Front Royal for 64 years, closed its doors on April 12, as owners Brad and Mary Williams decided to officially retire.
“There’s been a store in these mountains since the 1940s,” Brad Williams said proudly. “My great-uncle used to own one.”
That family legacy is part of what drove Williams to purchase the store in 2003. He said he wanted to help rehabilitate the store’s image; the building had been empty for several years and had acquired something of “a bad reputation” in the ensuing years.
“We wanted to take it over and build it back up,” said Williams, who started managing the store full-time once he “involuntarily retired” in 2003.
For the most part Williams said his venture succeeded, as county residents — especially those on the mountain — were happy to see and support a local grocery store. And while Chester Gap Grocery never offered quite the selection of the Food Lion or Martin’s in nearby Front Royal, Williams said he was proud of everything the store had offered.
Unfortunately, time waits for no man, and Williams admitted part of the reason he decided to close was because of his age.
“I’m 75 years old now, and [Mary] is 73,” he said, “and it’s just getting harder for us to run the place. I just wanted to retire.”
The other half of the reason is because the store’s revenue simply hasn’t been what it used to be. “It’s been going downhill lately,” Williams admitted. “There’s been some sporadic improvement, but especially this year, we’ve taken in less each month.”
Decreasing incomes and Father Time have co-conspired to finally close the little-store-that-could, and Williams admitted he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to the building, which is going up for sale soon.
“It’s zoned commercial,” he said. “And it’s the only place on the mountain that is,” he adds, meaning it likely won’t be vacant for long.
After an initial 10-percent off sale, the store closed for good earlier this month, inspiring Williams to adorn the front door with a cardboard sign letting residents know the store’s fate — and that he and Mary have “gone fishin’ for good.”
And while there’s likely some fishing in Williams’ future, he said the first thing he’s going to do is “get my yard in shape.”
“Then we’re going to enjoy ourselves and just take things day by day.”