The Country Store Series: Turnage Grocery
Turnage Grocery was built in 1951 for Effie Turnage by her husband (Armour Templeton) and son (Robert). While the store has had additions and been through generations, the premise has remained the same – it’s a family run store that sells a little bit of everything as a convenience in the rural area. Groceries, gas, deli, basic household items, even bait and tackle can all be found on hand, as well as the ‘modern’ convenience of lottery.
‘Mama’ Effie (as she was called by many) had run a ‘commissary’ on Randolph road before building on the highway. She had the right idea and her decision was wise. Effie ran the store until 1958 or 1959. In those years, the store actually offered grocery delivery and had a barber shop in the rear, both big bonuses for the very rural location. When Effie decided to pass the business on, son, Robert Turnage and his wife, Pearl, took over. Pearl (who recently turned 92), is known by many as “Miss Pearl” and well remembered for her ready smile and whistling as she worked. After adding living quarters to the back of the store, they lived there until having their home built on the property behind the store (in the early-mid 80’s). In June 1987, they decided to ‘retire’. Oldest son, Kenneth and his wife Amy took over. In July 2013, after a very successful reign over the store, the couple turned the reigns over to his nephew (Nancy Turnage’s son), Joe Torkell and his wife Karen. With the passing on reins, they received a lot of help and training from Kenneth on the everyday running of the store. Luckily, Karen had a background in retail and Joe (though not experienced in retail operations) has a degree in business management which has proven useful in growing the business.
“There’s a lot to this business that people don’t realize – the timing on ordering, storage, keeping items on the shelves that people need when they need it,” Karen grinned as she spoke. “Kenneth and Amy did amazing with the exterior update in the early 90’s, giving it a great ‘country store’ look. We came in and updated a few things in the background, like the POS system, added tv’s with cable, speakers (indoors and out), updating to the porch with fans and seating, and added recessed lighting. It’s amazing how attached people are to the older things – we had a lot of feedback on updating the lighting, told that we were getting too “high tech”, but it has really helped out and people have gotten used to it, even like it now”. One thing that will never leave is the old Gulf sign in front that has been there for ages. The back room where the pool table is located has also been reopened for customers to use. Many still ask about the old jukebox that was back there, it is. But it needs revived. “We had it working for a while, but it decided to act up and I haven’t been able to get back to it yet, but we will,” Joe added, “we put in the sound system to take its place until we can get it back in working order - and we’ll keep it around at least for the memories it has”.
When asked about the challenges that being ‘way out down towards the river’ presented, Karen smiled, “It’s not really a challenge, we have customers all day every day – and lots of cookin’, especially on the weekends. It’s non-stop and our biggest issue is figuring out how to add parking”. Boats, ATV’s, 4 wheelers, mud trucks are all there on the weekend – people from all around, not just Randolph, come through going to the river, to Sugar Creek Trails or just out enjoying the day with a drive or ride (bicycles and motorcycles). “We get people who come to get a burger because they’ve heard ours are really good – and breakfast, our biscuits are great!” Karen added. She has one man who drives from Shelby Forest for breakfast almost every weekend because he says the biscuits are the best. People generally call ahead to order. Whether its burgers and fries, onion rings, wedges, tots (or maybe some fried green beans, pickles or mushrooms), chicken strips or pizza, all are made when ordered. As well as the great deli sandwiches that will have “whatever you want” on it – just don’t ask for swiss or provolone because this country store keeps it country with American, hoop or pepper jack. You might even try some bologna and cheese with crackers, like you used to get in country stores of days gone by. Yep, simple is still available here, along with a game of pool and catching up on news and events of the area.
While plans to expand the cooking are in the stores future, the couple is still very excited about the amount of business being done daily from what they offer. It’s still an old fashioned American general store,” Karen concluded, “and we hope to keep it in the family for a long time – with fair prices and fun people inside.”