There’s something magical about a small neighborhood store that leads to nostalgic musings about childhood, nickel Cokes, and penny bubble gum. Every town had one, or even two, of these little shops that offered a variety of necessary items forgotten on the weekly trip to the grocery store. Neighborhood kids came and went, trading pop bottles for dimes and dimes for soda pops. Moms and Dads dropped in to pick up a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, or a pound of bologna. These little shops with wooden floors, dinging doors, and tall metal registers were as American as apple pie and baseball, and seemed just as permanent, but they were not.
When Jerry and Beverly Ross locked up their small neighborhood store on Jan. 26, they closed the door on a piece of Manchester history. Their family had maintained a business at 309 West 4th Street since 1964, when Wilson Ross bought the property and set up a TV repair business.
“Dad decided to start selling snacks and pop to his customers,” Jerry explained, “People would come in to have their TV’s fixed, and they’d buy food. He kept adding more grocery items, and then, after a while, went strictly with groceries.”
The two story clapboard building that housed the Ross family business was built in the early 20th century. It began as a grocery store, but over the years it also served as a furniture store, and a private residence.
Growing up, Jerry Ross and his sister Elaine worked in the store along side their parents. “Dad started the business when I was 10 years old. One of us always had to be there when he went out on a call, we’d watch the store and answer the phone,” Jerry recalled.
When the elder Ross passed away in 1984, Jerry continued to operate the landmark establishment that became famous for its flavored slushies.
“I’ve lived less than two blocks away from the grocery for most of my life and since I was a kid I have been making the short trip during warm weather for the watermelon slushies,” said Sierra Farley, of Manchester, “I’m 20 now and any time I am home or babysitting, it was still a must to walk down the street for the watermelon slushie. When I found out the store was closing, it was definitely bittersweet. I am thankful for the childhood memories but home will be a little different knowing that those 25 cent slushies aren’t just a short walk away any more.”
Ross, like so many other small businesses, is bowing out to corporate mega stores and 24- hour convenience quick-shops. “People like the bigger, fancier stores, it’s hard for a little store to keep up with them,” he says. “I don’t blame people for going other places and getting it cheaper, I’d do the same thing.”
Despite his fair-minded outlook, Ross admits,”What I will miss the most is the people that I have grown to know over the years. All the generations of families have been a blessing to me and my family and I hope God blesses all of them. But, I have decided to retire and take a part time job to be able to spend more time with my family.”
For many of their former customers the closing of Ross Grocery marked the end of an era that harbors their childhood memories.
Samara Estes posted on Facebook, “Some of my fondest memories are from when I was little and would come down the hill with Mamaw Norma’s pop bottles to cash in and get her more, and a pound of bologna, of course, and the pickles, who could forget the pickles and penny candy? I’m so glad that my daughter also had the pleasure of a Ross Grocery experience and a 25 cent slushie.”