Keffer’s Store, A Catawba Landmark

By Betty Keffer Munsey

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When I decided to do Echoes From Catawba and started to brainstorm some topics to write about, it was a no-brainer to include Keffer’s Store. I contacted Betty (Keffer) Munsey to partner with me to do that article. She readily agreed. Two or three days later it dawned on me that there was not two but one person that could compose this article the best. Someone who lived there in the apartment above the store, namely Betty. I went back to her and told her that I was dissolving the partnership and I wanted her to write it from the viewpoint of being there to experience it. She agreed.

Betty received her bachelor’s and master’s degree from VA Tech and is a member of the VA Tech Extension faculty, retired. Although about eight years difference in age, my education and career path is the same as Betty’s. I, too, received my bachelor and masters degree from VA Tech. And, I am a retired member of the VA Tech Extension faculty. We both have backgrounds in writing and public speaking. Betty is active in her church and community, as well as working with husband Bob on their Bland County farm. As a lifelong friend and admirer of her, it is with pleasure I present to you Keffer’s Store through Betty’s words…

Nestled at the bottom of Catawba Mountain in the northern-most section of Roanoke County, Catawba Mercantile or more fondly known as Keffer’s Store, has been a Catawba mainstay since the late 1800’s.

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Originally owned and operated by Mr. Barnett and later by Mr. J. L. Wells, my Dad, Minor Keffer, bought the property in 1941. My Mother, June Keffer, joined him as co-owner and loving assistant when they married on September 6, 1942.

05-23-2018 07;25;54PM (2)After my Dad’s death in 1994 and due to my Mother’s declining health, the store was closed and the property sold in February of 1995. Mom later moved to her new home within sight of the store between the Catawba Post Office and the old Catawba Elementary School (now Catawba Community Center).

The store was a source of home and farm supplies as well as a community gathering place conveniently located one mile south of the Catawba Sanatorium (now known as Catawba Hospital), about ten miles east of the Montgomery County Line, about 3 miles from Craig County, and about the same distance from the Botetourt County line.

The Catawba Post office originally occupied a small corner of the store until the early 1950’s when my Dad built a separate small concrete building that allowed more space for the store as well as postal customers. The Postal Service later purchased a triangle of land across the intersection of routes 311 and 779 where a new modern Post Office was constructed and continues to serve postal customers.

05-23-2018 07;09;35PM (2)The store was a family run business that was blessed by numerous long-time devoted individuals we considered as family members as well as employees. Ronald Thomas, affectionately referred to as “Big 6”, joined Dad in the store and worked 42 years before his death due to cancer. Dorothy “Dot” Garman lived on the Catawba Hospital Farm with her husband Claude and worked faithfully for 25 years behind the store counter. Frances Perry Lee would help milk cows on their family farm before coming to work in the store for 21 years. Others who worked for a lesser amount of time but provided valuable service were Roy Baugh, Susan Crawford, Frank and Georgia Ray, Steve Forren, and several others. Children and grandchildren filled in as needed.

Catawba Mercantile sold a large amount of feed, seed, and fertilizer and was recognized as the longest running Southern States Corp. private dealership in Virginia with over 53 years of faithful service. Boxes of produce lined the space down the middle of the store and in the refrigerated case. A large glass-front refrigerated case held loaves of meats and cheese waiting to be sliced according to customer requests. The store shelves were fully stocked with basics including canned goods, farm supplies, Wolverine boots, school paper and pencils, candies prominently displayed in antique glass and wooden cases, and even chewing tobacco. A large metal Rainbow bread bag holder hung prominently over the sales counter and the front screen door reminded visitors that “Rainbow bread is good bread”.

Several hours before closing each evening, community men gathered around the old pot belly stove in the center of the store to share their opinions and commentary on community news. Their wives often sent lengthy grocery lists which store staff filled while the men visited and drank ice cold Coca Cola’s filled to the brim with salty peanuts. Others preferred RC Colas and Moon Pies.

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In days before common credit cards, the store offered temporary credit “until the end of the month”. Customers would purchase items, feed, or gas and ask to have it placed on a ticket or a small piece of paper which was stored in a bulky metal storage cabinet and totaled each month. There were no fees for credit and most paid their totals at the end of the month. One of Dad’s final store instructions to Mom and I was to not pursue payment after his death of unpaid tickets as those who care will pay.

The store offered a variety of unique services including providing directions to lost travelers in search of Dragons Tooth, Catawba Hospital, and the Murder Hole in the days before GPS. Appalachian Trail hikers were often assisted in their travels. During the Catawba forest fire in 1963, the store remained open overnight providing food and lodging as needed.

Hunting season was a busy fun time of the year as hunters stopped to brag about their hunting exploits while one of the store staff members weighed their game and recorded their official VDGIF decals. Those who shot and missed were often doomed to having their shirttails trimmed as a visual sign of their disappointment. One young hunter proudly walked into the crowded store late one evening and asked to have his turkey weighed and tagged. Obviously proud of his first kill, the experienced hunters didn’t have the heart to tell him he had killed a buzzard and not a fat tom-turkey he planned to eat on Thanksgiving Day. My Dad finally quietly revealed the buzzard truth and encouraged him not to cook his bird.

In the days before self serve service, customers would drive up to the pumps, toot their horn (some repeatedly) and wait for someone to fill their gas tanks, wash their windshields, check their oil, and sometimes even asked to have the tire pressure checked. One particular doctor expected top-notch service but would not allow a female to touch his vehicle except in one case when Dad was sick and the Dr. didn’t know how to do these things for himself. As a side note, according to my Dad’s detailed inventory of store items, gasoline sold for twenty cents a gallon in 1941 when he bought the store from Mr. Wells.

My parents loved children and the children, in turn, loved them. The interior side door behind the large glass showcase was covered top to bottom with children’s school pictures or photos of children sitting on Santa’s lap, catching their first fish, or celebrating another birthday. Children loved sitting on Minor’s lap and receiving free candy. A few days before Christmas 1988 a little baby girl decided to enter the world a month early and was born in the driveway of the store mid-way between her parent’s home in Craig County and the Roanoke hospital.

Older customers were truly valued with home deliveries made of needed groceries and fruit baskets delivered to the homebound. A feisty regular customer would walk to the store from her home which was located in the woods east of the Catawba Hospital property. She always wore high-heeled shoes, a trim tailored suit, a dress hat with a veil, and carried a rather large purse for her petite size. Even in her late 70’s, she insisted on walking the mile home carrying her groceries and only allowed one of us to drive her with a lot of persuasion.

The store was always closed on Sundays, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day—inventory day. As my parents aged, they found it necessary to close the store at noon on Wednesdays. Otherwise, normal store hours were 7 am to 7 PM six days a week.

My Mother’s parting comments in announcing the store’s closing included this statement: “It is the support and patronage of our loyal workers, customers, and friends that have made our 54 years of business so enjoyable. With God’s blessing, Thank You”. (June Keffer)

Visit the Keffer photo album…

We invite you to leave a comment and share your memories of Keffer’s Store.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Echoes From Catawba Volume 1, Growing Up In Catawba Valley, Appalachia. 

Click here to order Echoes From Catawba Volume 1  hardcover, collector’s edition: $27.99, includes shipping.  Also available on Amazon. Paperback: $18.99 and Kindle: $5.99

Also available at the Salem Museum Book Store in Salem, Virginia and The Emporium on Main Street in New Castle, Virginia.

24 thoughts on “Keffer’s Store, A Catawba Landmark

  1. Thanks, Ted, for allowing me to share special memories of my parents and our time in Keffer’s Store. We were blessed to live and operate a business in the beautiful Catawba Valley. Betty

    1. Betty, I think the response so far by the people viewing it is directly proportional to the impact that Keffer’s store and the Keffer family had on this Catawba Valley community over the 54 years of operation. No one could have presented this story like you have.

  2. So many memories you shared and only like if it was yesterday we all gathered around talking. As i age myself i think of all the good times of long ago.
    Thank you Betty for the memories of your family and store.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Herb, which I think speaks for all of us. Betty did the subject perfectly so that we all could go back to the past and focus on the good times which stand in stark contrast to our troubled world today. I am sure that Betty felt a personal Joy and Blessing herself in doing the research for the post. It took her back, also, and she may have gained as much, maybe more going down that intimate memory lane.—–Ted

  3. Mrs. Munsey, loved your story and also loved your parents and visiting the store. I think your Mom and mine are related and grew up together in Paint Bank also! I could be wrong but my Dad told me years ago that my Grandfather, E.M. Abbott bought the store from Mr. Wells and only kept it a short time and resold it to your Dad, Minor Keffer ! Whatever the case may be still very much enjoyed the story!!

    1. Thanks, Sammy, for your comments. Your Grandfather and my Dad were good friends and actually my Dad worked for Mr. Abbott in his New Castle store before my parents married. I have never heard about Mr. Abbott selling Catawba Mercantile to my Dad and none of the written documentation about the store property mentions your Grandfather’s ownership at any time. My Dad was interviewed for various published articles during his time in the store and always referred to buying the store from Mr. Wells. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and that perhaps we may be kin down through the generations. Betty

  4. I was generally with my dad, Henry Halsey, when he would go to Minor’s. Either to purchase fees or change the oil in the car on the concrete oil pit that was at the side of the parking lot. When we would go in the store, Mr Minor would nod his head to me indicating that it was OK for me to go behind the candy counter and get my tootsie rolls! I would only take 2! My dad would try to pay for them but was never allowed to! Great memories of all the men sitting around the pot-belly stove solving the worlds problems!!

    1. Pam, thank you for this recall of your experience going to Minor’s store with your dad. I had hopes that many would come forward with their experiences. Hopefully, some more will. Glad you mentioned the oil pit where folks could DIY their oil changes/greasing. At one time there was a vat where hogs could be scalded to remove hair. Just so many things that went on. You will have your memory forever about the store and your late father taking you there. P.S. I have another Keffer-store related post coming out this weekend about my personal relationship with Minor. I think you will enjoy it. Thank you again for your comments.

  5. As a kid, I remember stopping at Minor’s on return trips from Roanoke to Craig and was given a piece of candy, while Dad would get feed or Mom would get some groceries. When I started driving I’d stop just get a drink and visit with Minor or Ms. June. I am related to Minor on the Keffer & Garman side & Ms. June on the Smith side. Always loved to stop in and see them.

  6. Richard, Thank you for sharing your experiences of stopping at the Keffer store and enjoying the hospitality of the Keffers. They were well known for their genuine appreciation of everyone who entered their store. Thank you also for sharing your kinship on both sides of the family. I believe that in some manner we must all be related if you go back far enough. What a great thing that is. Thank you sir, again for taking the time to share your visits there. Blessings-Ted

  7. Betty, this first memory I have of your parents was coming into the store one day and Steve (Steve Forren) was about 6 and he had cut his finger when we were building our house on Keffer Rd. and June took him in his arms and cleaned his finger and put a bandage on it and gave him candy. I knew then that we had found a special friend and a great community to build our new home. That was in 1979. We loved your parents very much and have many found memories of them.

  8. I remember Minor and June well – My dad,Cecil Rose from Paint Bank would go there to get feed often – I remember you coming to Paint Bank to your grandparents and we would play together

    1. Thank you Donna for viewing this article and for you comments. I will convey your comments to Betty whom I asked to write this particular story. Please check out our other articles that have gone up. Just started this Blog less than two months ago. –Ted Carroll, Blog owner

    2. Hey Donna, I certainly remember playing with you in your playhouse next door to Grandma & Granddad Smith’s and all the summer fun we had. We were blessed to live then in a time of such tranquility and innocence. I still enjoy stopping in Paint Bank and especially eating at the Swinging Bridge Restaurant. Love it! Thanks for remembering.

  9. I never stopped at the store on the way to and from Roanoke and New Castle, but my late husband George had nice things to say about that store. He was from New Castle. Interesting article.

    1. Thank you Catherine for your comments and yes the Keffer’s were very nice people. I lived about one minute from them in the house beside Catawba school. We started this Blog to write about people from the past about two months ago. There are a few more articles on the site including one more about Keffer’s store. Please check these out on the website. Thanks again for taking time to comment. Ted Carroll Blog owner.

  10. Loved the story! Went there many times with my Dad to get seed,and a Coke.
    Miss your family and your Dad and no mattet what may come, it will always be Minir Keffers store to me!

  11. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into our past! Roy Baugh was my grandfather. I walked from his house to the store many times growing up, the Jeffers were kind as kind could be! I miss those simpler days.

    1. Thank you Delores for your comment. I knew your grandfather and the whole family, played with Clinton as a child growing up. Everyone loved the Keffer’s. Please check out the blog website for other articles already there. Including one more about store.

    2. Deloris, Your Grandfather was a special person and a close friend. He literally whistled while he worked in the store. He truly was a gentle soft spoken yet remarkable man. Your Grandma Ellie made the most delicious snickerdoodle cookies (thankfully I still have her recipe). Shiela, Joyce, and I had a weekly playdate (although no one ever called it a playdate in those days) and your Grandmother would treat us with homemade cookies and Kool Aide in the shade of the old trees surrounding their home at the Catawba Hospital farm. Thanks for your comments and for your wonderful memories.

  12. As a small child back in the early days, we would stop there on the way to Roanoke from Craig. As I grew up & started traveling on my own I would stop. I want to say those people were so nice & considerate. The store had such unique items. These were the good times. People cared about each other. It was simple and most beautiful. How I miss these times. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you for those kind comments. The reason I started this blog about two month’s ago was to put these articles about those days for all to read, hopefully our younger folks especially. Please read our other articles that are on the blog. Thanks again-Ted Carroll

    2. From one Betty to another, thank you for your special comments. They are truly appreciated.

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