GULF — At JR Moore & Son — a “country store with a little bit of everything” in Gulf — the shelves tell the story of an eclectic family-owned store that stands as one of the last of its …
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GULF — At JR Moore & Son — a “country store with a little bit of everything” in Gulf — the shelves tell the story of an eclectic family-owned store that stands as one of the last of its kind.
Walls fully stocked with work boots and Carhartt jackets quickly turn into rows of personalized store baseball caps, and then there’s old-fashioned candy orange slices, decorative pocket knives and hardware supplies.
There’s no online shopping cart and no barcodes. Instead, there are handwritten and stickered itemized prices — and no clear-cut path to navigate the aisles. Because of heightened demand during the coronavirus, there aren’t a lot of canning supplies or gardening seeds left, either.
Unlike many other small businesses though, there are still a lot of customers coming in to shop, and to buy.
“Actually, our business picked up and you know, we’re very, very thankful,” said Julie King-McDaniel, the co-owner of JR Moore & Son. “It does worry me a little bit, that come the holiday season we’re not gonna be able to get as much product as we would want and normally have on hand. So that’s the only reason I’m not very optimistic, because people have been good to us.
“Wouldn’t you say, Daddy?” King-McDaniel turns to her 79-year-old father, Rayvon King, who nods enthusiastically.
JR Moore & Son is a family affair — King has worked at the store since 1968, when then-owner Richard Moore invited him to the business. After Moore died in 1978, King bought the remaining share of the business and continues to carry on the country store’s charm to this day. King-McDaniel joined her dad as a partner and owner in 2011, and as she did growing up, her 16-year-old son, Colin McDaniel, is spending the summer working at the store.
“I think he’s like myself — I don’t know that he has a whole lot of interest in the future of doing this,” King-McDaniel said of her son. “But you learn so much being here. You learn how to deal with the public, you learn a little bit about everything — just like we sell a little bit of everything.”
Founded in 1935 by John Moore and his son, Richard Moore, the store is still housed in its original red-painted structure just off U.S. Hwy. 421 at 865 Thrift Road. Although technically in Gulf, the store is only discoverable to GPS users under a Goldston address.
Though it’d be nice to have a brand new building, King-McDaniel said, she has to constantly weigh not losing “the charm of what it is.” In recent years, the store’s business has evolved more toward work apparel and shoes — some “touristy” items — but it is still deeply connected to its community roots, she says.
When the store was founded, it functioned as a place for locals to buy staples that weren’t as readily available in rural Gulf. Until the 1950s, the store’s website says, the Moores ran a regular route to deliver items to customer’s doors.
After his father passed away, Richard Moore continued expanding the business and in 1968 he brought on King, who grew up in Gulf and had worked in the store as a teenager. When King became full owner in 1978 after Richard Moore’s death, he stuck to the Moore’s values of meeting a need when you see it and keeping full stock. For most of his career, King also allowed local customers to purchase on credit.
“I’m proud of what he has done and created,” King-McDaniel said of her father, who is technically retired but still frequents the store most days. “Hopefully — I think — he’s glad I’m here.”
When King originally approached her father about joining him at the store, he jokingly said he was glad she was on board, as it would one day be hers “one way or the other.”
“I told her when she wanted to come in that Mr. Moore would be dancing up in heaven right now — he wanted this place to continue,” King said.
It’s not just the variety of items that makes JR Moore & Son special. It’s also the staff — half of whom have been with the store for more than 20 years. They not only know the store well, King-McDaniel said, they also know Gulf well and how to help fix a range of common customer problems from plumbing to gardening.
And, of course, the visits from Gulf’s claim-to-fame and country music legend Charlie Daniels aren’t too shabby either. Daniels, who died last Monday at age 83, spent much of his young adult life in Chatham County and knew the King family. And when he was around, King-McDaniel said, he would stop by the store.
Next to old-fashioned Coca-Cola coolers, there are pictures of Daniels framed with wood from his old house in Gulf, which King-McDaniel and her father bought when Daniels put it on auction. King-McDaniel, who describes herself as a “sentimental history buff,” decorates the walls with old maps, photos and newspaper clippings.
Some of those reflect changes in Gulf over the decades.
“It’s hard to imagine, but it used to be a very happening place,” she said. “It had a bank, it had a pharmacy, it had two or three stores, a doctor’s office, and all that’s gone. We’re what’s left. We’re still kind of middle nowhere if that makes sense. But if we can ever get you here, we normally get you back.”
This is true for customer Lisa Pickett, who first visited the store after seeing a UNC-TV special about it. She lives in Scotts Store and said the two-hour drive to make it to her “favorite country store” is well worth the trip.
“They have a little bit of everything,” she said, but her favorite item would have to be the hoop cheese — once, she had it shipped to her house for Christmas.
“We always make a point of stopping by the store if in or near the area of Gulf,” Pickett said.
Jordan Vann, 22, lives 10 minutes down the road in Lee County and has been a faithful customer since he visited and bought his first pair of work boots when he was 10 years old. Since then, he said he’s purchased 10 pairs of work boots and nearly every color of the JR Moore & Son hats — he buys one every visit.
“It reminds me of an older general store — it kind of takes you back,” Vann said. “It almost just makes you feel like you’re back in time.”
As time goes on and more stores like JR Moore & Son struggle to compete with the low costs and mass supply of chain department stores, King-McDaniel said she and her staff are working to keep up without losing their country charm. Even though the store doesn’t have an online shopping platform, they’ve shipped orders placed over the phone, email and Facebook all around the country.
Kevin Richardson, who started working at the store in 2001 and came back as a full-time employee in 2008, recently started weekly Facebook videos to advertise products. One video, he said, got 800 views in less than 24 hours. He enjoys working at JR Moore & Son because there isn’t one day that’s the same.
“I hope it keeps up,” Richardson said.
Watching her son ring up a customer, King-McDaniel echoed Richardson’s sentiment as she discussed the difficulties of owning a small business with not as much profitability as “people probably think.”
“Well, I do hope it can continue on. Now, I don’t know that he will ever want it, but if he does, I hope it’s here for him to run,” she said of her son. “Everybody says, in the age of the internet, shopping is going to take over ... even I do a lot of online shopping. But I still think there’s a part of us that wants to come and touch and feel and see products.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.