Thirty-seven years ago, when Bennett Davis first started working at the Fairfax Hay and Grain store, he and his buddies could gather around the store's oil stove, look out the side door and see acres and acres of prime farmland.
Davis, 72, still is hoisting feed bags but the farmland is gone now, swept away by the flood of development that has heaped town houses, office buildings and specialty shops on Fairfax City's landscape over the past two decades.
Soon Fairfax Hay and Grain, which survives as the city's only grain dealer after about 50 years in the same location, will be gone as well.
"We're all sad to see it go. It's like home to me," says Davis about news that the 96-year-old white clapboard landmark will be converted to office space within the year. The feed business, which was forced out when the building it rented was sold to a local developer, will be moved to a modern structure at Fairfax Station less than three weeks from now.
Standing amid aromatic sacks of chicken scratch and horsefeed, Davis says he cannot question the decision of owner John Robertson to rent to a more profitable business. "Everything else is going up, rents and all," says Davis, scuffing a foot over the store's bare wood floor. "A man's got to make some money."
Where once the feed store served a thriving rural community of dairy and chicken farms, it now finds itself on one of the busiest streets in Fairfax City -- at the heart of a bustling urban center where residents' interests have shifted to pets, planting gardens and feeding the birds.
The result is a bewildering mix of the old and the new, with incubators and goat chow sharing shelf space in the store with gardening supplies and prescription pet food. A local attorney and "part-time cowboy" came in yesterday to tell Davis about his herd of beef cattle, while a woman hunted in vain for a cider press.
Emily Krisco of Fairfax, buying food for her seven pet rabbits, told a visitor "it's just terrible" that the store is moving. "This type of store is a link with the past that gives a lot of color to his whole area," she said.
"I would hate to see us all going to one of those shiny, tinsel, nonhuman shopping centers that are all plastic."
For developer Robertson the question is one of economics. While the feed store had turned a reasonable profit, he said, office rentals would bring him two or three times as much money each month.
He said he plans to keep the building's original facade, restoring it to what it looked like at the turn of the century. Plans call for the building to reopen in November.
Store manager Teresa McKay, whose husband Ted and partner Lynn Bruce own the feed business, spends much of her day in the store's tiny office. Around her are pictures of prize hogs, a photograph of two children with a 2 1/2-pound-tomato, and the slogan: "Just Keep Plowing the Corn."
She says she's not worried about losing customers in the five-mile move to Fairfax Station, where the feed operation will be consolidated with the Davis General Store at 7600 Clifton Rd. Her husband and Bryce have owned that store for the past two years.
What she will miss most is the down-home, country atmosphere of a store that boasts a 100-year-old cast iron scale, an ancient oil burner and wooden walls that have not been painted as long as anyone can remember. The Fairfax Station store, she says ruefully, is a rectangular, modern, one-story affair with tile floors and electronic cash registers -- not the "human powered" variety like the ones that tally up sales of three tons of horse feed weekly on Main Street.
"I was upset -- that's the word -- when I found out we had to move," says McKay, her jaw set in a resolute line. "But I've reconciled myself. That's just the way I am. I don't want to stand around crying on spilt milk."