There used to be a steady stream of trucks, vans and cars stopping at James General Store near Herndon, the only place for miles around offering pickled pig's knuckles, nightcrawlers, ammunition and hunting licenses for the spring gobbler season.
But business has suddenly fallen more than 50 percent, and not even 10-cent cups of coffee and 12-ingredient, 1 1/2-pound hoagies for $1.99 have been able to coax back many old customers.
The problem, says Charles and Linda James, the husband and wife proprietors, is not the one-story, concrete-block store with the gas pump and sign advertising "minnows," but what the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation has done to their business.
"They built a four-lane, divided highway in front of us," said Mrs. James, "but they didn't build any crossover so cars on the other side of the road can get to our store. They have ruined our business."
More than 7,000 cars travel daily on the newly-widened road, but traffic in the westbound lane cannot pull off because of a median strip. The closest turnaround is half a mile up the road. Anyone who makes the lengthy turnaround, then has to go down the road another half mile to get to the store.
Hardly anyone does.
Mary Jackson of Herndon used to stop at the store regularly for its cheeses and hard rolls on her regular trips to her mother's home in Arcola. "Now I can't get to it without driving up and down. So now I buy those things when I get to Arcola," she says.
Linda James said the store, a local institution on Rte. 606 between Herndon and Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County, grossed $14,000 to $15,000 a month before the highway "improvement." Now, she said, the store grosses only $8,000 monthly.
"We have had $66 days, and you can't make a go on that," she says while getting the hoagies ready for lunch business.
In Culpeper, where the highway department has its Northern Virginia headquarters, district engineer D. B. Hope said the agency did not build a crossover because of uncertain development plans in the area.
"They [the Jameses] have a problem, but they aren't the owners of the land," Hope said. "We deal with the owners of the land."
Hope said his office hoped to arrange a meeting with the landowners "in the next week." A crossover could not be constructed before summer because of the weather, he said, adding: "But I don't want to promise that it would be built by any date."
Meanwhile, the Jameses, who are leaseholders, are watching their business dry up. "If we don't get the crossover soon," mrs. James said, "we'll go out of business."
She and her husband, who used to be a house painter before an auto accident injury forced him to stay off ladders, take an intense proprietary interest in their store, which caters to white-collar commuters rushing to the office, construction crews on their lunch break, truckers stopping for a snack, and hunters and anglers.
On one shelf are six-packs of Perrier water, on another bright red mesh hunting caps, and on the front counter are gallon jugs of pickled pig's knuckles, bologna and red hots.
Mrs. James will reveal the 12 ingredients of her hoagies (they start with roast beef and end with onions), but hides the bread wrapper so no one will know where she buys the hefty loaves which are the foundations for her formidable sandwiches.
"I don't tell anyone where I get my bread," says Mrs. James, holding a protective hand over a yellow label.
From Florida, the Jameses brought back the "nuclear sub" -- roast beef on a steak roll, with pepperoni, raw mushrooms and provolone cheese. "You put it in the microwave open, and the provolone melts down into the pepperoni -- mmmmhhhhh," says Mrs. James.
In their battle with the highway department, the Jameses have the backing of 1,000 customers who signed petitions calling for a cut in the median strip in front of the store.
Mrs. James, an excitable woman, is afraid she'll have to give up her once-thriving business and go back to being a secretary. "I'm 61," she says. "I can't take all this stress."