“It shows the value of Trent’s that it didn’t close when the by-pass went in.” ~ Suzanne Stewart
There is a rare jewel in the Green Bank/Arbovale area.
The first thing that might come to mind is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and, to be sure, it is a rarity in itself.
But just around the bend from there is a throw-back to the days of a tight-knit, helping hands foundation that supports and enhances life in small communities.
It is Trent’s General Store in Arbovale – one of three Trent’s stores that meets the needs of the people in the upper end of Pocahontas County. It may go unnoticed that while meeting everyday needs, it also reminds us of a tradition of the past.
While Trent’s is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week, it is closed on Sunday.
That was the normal operating practice of businesses years ago, but, today, that practice, itself, is a rarity.
A recent visit to the store on a damp, overcast day found Ebbie and Betty Mullenax, their son-in-law, Bob Ervine, and grandson, Donnie, smiling and getting ready for the day.
“You picked a good day to come,” Betty said. “We’re not busy this morning.”
Well, that lasted about two minutes, then the phone rang. There was a problem with a cooler at one of Trent’s stores in Bartow, and customers began to enter the store. Once set in motion, the action did not stop. The interview ended and observation began.
Ebbie was busy at the meat counter. Donnie settled in at the hunting and fishing license computer. Clerks Sherry Chestnut and Debbie Bierly were ready to help their neighbors – from the check-out counter to the key making machine.
All agreed that it is the people that make the work at Trent’s worthwhile.
“If not for the people, I wouldn’t be here,” Bierly said.
The joy of being a part of the community was reinforced recently when Betty was off work due to a broken arm.
“It’s the people,” she said, as to why she continues to work there. “I found that out when I had my arm broke.”
Chestnut’s friendly disposition gained her what might be called “the hug seen around the world.”
Numerous media outlets find their way to the NRAO, and they usually make their way to Trent’s as part of that journey.
Without fail, these news stories include an aside about the lack of cell phone and wi-fi service in the “quiet zone.”
In a recent segment aired on the Today show, Chestnut explained to Today correspondent Kerry Sanders the importance of one-on-one contact versus cell phone connection with her neighbors. The difference between a text and a handshake or hug, she said.
Sanders asked her for a hug, and she complied.
When Betty found herself at home, recovering from her broken arm, she still had the support of her family. And that family supports others, as well. Residents in the area, who lack transportation, can call in their order to Trent’s, and groceries will be delivered to their door. A service that was common years ago, but has become a rarity, as well.
One of the many daily visitors to the store is Arbovale resident Artie Barkley, who was accompanied by his grandson, Jared Paul, on this particular day.
“I come down here every day for information,” Barkley said, after inquiring about the health of one of the neighbors.
There was friendly banter between Betty and Barkley as she said, “he keeps me going,” and he replied, “Betty makes me cakes every now and then.”
Folks are happy in Arbovale.
Barkley, who spent 41 years at Cass Scenic Railroad as part of the track crew, as engineer and as shop foreman said, “My grandad came here in 1895, and I’ve been around a little bit, and I’ve never seen anywhere I’d rather be than here. When I die, they’ve got a place for me right down there” he said, pointing toward the Arbovale Cemetery.
Barkley plans for his tombstone to continue to tell his story.
“On the back of it, I want it to say ‘look toward Cheat. You might hear the whistle.”’
Customer service, history, news and humor go hand-in-hand at Trent’s, and Barkley’s quip of that day was, “I’m so dumb, it takes me and hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.”
Betty’s and Ebbie’s connection to the community goes way back, and they have been privy to the news and jokes from customers for more than 50 years.
Betty worked for former owner Bill Arbogast and store namesake Omar Trent. Ebbie began his career there in 1965, and he and Betty bought the store a few years later.
Their six-day workweek encompassed 12 hours a day at that time, but when son-in-law, Bob, and their daughter, Debbie, bought the store in 1992, they cut back on their hours.
Ebbie and Betty work five hours a day, six days a week now, opening the store in the morning, then returning to close it in the evening.
As for the by-pass that was put in years ago, Betty said, “we were worried to death. But, as it turned out, it helped.”
The by-pass did not negatively affect Trent’s business, because a turn in the road cannot undo years of service.
“We love that little store,” said retired Sheets Garage owner Charlie Sheets, of Green Bank. “They have a really nice meat case. They have the freshest meat of any place around, and we trust that. Ebbie grinds the sausage and we use it for our [Durbin Lions Club] pancake and sausage dinner every spring, and people look forward to that sausage.”
“That sausage” is one of Trent’s signature offerings. It is made from a recipe handed down through Betty’s family. It was first made by Betty’s grandmother, Ollie Brown.
“The recipe was in an old cookbook, “Betty said. “It is the one and only sausage recipe that we use.”
Sheets said friends who have camps in the area depend on Trent’s for steaks and sausage, and all their fresh meat.
“Being a man,” Sheets said, “I like the hardware store. You can get about any small plumbing item or electrical item you need.”
Sheets talked about the baking goods, as well. He said his wife, Carolyn, needed a particular spice a while back, so he went to Trent’s and, sure enough, they had it.
“It’s like a small Kroger,” he said.
Products are one thing, but a feeling of extended family is what ties folks to Trent’s.
“When the Lions Club makes their pork rinds, Bob supports the club,” Sheets said. “He donates a tank of propane and provides drinks for members while they are working. They’re good people and we’re glad to have them in the community.”
Trent’s is a part of the community in many ways. They have regular customers who work at Snowshoe and at the NRAO. It is a handy stopping place. Trent’s employees are helpful and it is and has been a part of people’s lives.
“I love that store,” said NRAO Business Manager Michael Hostine, “and they are great people. I had a waterline break the Sunday before opening day of buck season and didn’t have the part I needed. Hated so much to do it, but I called Bobby at home and, no problem, he opened the store so that I could get the part and pay him later.”
That is not a rare occurrence.
That is Trent’s normal way of doing business.
“It is a very unique store,” said Joe McGurrin who works for Meck’s Construction in Green Bank. “It’s not just hardware or bread. They put in what’s necessary. You may not get the exact color or style, but you can get what you need.”
Melinda Meck agrees.
“If they don’t have it, ask, and they will get it for you. I used to buy our cleaning supplies in bulk from COSTCO,” she said. “A couple of years ago, I started calling Donnie, and he orders supplies by the case for me. They’ve always taken good care of us. They will stay late if some-one’s pump goes out. They wait around to see if we need more parts to fix it. And they will come in on Sundays or after hours.”
But, perhaps, Jacob Meck summed it up best.
“I will be forty-one-years-old this coming month, and I have been going to Trent’s since day one,” Jacob said. “My dad got gas there every Saturday as near to 7 p.m. as he could. He closed them down every Saturday night.
“Betty is just like a grandmother to me. You go around that turn, and Ebbie is still cutting meat, and Betty has always been there.
“Nothing there has changed in my lifetime.”
Trent’s in Arbovale has everything from ribeyes and water heaters to deer corn. Don’t just look – ask. There is truly more than meets the eye there.
Trent’s #2 in Bartow has a laundromat and convenience store.
Trent’s #3 in Bartow has gas pumps, and a snack bar, and it is known for its homemade pepperoni rolls.
This family and their employees work hard, and thoroughly enjoy being a part of everybody’s family.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org