The Charles B. Jarrell General Store has served its community daily news and necessities since 1884.
For more than 130 years the Charles B. Jarrell General Store, located 13 miles south of Whitesville on West Virginia Route 3, has been the hub of the wheel of life in Dry Creek. Its floor boards, hewn and laid decades ago, are warped from a century of foot traffic coming and going for groceries, mail, hardware needs, and conversation. Its neat shelves, some just as old, are packed with the necessities of life, while refrigerators bulge with fresh produce, dairy products, meat, and frozen treats. Across from the store register is the Dry Creek Post Office—open 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. weekdays and for two hours Saturday morning—with its rows of bronze mailboxes aglow from light flooding through the store windows. Despite the store’s age, nothing is dusty. This isn’t a museum. It’s the living, breathing heart of Dry Creek, and likely the oldest store in Raleigh County.
The general store was the beginning of it, too. The store opened in June 1884 as a post office. The town, if it could be called a town then, was Jupiter. Its name changed in October of that year, and Dry Creek was born. The general store was first owned by the Barrett family at a time when goods were hauled in via horse and wagon. By 1931 ownership had changed hands to the Jarrells—first to Carl and Ruth who ran the post office and the store for more than 40 years, then to Carol and her husband Charles, and most recently to Gary and his wife Margaret since 2009. “It was going to close, and we didn’t want it to close,” Gary says. And that’s essentially why the store continues today.“It’s addictive,” says Carol Jarrell who, for 35 years, owned and ran the business with her husband, Charles, for whom the store is now named. “You felt like you should be here. You wanted to be here. We were one big family, and you’d see your customers every day.” Carol still comes every day—she lives next door—though she sold the store to her husband’s cousin six years ago. “People come to get their groceries, their mail, their gas. It’s a big part of the community. If it ever shuts down, that’ll be the end of Dry Creek.”
It’s a busy little place. The door jingles the entry of customers every quarter hour or so. Laughter and jokes and news and gossip are as much a reason to visit as a gallon of milk or a pack of Marlboros. The store boasts a dedicated clientele from all walks—miners on their way to work, folks from as close as next door to as far as Whitesville, the young and the old. But despite appearances, keeping the general store going is a labor of love.
As mining dried up and the area lost residents, stores that once riddled Route 3 closed, and wholesalers lost customers. Keeping the shelves stocked with products has only become more difficult, but the Jarrells have their ordering down to a science. “It pays the bills, but it doesn’t pay us anything,” Gary says of the store. “My wife and I work for free. She’s a speech therapist in the schools and every now and then I’ll do a little job.” Gary, grey-haired and jovial, used to do contracting. He’s still putting those skills to use, and not just for his family’s spending cash.
One-hundred-and- thirty-year-old buildings don’t just stick around on their own. “It’s taken a lot to keep this building up. No one has worked underneath it for years, so I’m having to go back to put beams underneath to try to get the floors leveled up,” Gary says. With the help of a store manager, Valerie Blaylock, who’s really more of an adopted family member, he’s cleaning up termite damage, opening walls to fit more coolers, and repainting, between the ongoing work of running a store—all in the name of community. “It’s been in the family,” he says. “It’s the only thing we’ve got in Dry Creek left.”
Written and photographed by Katie Griffith