Store closing marks end of an era in Poolesville
By Susan Singer-Bart
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The Poole family plans to close Poole's General Store in Poolesville at the end of the month.
Fans hope they can persuade the landlord to keep it open.
Laura Beck of Potomac, a lifelong customer, has started a petition drive to keep the store open. She is collecting signatures at the Poole Store, The Surrey saddlery in Darnestown and Callithea Farm stable in Potomac. She hopes the petition will convince the building's owner, the Montgomery County Department of Parks, to hold a public hearing before deciding the store's future.
"The store is a huge part of this community," Beck said. "People are devastated."
The Poole family has run the store along the C&O Canal for 45 years. They bought the business from the Allnutt family, which built the current structure in 1901, according to the Maryland Historic Trust. The Allnutt family rented the store and adjacent house to Raymond and Billie Poole.
Hurricane Agnes in 1972 left more than a foot of water in the store and the Allnutts could not get a loan for repairs or buy flood insurance, said JoAnn Clements, 48, of Poolesville, one of the Pooles' daughters. She and her five brothers and sisters run the store for their parents.
The parks department bought the store, house and many neighboring properties in 1972 and the Pooles have leased the house and store from the department every since, Clements said. The department tore down a number of houses along the river.
Raymond, 84, and Billie, 80, are not in good health, Clements said. The children will move their parents out of the house at the end of the month.
The elder Pooles are upset about closing the store, but they understand it is necessary, she said.
"We've been struggling for a few years now," she said.
That, combined with her parents' health and the expiring lease, made this the right time to close, Clements said.
She and her siblings were raised in the store, Clements said. They remember stacking empty pop bottles in the basement.
Jimmy Poole, 61, of Frederick remembered his father letting him ride along on business trips to Baltimore.
Every Monday and Thursday, Raymond picked up livestock at area farms and delivered the animals to the livestock exchange in Baltimore, he said. Raymond would buy eggs, seed, feed and hardware in Baltimore to sell at the store.
Jimmy Poole was outside the store Friday morning, feeding old customer account records into an open fire. Until a few years ago, customers kept accounts with the store instead of using credit cards, he said.
Over a shed door behind him hung a sign, "Hunting stories told here." Until recent years, the store sold state hunting and fishing licenses and was a weigh-in station during deer season. The shed is where hunters checked in their deer, he said.
An institution for horsemen and hunters, the store sells livestock feed, horse and gardening supplies and bird seed. Its deli counter is popular with hikers, bikers, hunters and local horsemen.
At one time the store was surrounded by cattle farms, but now it is horse farms, said Jack Poole, 58, of Poolesville.
"We're sorry to see it go," said Jack Louth of Potomac, who runs two horse farms in the area.
Louth munched on a hotdog while he paid for horse supplies.
"Poole's has been an institution," Louth said. "It provides an important way to communicate."
When an animal gets loose and runs away, Clements will help retrieve it by spreading the word in the community, he said.
The store's closing is a big loss to the community, Laura Beck said.
"The Pooles run a great mom and pop store," she said.
Walter Rzepkowski and his son Jerry, of Severn, have stopped to buy lunch once a week for the last seven years in hunting season.
"It's terrible they're closing," he said. "It a neat little place."
The store is one of 23 19th century general stores in the county, one of 13 in a rural setting and one of seven still operating as an all-purpose store, said Clare Lise Kelly, a researcher for the county Historic Preservation Commission.
The parks department will clean up and winterize the building, said spokeswoman Kelli Holsendolph. No decision has been made about its future, she said.
None of the siblings know what they will do next. They are sorry to leave the store.
"This is a wonderful community," Clements said. "The people in this community are really friendly, always willing to lend a hand at anything."
During her parents' illnesses, she has left customers to tend the counter while she went next door to care for her parents.
"I understand the Pooles want to be done," Beck said. "It's a shame because we need a local feed store."
If You Go
Santa and Mrs. Claus will make their final visit to Poole's General Store, 16315 Old River Road in Poolesville, from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.