‘People from all over world stop in, from Germany, China, Japan. Some take a few moments and just stare, in awe by what they see’
Jack Sharp has been proprietor of the Blue Ridge Grocery and Country Store for 31 years, but there’s more to the background of this bespectacled gentleman than meets the eye.
While serving in the U.S. Navy he’d been an electrician aboard the supercarrier USS America; he was division manager — Baltimore to Norfolk territory — for the giant defense contractor Raytheon; and he got to see the Moon close-up before the rest of America as a photo lab technician for NASA’s Apollo Moon missions.
But that wasn’t Jack’s favorite position, that is when he’s not standing behind the original counter of the Blue Ridge Country Store. He most enjoyed being the Rappahannock County Animal Warden.
“For nine years that suited me,” Jack, 73, says of the county job he filled until 2010. “Anything from domestic animals to regular wildlife. There’s a lot of unusual things you come across.”
So you’re not afraid of snakes?
“Used to be,” he says. “One time in Sperryville I had a Copperhead in a lady’s washing machine. It was a top loader. I got there and said, ‘Are are you sure it’s a Copperhead?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’
“So I got my stick and opened the lid. It had already done its spin dry — all the clothes were up against the sides. Centrifugal force — it lived through the spin cycle. It was sitting there, head up high in the striking pose. So I shut the lid, said ‘Oh my goodness!’
“She said, ‘I’ll go get you something.’ And she brought me a 22,” Jack recalls, not quite sure what to do with the gesture. “So I told her, ‘This doesn’t have enough bullets in it for me.’ I said get me a bucket — get me two buckets. And I lifted the lid and pulled the snake out with my snake stick.
“Afterward she asked me, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘Move!’”
Tucked as it’s been for 90 years in the Route 522 curve descending Chester Gap into Huntly, the Blue Ridge Grocery and Country Store was purchased by Jack in 1986 from the Reager Family, who’d been selling milk, bread and eggs there since opening the store in 1929.
“I was looking for property in Rappahannock County, and I saw this little advertisement in Little Washington and I said I gotta find it,” he recalls, describing the tiny one-room store filled with every curio imaginable — “If we ain’t got it, you don’t need it,” he quips — as his dream come true:
Whirligigs, walking sticks and birdhouses; animal pelts, fishing gear and cow bells; honey, apple butter and wine; motor oil, shaving cream and nail clippers; Vienna sausages, sardines and Moon Pies.
“Ladies were in here just earlier,” Jack says, “and they looked at the Moon Pies: ‘1917! Are they that old?’ And I said, ‘No, those are new ones.’”
Which isn’t to say the old walls and shelves of the store aren’t covered with antique metal signs and bottles, or as he calls his one-of-a-kind collection “old stuff.”
“Antiques are things you can charge more for; old stuff you can’t charge as much,” he explains.
Jack’s favorite part of being a country store proprietor?
“The enjoyment of having people from all over world stop in — from Germany, China, Japan,” he replies. “Some take a few moments and just stare, in awe by what they see. Everything in here is unique.”
Many visitors leave with souvenirs, while locals come in to buy gifts not found anyplace else — ceramic coffee mugs, pitchers and bowls, for example, adorned with bears and horses and embossed with “Rappahannock County” and “Huntly.”
“Made exclusively for me by a potter in Pennsylvania,” Jack says. “He’s a one-man show, like me, does an outstanding job as you can see.”
As for the store’s hours of operation, don’t completely trust the sign on the front door: “Mon: Occasionally. Tues: Sometimes. Wed: Depends. Thur: Maybe. Fri: Could be. Sat: Should be. Sun: Usually.”
“Saturday and Sunday I’m here,” Jack pretty much guarantees, although you could easily catch him during one of the other days of the week. This time of year look for smoke coming out of the chimney.