Laura Dean Bennett
Ever since it was announced that Bob and Ruth Taylor would be retiring and selling Taylor’s Grocery, the entire county has wondered what would become of the Rt. 219 fixture which has been part of life in Hillsboro for so many decades.
Well, I’m pleased to tell you that it’s not only going to reopen, but it looks like it’s coming back strong, with new owners, new ideas, new products and a new name.
What used to be called Taylor’s Service Station and Grocery is going to be somewhat the same, and somewhat different.
The new name will be Levels Depot – and there’s a story behind that name.
“You never know what’s going to come in at a depot,” owner Brenda Walters said. “There’s always something new on the shelves and something happening.”
Walters, a longtime resident of Droop Mountain, is embarking on a completely new course in life.
Walters and her business partner, Harley Squires – who happens to also be her son – bought the building as an investment, but also as a way to reach out to the community and give something back.
Squires, who will be living close by, will help out with day-to-day operations.
Neither Walters nor Squires have any experience in owning and operating a store.
She said she just decided to jump in head-first.
“Well, I did have a professional career in counseling and lots of experience waitressing, too,” laughs Walters. “But nothing like retail experience, nothing like running a store.”
In a few days, on March 11, the Levels Depot will be open for business.
There’s got to be a lot riding on this, after all, this is a big investment.
Many of us would be as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
But not Walters.
She says she’s not worried at all.
“I just go with the flow, and I just concentrate on my priorities – God, my family, doing the right thing – and then everything else.”
Walters and her son aren’t just in it for the money.
Perhaps the beginning of the story goes back three years.
That’s when a tragic accident changed her son’s life and her own forever.
But first, a little back story.
Walters and her now ex-husband came to Pocahontas County 30 years ago from a little town in Ohio.
They were looking for a place where they could get away from the hustle and bustle – a good place to raise their son, Harley.
And they found it in Pocahontas County. The whole family loved it.
Harley grew up here and graduated from Pocahontas County High School.
He moved away and settled in California.
Three years ago, while living in California, Harley suffered a traumatic brain injury in a terrible accident when a tree fell and hit him.
The way her neighbors and the local community stepped up and offered their support was nothing short of wonderful, Walters said.
“When that happened to Harley, I received such an outpouring of thoughts, prayers and love from my friends and neighbors here in Pocahontas County. It was truly amazing.
“I drew such strength from it! I was so grateful and I’ll never forget it.
“I’ve been wanting to do something to give back to this community which has been so good to me and to Harley.”
So, when the possibility of buying the Taylor’s store and becoming the store proprietor presented itself, Walters said, “I’ll do it.”
Walters is proud that she will be bringing in local meats and vegetables to provide a “fresh farm to store” service for her community.
She’s also looking to reach out to anyone in the area who makes homemade jams and jellies, crafts, soaps and grow their own gardens.
She will be getting a lot of fresh produce from Roland Cutlip, whose high tunnels are conveniently located right next door.
While there will be lots that will be new at the store, some things will not change.
The Levels Depot will still be a place for drivers to fill their vehicles with gasoline, diesel or get off-road fuels.
You’ll still be able to get the usual convenience store supplies there.
There will still be the bait and fishing equipment, hunting and camping supplies, tourism brochures and the bulletin board, with posted notices of local interest.
But keep looking around in the Levels Depot, and you will spy some things that are new.
In addition to the chips and candy bars and ice cream bars in the freezer, you’ll find some healthier options like “Kind Bars” and gluten-free products, like gluten-free pizza.
There will be “fair-trade” coffees and teas for sale.
If you can use a bit of a pick-me-up, there will always be a cup of Folgers fresh-brewed coffee waiting for you, but, for a change of pace, Walters will also be featuring a fresh pot of Dirt Bean coffee every day.
She’s looking forward to also bringing in bulk foods, like nuts and dried beans.
Walters and Harley are going to have the assistance of one employee, local Hillsboro musician David Kershner.
Walters says she’s extremely fortunate to be getting a lot of help with the store from her family and friends.
“I really have the whole village behind me,” she said with her hundred watt smile.
Her husband, Randy Pritt, has been “just great. He’s been doing a lot of the work around here,” she said.
“And Bob Taylor is my guru!” He has answered a thousand questions.
“I have to give him a shout out for all of his help. And we are so lucky, because Bob will be here to fill in occasionally for David.”
“I also have to say how grateful I am to have had the help of Ruthana McNeel Beezley and the West Virginia Hive.
“That is a group that assists small start-up businesses, like mine. They got me my Quickbooks software and are paying for my first three months’ accountant fees.
“Not knowing a darn thing about business, it was great having Ruthana’s guidance. I really appreciate that.”
Getting the new store ready to open has taken a lot of money, planning and hard work.
Walters and her son have been rearranging, painting and cleaning to beat the band.
The outside of the store will be getting a makeover, too. Walters has already repainted the awning and the entire exterior is slated to be painted a cheerful gold color.
They’re finally in the home stretch now, with opening day coming up on the 11th.
Walters is already looking down the road past the opening. She said she has a lot of other plans in mind for the Levels Depot.
“Oh, I hope there are going to be lots of little, and maybe even big, surprises around here as time goes on,” she said, smiling.
Walters plans to open an indoor ice skating rink in back of the store, hopefully, next fall, and she already has a name for it – “Infinity Ice Rink.”
“The rink won’t be real ice,” she said. “It will be made of synthetic material that snaps together. And it will be solar powered.
“In fact, I’d eventually like to have the whole store solar powered.
“We’ll see,” she teased.
One thing’s for sure, the store’s beautiful old oak floors will shine again – reflecting Brenda Walters’ sunny attitude as she greets her customers in an old store, sailing into the 21st century on the wings of new ideas and under new management.
Beginning Sunday, March 11, the Levels Depot will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Call them at 304-653-4689.
Ruth Taylor provided the following history about the store:
Jim Lilley built the original section of the store in 1954 and added the newer end for a restaurant in the early ‘60s. Bob and Ruth Taylor bought it in 1972 and added the living area in the back in 1980.
Taylors owned the business for 45 years.
Laura Dean Bennett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org