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Stafford country store set to close

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BY BILL FREEHLING

A country store that has been open in the Hartwood area of Stafford County for more than 40 years will close Tuesday in what promises to be a life-altering occurrence for Shirley Sullivan.

Sullivan’s parents, June and Stansbury Harding, opened the J&S Market at 1555 Warrenton Road in 1971. For five years before that, they ran a restaurant called Harding’s Drive-In on the property.

Today the 2-acre property will be sold, and the market will close.

The Hardings’ daughters—then called the “Harding girls” but now known as Shirley Sullivan and Susan Carmichael—were about 11 and 12 when the restaurant first opened in 1966. They lived next to the restaurant and worked there with their parents daily.

Though Carmichael went on to take other jobs with Stafford County and a jewelry retailer, Sullivan has continued to work at the family’s market her entire life. She is now 56.

Sullivan worked alongside her father at the store until he died in 1999. Since then, she has run the store pretty much on her own.

That’s meant getting up at the crack of dawn every day of the year, including holidays, to have J&S Market open by 7 a.m., and then closing up shop at 6 p.m. The daily ritual included fixing coffee, barbecue, coleslaw and chili dogs, and chatting up her loyal customers as well as keeping the store impeccably clean. Sullivan was so dedicated that she was at work the day after giving birth to both her children.

Sullivan and her sister put the property on the market the year after their mother’s death in 2005, but it didn’t sell until now. The sale, which includes the real estate but not the business, will be finalized Tuesday.

It’s unclear what the new owner, Omar Siddiq’s Ameriglobe Contracting and Logistics, plans to do with the property.

Sullivan feels bittersweet about the sale. The market holds a ton of memories for her and her sister, and she’ll miss all the loyal customers whom she wished to thank.

Yet running the business hasn’t been easy, particularly during the recession. Sullivan said she can’t match the prices of the large chains that have opened along U.S. 17 in Stafford—including Walmart, Wawa and, this week, Aldi—because she doesn’t have the same buying power. She said a store like Walmart can sell a product more cheaply than she can buy it at wholesale.

Taxes and insurance also have taken a big bite out of profits. Other country stores in Hartwood and beyond have closed due to similar factors.

J&S Market sold groceries, hot food, ice, fireworks, collectibles and various other items. In its heyday, the market was the primary source for groceries in the Hartwood area, and served as a community center of sorts where people would come to talk politics and other subjects. Many area residents got their first job there.

Sullivan has been selling off her last groceries and other memorabilia as she prepares to close the business. On Monday, among the items left were a slew of VHS movies, ashtrays, coffeepots, napkin dispensers and some grocery items. Much of what remains will be donated to Goodwill.

Sullivan, a Stafford High School graduate, has been too busy to think about what she will do with all her free time. She says she’ll continue to watch her grandkids and figures she’ll find something to do, even if it’s not brewing coffee for customers before the sun rises.

“I loved doing what I did,” Sullivan said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405

bfreehling@freelancestar.com

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