By Tim Jon
It didn’t look like it was closed for repair; the place appeared to be in suspended animation, commerce-wise – perhaps awaiting the machinery of real estate. The one “Live Bait” sign on a front window was outnumbered by several “No Trespassing” placards in prominent spots about the structure. The once-proud sign out front had fallen from grace – losing a good portion of its original pigments – I had to perform a little interpolation to make out “Church’s Store.”
It had been some 12 years since I’d first encountered this interesting little stopping-place along Watson Road in the general south-central part of Loudoun County; it had made such an impression I’d always assumed the landmark represented the nucleus of what surely must be a Watsonville – but I’ve never been able to find reference to such an actual place.
And why do I remember this one, single, solitary (not to say unique) place of business after a decade had slipped by? Well, I’d actually delivered the US Mail here back in about 2008, when I started that crazy, careening career back at one of the Leesburg Auxiliary Offices; on performing this portion of that particular route, the mail carrier was instructed to secure the mail truck in the store’s minimalist parking area, enter the store and deposit the day’s mail on the store’s front counter near the cash register.
Having performed these actions, this would ostensibly include exchanging pleasantries (or otherwise, depending upon the nature of the establishment and its ‘inhabitants’!) with the staff of one and the stray customer or two. This would probably represent the highlight of that mail-person’s day, so these things tend to stick in the mind (or what little thereof we may find in that individual carrier).
Speaking only for myself, I always felt welcome here, and wished I could remain a bit longer; however – duty calls… So, of course I made a mental note at the time – in bold Magic Marker – that Church’s Store on Watson Road was a cool place to find oneself, and I should return at first, second and third opportunities.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, a lot can happen in 12 years: that’s three US Presidential terms, that’s your first grader graduating from high school, it’s enough time for most iconic little roadside store staff to move on to bigger and better opportunities; as I discovered on my last actual, official visit to Church’s Store, a period of a hundred 44 months represents sufficient accumulation of time for the fondly-remembered, iconic little roadside store in question to close its doors for a last time (at least for the general public) and enter the faint, far-off halls of memory.
Why did it close? I usually don’t ponder the inevitable, but I can hear my friends asking me about this; my answer would be something like, “to be honest, I’m surprised it had remained open for so long.” You can pretty much count on all fingers and toes the number of stand-alone, one-of-a-kind general convenience markets still in existence in Loudoun County – and this with a population which has been in a state of explosion since the take-off of Dulles Airport; we shop online, or at least patronize the giant, “We sell everything!” warehouse-type businesses to economize on time, energy and personal savings.
And, returning to the factors in the close of Church’s Store – I would venture to say that Watson Road (aside from periodic detour traffic in construction season) generally carries local residents, not high-volume numbers of potential new customers: it’s a windy, two-lane blacktop requiring utmost attention to the foreground and not much else.
Perhaps a day will arrive when – as I drive by the former site of my treasured memories – I won’t even notice the vacant lot or replacement construction in its place; but, as I sit and mull over this very small story in overall local history, I’ll still feel welcome in what once was “a cool place to find oneself.”
And I’ll bet that some of the folks who formerly stopped in there and bought a paper or a pack of bologna or bread, have a similar sensation as they recall, “That place that used to be along the road there, at …” And, now it’s not.
Funny thing, though: in an emotional sense, I still feel like those doors are open for commerce and – Gee, I must have been there, just yesterday – maybe the day before. Yup, it’s still there – inside. And thanks for the service.