Driver general store fights for survival

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

Greg Parker contemplates an uncertain future for Arthur’s General Store in Driver. He says the tough economy has combined with other factors to create a “perfect storm” threatening the end of his beloved business.

Arthur’s General Store in Driver, a beloved village institution since 1929, is on the verge of closing, proprietor Greg Parker says.

But Parker’s friends have rallied to help, organizing a fundraising event at the store at 3118 Kings Highway tomorrow, hoping to raise $20,000 through donations to fend the wolves at the door.

Parker blames the economic downturn, the closure of the Kings Highway Bridge, and the fact that in the age of Walmart, he has run the business more as a traditional community store than a cutthroat business.

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“I would say the number-one factor was the economy,” he said. “I think this has been coming for a long time.

“Kings Highway Bridge getting closed has cut around 3,000 vehicles a day” from channeling through the village, he added. “That’s a lot of it. Those would be the two main factors.”

Parker said that 2008’s tornado, which took the store’s roof and porch and smashed windows, forcing it to close for two weeks while the community helped to rebuild, also had a hand in the store’s possible demise.

Parker says his primary residence is about to be foreclosed on, and “it’s going to bleed over” to the store his maternal grandfather built in 1929.

He said he had sensed a slowdown even before the tornado, and that the store has been hanging in the balance for two or three years.

Saturday’s fundraiser, from 1 to 7 p.m. (or later if the good times are rolling, Parker says), will include live music, barbecue from Bill Rucker (to be served about 2-3 p.m.) and cornhole, and children will be encouraged to take some chalk and play hopscotch and other games on the asphalt.

Entry is free, and visitors are encouraged to make donations.

“We’re keeping it really simple,” Parker said. “This is my friends doing this.”

Live music has been ringing inside the store’s clapboard walls since his friends began performing there odd Friday nights about three years ago.

“It dawned on me, I’m going to do it every Friday night, and I have not missed many,” Parker said.

The store’s interior sports signs promoting a Facebook page, requesting “Likes” from customers, hanging near antique furniture, old soda bottles and vintage metal advertising signs.

The store evidently hasn’t changed much during its lifetime, at least not in appearance. But if it survives, Parker plans to turn it into “more of a destination place,” with signature foods, for instance.

“We’d look to expand music to a couple of nights a week, make it more of a destination-type place,” Parker said.

“This is just my little store,” he continued, emotion in his voice. “If I give up the store and go somewhere else and work, I’m going to have a roof over my head somewhere.

“It might not matter to some people, but it means a lot to others. If the store were to fold, I think it would have a pretty big impact. It’s something that speaks to us as Americans. It’s like that little corner store that we still want to hang on to.”