After running the Taylorstown General Store for 20 years, Curt Callaham knew his customers by name. He asked about their families. He remembered their birthdays. He fretted about their coughs and colds.
Some patrons, who lived mostly within five miles of the store, would spend time chatting about the weather, politics and the traffic--of which there is little as the occasional driver whizzes past the storefront at Loyalty and Taylorstown roads on the way to work and shop elsewhere.
Eventually, Callaham, 46, too had to go on to more denser areas to make ends meet. Three months ago, he cleared most of the shelves--except for a few bottles of aspirin, bags of potato chip and cans of Spam--and took a full-time job in the paint department at the Home Depot in Cascades.
Gone is his two-mile drive to work from his dark brown, three-bedroom Cape Cod on a dirt road. Gone are the days spent listening to squirrels scampering up nearby oak trees, the chirp of birds and the occasional bark of Radar, a black and white basset hound that often waddled through the store's front door.
Traffic lights, tooting horns and tailgaters are now part of his 30-minute commute to his job, where customers often roll their eyes and tap their feet as he rushes to mix cans of paint. He is working for one of the chains that helped make his old job irrelevant.
"It certainly isn't the general store," Callaham said one recent evening as he tried several times to get the exact red shade of "Flaming Sword" for two high school girls. "I can be swamped in here."
Meanwhile, Taylorstown's estimated 200 residents are losing the place where they could find emergency rations. The store served as "an old-fashioned 7-Eleven they could walk to," said Anne Larson, president of the community association there.
"Outside the town's limits, the closest store is an eight-mile drive to Lovettsville or almost three miles to Lucketts," Larson said. "It was where you ran for a bit of kerosene in a pinch. I don't know what we'll do without a general store."
Since May, the cinder block store has been locked and closed. The ice machine is turned off. The three gas pumps were taken out last fall. Only the soda machine on the porch remains stocked--and it only takes exact change these days, Callaham has pointed out in a scratchy handwritten sign on the dusty, faded blue front door.
"Welcome to the Taylorstown General Store!" he shouted, as he turned on the lights to show off the store's office and kitchen area he built.
For Callaham and his wife, Elizabeth, running the store was their way of life.
"Some people have careers they get trained for. For me, this was my vocation," Callaham said, as he brushed off a dusty $2.50 bag of Nutter Butter cookies. "Now, it looks like a place in a ghost town."
The Callahams started running the store after their parents and a family friend bought it from the Manns family. The couple left their home in Florida and came to Taylorstown to work 70-hour weeks at the store, which longtime residents say dates to the 1930s.
For the most part, Curt rang up customers on the store's original bronze-plated cash register with a crank handle, and Elizabeth stayed in the back office, keeping track of inventory and profits--of which there were little--on a computer. To diversify, Callaham sold gas, installed a copier and a fax machine and rented videos; his wife became a notary public. In a typical week, he said, they brought home $200. They joke about their biggest lunch crowd ever--a crew of about 30 construction men who were building big, brick houses in a nearby development.
"They were all in here at once. It was wild to see a lunch crowd in there. They was a line leading out the door," Elizabeth said, as she smiled.
To make ends meet, Elizabeth, 41, took on part-time bookkeeping work over the years, and Curt took a job last summer with Kohl's department store in Leesburg unloading trucks and shelving products. Family members took turns running the store during the day, and the Callahams would spend their evenings closing out the cash register. The only time they took off was the occasional evening they would pay someone to cover so they could go to a Bible study at their church in Purcellville.
But in May, they said, they finally ran out of money.
"I was paying people more to keep it open than what I was making at Kohl's," said Curt.
He gave the keys to a real estate broker last month so he could show it to potential buyers. They've received one offer, but it's uncertain. They still dream of returning an old-time feel to the place, now scattered with dust balls and cobwebs.
"I feel bad I had to close it," said Curt, as he leaned against the thick, oak counter top with nicks and initials scratched into it. "It has great potential for staying open, but I ran out of energy."
His tips to the next owner: Put in fountain drinks, sell hotdogs and homemade ice cream. And hire him as a part-time clerk.
For now, Curt's job at Home Depot and Elizabeth's two part-time jobs--at a county after-school day-care program and a nonprofit religious group in Leesburg--are keeping "food on the table and paying the electric company," Elizabeth said.
"It's sad," she said. "Nobody can afford to be in business unless you're the big guy."
CAPTION: Curt Callaham stands in doorway of the shuttered store he ran for 20 years.
CAPTION: Curt Callaham, who recently closed his Taylorstown General Store, works at Home Depot.
CAPTION: The Taylorstown General Store had old-fashioned touches like this register.