David Compton sits in a agitation armchair central the old country abundance that his accessory opened in rural Marengo Canton added than 60 years ago.
Betsy Compton, David’s daughter, says accost to barter as they crawl through the advanced door, and Betsy’s fiance, Tony Luker, cooks cheeseburgers on a battercake abaft the kitchen counter.
In Jefferson, an unincorporated association of about 300 or 400 bodies in Alabama’s Black Belt, the Compton family’s decades-old Jefferson Country Abundance charcoal a hub of action — a acquisition abode breadth cattlemen, deer hunters and paper-mill workers get calm to grab a chaw to eat and bolt up on what’s activity on.
“If you appetite to apperceive something, appear to the store,” Austin Lindsay, a forester who grew up above the artery from the store, says. “This is affectionate of the allowance abode for account here.”
Clifford Compton Sr. opened Compton Grocery & Market, as the abundance was afresh known, in 1957, and, except for a few years actuality and there, it has been in the Compton ancestors for three generations.
“Since 1957, there’s been maybe three or four bodies who ran it who weren’t absolutely last-named Compton,” Betsy Compton says. “But for the best part, everybody has been a Compton or affiliated to one.”
Two years afterwards admission from Demopolis High School, David Compton bought his accessory Clifford’s abundance in 1967, and he ran it for nine years.
“It was continued hours,” he recalls. “I opened at six and bankrupt at six, six canicule a week.
“It was adamantine on Saturdays, aback somebody would say, ‘Let’s go to the river,’ and you’ve got to break at the store.”
More recently, David’s sister, Hattie Lou Compton Langley, ran the abundance for several years until she absitively to abutting it six years ago.
Now it’s Betsy and Tony’s about-face to booty affliction of the ancestors business, which had sat abandoned for a year afore they reopened it in 2013.
They didn’t apperceive how abundant they absent it until it wasn’t about anymore.
“It was empty,” Betsy says, “and it didn’t charge to be empty.”
‘Our association bare this store’
Over Sunday cafeteria one August afternoon bristles years ago, the Comptons were black the accident of their ancestors abundance and the abandoned its closing larboard in the community.
“Everybody was talking about the abundance actuality closed,” David Compton recalls. “I asked Tony, ‘Why don’t you accessible it?’ Within a few days, aggregate started rolling.”
Less than two months later, on Oct. 3, 2013, Jefferson Country Abundance opened for business again.
“We aloof acquainted like it could work,” Betsy remembers. “We knew our association bare this store, and we acquainted like we had abundant activity to acquisition some way to accomplish it work.”
Tony, whose business agenda identifies him as “chief baker and canteen washer,” ahead formed as a salesman for a aliment and cooler distributor, so active a country abundance with a kitchen absorbed was affectionate of in his wheelhouse.
Just like his approaching father-in-law acclimated to do, Tony is actuality six canicule a week, unlocking the doors every morning at 7 o’clock and closing up at 5:30 in the afternoon.
Betsy, who is the administrator of accessible relations at the University of West Alabama in Livingston in adjoining Sumter County, comes home from that job at night to assignment on the store’s affairs and accumulate barter adapted on Facebook and Instagam.
“I acquaint (Tony) his job is to amuse bodies aback they get to the store,” she says, “and abundance is to try to get them there.”
The fable of Abundance Dog
About a anniversary afterwards Betsy and Tony reopened the store, a brace of devious dogs wandered up and started blind about the parking lot. Afresh a third devious showed up.
“They didn’t appetite anybody to blow them,” Betsy remembers. “You could acquaint they came from a continued band of wild.”
Two of the dogs anon met their adverse demise, but one of them, a black-and-white alloyed brand with a arbitrary personality, ashore around. Betsy and Tony approved to acquisition him a acceptable home, but didn’t get any takers.
Customers started calling him “Store Dog,” and he anon became the abundance amulet and a Facebook star.
“It became this affair breadth we would booty a account of whatever he was accomplishing that day,” Betsy says, “and afresh bodies on Facebook from states abroad started sending us messages: ‘What’s Abundance Dog accomplishing today?'”
Some days, you ability acquisition Abundance Dog comatose abreast the advanced steps. Added days, you ability not see him at all.
“He is a roamer,” Betsy says. “He wanders about 5 or 10 afar all over the place. He goes out to the (Tombigbee) river, which is a continued way from here. Bodies acquaint me they see him on (Marengo Canton Highway) 57. They see him on Lock 3 Road. He is his own dog.”
A brace of years ago, to accession money for the Bigbee Humane Society, Betsy and Tony started affairs T-shirts with Abundance Dog’s name and affinity on the back.
“That’s breadth he affectionate of best up his little fan base,” Betsy says. “Now you go all over the place, and you see a Abundance Dog T-shirt.”
No TV, no Wi-Fi
Founded in 1810 and called for Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson association is about 12 afar southwest of Demopolis, Marengo County’s better city, and nine afar northwest of Linden, the canton seat.
Over the years, association about actuality came to depend on Jefferson Country Abundance aback they didn’t accept time, or the means, to go to town.
“In the aboriginal days, it’s breadth bodies about actuality got their groceries,” Austin Lindsay says. “Living 10 afar from any town, this was it.”
These days, the grocery shelves may not be as well-stocked, but whatever you ability charge in a compression — from charcoal and laundry bactericide to peanut adulate and potato chips — you’re acceptable to find.
The store, though, agency added to Jefferson than aloof a acceptable abode to aces up a loaf of aliment or a jug of milk.
“Because we alive here, we apperceive what it’s like to run out of toilet cardboard and accept to drive 10 afar to get a cycle of toilet paper,” Betsy says. “But what our association was absolutely missing for that year (when the abundance was closed) was the fellowship.”
Modern conveniences like Wi-Fi and accessory TV are advised accidental evils at Jefferson Country Store.
“Some bodies appear in actuality so they’ll lose their (cellular) arresting and not accept to acknowledgment the phone,” Betsy says. “You go to McDonald’s to get chargeless Wi-Fi; you appear in actuality to get abroad from Wi-Fi.”
And while Tony advised putting a TV in the abundance so barter could watch academy football on Saturdays, he bound accomplished that would defeat his and Betsy’s purpose.
“We appetite bodies to accept a conversation,” he says. “People appear in here, and they accept to allocution to anniversary other.”
Beginning about the backward 1970s, the abundance additionally housed the Jefferson column office, breadth abounding association in the association came to aces up their mail, but the U.S. Postal Account bankrupt that breadth in the bounce of 2013.
When Betsy and Tony reopened the store, though, they partnered with the postal account afresh to accessible a limited-service apple column office, a retail annex that sells stamps and priority-mail bales and has a dejected box for bottomward off mail.
“It’s not a abounding column office,” Betsy says, “but it allows our association to accumulate a accord with the postal service.”
Over these accomplished bristles years, Jefferson Country Store’s acceptance has advance far above Marengo County, though.
Visitors from throughout Alabama and all about the Southeast stop for a burger and a MoonPie aback they are casual through the area.
They attending about at all the old soft-drink bottles, best signs and aged accessories that Tony has collected, and they browse through the retro-candy alternative of bonbon cigarettes, bubblegum cigars, Kits and BB Bats.
And they all say appealing abundant the aforementioned thing.
“A lot of bodies appear in and acquaint us, ‘You’re the alone abundance (like this) out here; there’s no added of these around,'” Betsy says. “While it’s a compliment, we appetite there to be added of ’em around.
“We appetite to appearance added communities that there is a way they can accomplish it assignment and adhere on to article that’s ambiguous dying.”
A bologna cheeseburger for Phillip Fulmer
The kitchen is Tony’s territory, and he’s become absolutely the artistic cook.
The abundance had served burgers and sandwiches for the accomplished few decades, Betsy says, but aback she and Tony took over the business, they broadcast the card and austere out a brace of grocery shelves to accomplish allowance for added seating.
“When we opened, we knew the kitchen had to be a draw because bodies wouldn’t await on us for the advantage that they needed,” Betsy says. “We bare article abroad to get bodies here, article to accumulate the locals fed.”
In accession to cheeseburgers and Conecuh Sausage dogs, the card appearance pimento cheese, craven bloom and ham-and-cheese sandwiches, as able-bodied as nachos, Philly cheesesteaks, sausage biscuits and a array of circadian specials.
And on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Tony fires up the butt smoker out advanced and cooks ribs, craven and pigtails.
During deer season, the abundance is about abounding with athirst hunters on the weekends.
“It’s a sea of appearance on Saturdays,” Betsy says.
Phillip Fulmer, the above Tennessee football drillmaster and accepted UT contest director, alone in the abundance while on a hunting cruise to Marengo Canton a brace of years ago.
Tony able the old drillmaster a cheeseburger with a blubbery allotment of absurd bologna — a aggregate that Tony calls the “Coach’s Burger,” in account of Fulmer.
Other than the pimento cheeseburger, it has become the best accepted specialty burger on the menu.
“I aloof came up with it,” Tony says, “and afterwards that, it aloof stuck.”
He alike makes a MoonPie burger.
You’ll accept to ask him about that one.
Going to the chapel
After dating for about seven years and active a abundance calm for the accomplished five, Tony and Betsy are accepting affiliated on Nov. 17.
“It’s been a bit of a cement for us,” Betsy says of their little mom-and-pop business. “It’s a affection that we accept together. It seems a little cliche, I guess, but it’s affectionate of who we are.
“We were calm a few years afore we opened, but it’s adamantine to bethink a time aback we weren’t active the abundance together. It’s fabricated our accord stronger, for sure.”
The brace appear their awaiting bridal on the sandwich lath alfresco the store. “GOING TO THE CHAPEL & WE’RE GONNA GET MA-A-A-RIED,” it says.
Although Betsy and Tony plan to abutting the abundance for their bells day, their amusement will accept to wait.
“That’s a absolutely bad week,” Betsy says. “I don’t apperceive what we were thinking. We accept so abounding hunting camps about actuality breadth bodies are in from all over the state, and we apperceive they affectionate of await on us aback they get here. We abhorrence to not be actuality for them.”
Somebody, afterwards all, has to apperception the store.
Jefferson Country Abundance is at 26120 Alabama Artery 28 in Jefferson, Ala. The buzz is 334-289-0040. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. For a card and added information, go here.
The best restaurant in every canton in Alabama
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