MARIE, W.Va. -- In an era when big-box stores can be found on the outskirts of virtually every town and convenience stores pop up at nearly every intersection, the rural general store is rapidly becoming a relic.
But here, along the Summers-Monroe County line in the farming community of Marie, an 1898-vintage general store continues to thrive by filling a special niche -- selling antique general store accoutrements to customers from across the country, as well as basic groceries, snack foods and sodas to locals.
At Emma Jean's General Store, you can buy a pack of cigarettes, a roll of toilet paper or a box of sugar and avoid a 12-mile drive to a supermarket in Hinton. It's also the place to go if you're looking to buy an early 20th-century 50-drawer penny candy display case, a watch crystal display case, authentic cracker and sugar bins, or display cases for thread spools, fountain pens and bolts of oilcloth.
"We've had people here from every state, except, for some reason, South Dakota," said Jean Goldberg, the store's namesake and proprietor since 2003. "A lot of our customers are antique shop owners, or homeowners looking for certain pieces" to match their décor.
Goldberg and her late husband, Martin, dealt in antiques and operated a wine and cheese shop, and later, a deli, in Bethesda, Md., when they saw an ad in an antique publication and learned that the old Marie General Store, built in 1898 and vacant for the past 20 years, was being auctioned off.
"We came here just to buy signs," said Golberg. "We got here on a Sunday and learned that the signs had been sold on Saturday, but the store itself was being auctioned that day."
Since they were already there, the Goldbergs decided to take in the sale, and fell in love with the building, its location, and apparently, its price. They ended up buying the store, had it restored, and moved into its attached living quarters.
"We had to redo the oak floors, fix the roof and put on new siding," said Goldberg. Then they began the process of stocking the building, which contained nothing but shelves when they bought it.
"We find some antiques in this area, but mostly they come from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York," she said. Her son, Charles, a recently retired teacher, spends much of his time on the road, buying and selling antiques for the store.
According to "History of Marie Community" written by W.T. Maddy in 1925, Marie consisted of about 40 farm families in the late 1800s. The town was far enough off the beaten path that "kerosene oil lamps were not introduced until 1870, the pine knot and tallow candle being still in use at that time. Salt was hauled from the Kanawha River and cost $9 a barrel. The flint lock rifle was still in use and the 'deer lick' was still watched by night."
A single room in the home of W.A. Goode served as the community's store until 1898, when Young and Co. built the building now occupied by Emma Jean's General Store. According to Maddy's account, the store was later operated by W. A. Barger, C.N. Vass, the McNeer Brothers and E.J. Vass. A post office opened in an addition to the store building in 1900.
Goldberg said she had no trouble making the transition from living in the bustling suburbs of Washington, D.C., to the life of a storekeeper along a sparsely traveled country road in the rolling farm country of southeastern West Virginia.
Being surrounded with antiques, as well as the tranquility and scenic beauty of the countryside has been a blessing. "And the people here have been very good to me," she said, "although I think they may have been a little skeptical at first.