COMING OF AGE: Life in Fort Hunt

Culture That Cans, Mails Cards

Stories by Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post
Culture That Cans, Mails Cards
Customers say the Hollin Hall Variety Store has items difficult to find elsewhere. It is loaded with an eclectic mix of treasures and hasn't changed much in 50 years. (Photo by Carol Guzy - The Washington Post)

The Hollin Hall Variety Store looks like a working museum piece of a 1950s five and dime, its shelves stocked with merchandise that younger people have probably never heard of although older folks remember well.

There is an aisle with penny candy, and another with hard-to-find housewares, including ricers for mashing potatoes and mezzalunas, which have a curved blade and two handles and rock side to side for mincing food. There are clothes sprinklers, perforated stoppers that fit into soda bottles for wetting the fabric while ironing. Inexpensive greeting cards are an especially brisk seller for a generation schooled in writing thank-yous.

"We sell more 50-cent and 60-cent cards than you can imagine," says co-owner Charles "Ben" Vennell, who opened the store with his wife, Ann, 50 years ago.

Seniors rave about the Hollin Hall Variety Store, which is in the same plaza as the service station. They know where everything is. They receive 10 percent discounts. Employees often help them to their cars.

"Nothing has changed in this store in 50 years," Ann Vennell says. "Canning here is a major item, and it's the older people who are doing the canning, not the younger."

"Oh, my God, do we go through canning goods!" Ben Vennell says. "Canning is probably right up there at the top of our list." Just then an employee stops by the office.

"How many canning jars did you put away today?" Vennell asks.

"Twelve," the employee answers.

"That's cases," Vennell says.

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