BEAN BLOSSOM — After 126 years of business, there is no grocery store in Bean Blossom.
The lights are still on. They are always on.
The cigarette displays are lit; the carts and baskets are stacked in their places. Loaves of bread form a sparse line on shelves just past the registers.
Everything is positioned as if the store were about to open, but it has been hours since that time, and no one is coming to unlock the doors.
On Feb. 23, news began to circulate that McDonald’s Shopworth was closed. The next day, an employee answered the phone and said they were staying open.
Three days later, the doors were closed again.
Magazines and newspapers have piled up outside.
A vendor posted a notice on the door asking to be contacted “when occupancy is gained” in order to retrieve products.
Because the store has been shuttered for so long, the Brown County Health Department has posted signs saying it cannot reopen without an inspection.
Brittany Browning, a 19-year-old Shopworth employee who lives in the nearby Bean Blossom Trailer Court, is still waiting to be paid.
She has been calling and texting owner Jake Singh for two weeks.
Aside from assurances that her pay will come and that a sale of the store is in the works, she has nothing else to go on.
Jim McDonald owns the property and was selling the store on contract to Singh.
McDonald’s sister, Diana McDonald Biddle, said their family is not being told anything more than the rest of the community.
McDonald is trying to find out what he can do if Singh continues to be out of contact.
Rog Singh, who identified himself as a cousin, owns Fayetteville General Store in Bedford, where Jake Singh was a manager before buying the Shopworth in February 2014.
Even he has not been able to get Jake Singh to return his calls.
In the neighborhood
As an employee and a Bean Blossom resident, Browning sees both sides of Shopworth being closed.
An easy walk from where she and her boyfriend live, it was both her living and a regular grocery stop.
“Whenever I didn’t have a car at the time, I’d walk down there, buy my groceries, come home,” she said. “You know, simple. Easy as could be.”
By March 8, she had been waiting two weeks for a paycheck.
“We’re still not sure what’s going on,” she said. “He’s supposed to have the store sold by the end of March. That is what we were told by him.”
Cindy Gilliam worked at the Shopworth last winter when server jobs in Nashville was difficult to find. Normally, she works two jobs waiting on Brown County’s tourists.
“I love him to death. He would do anything for me; I would do anything for him,” she said about Singh. “I think that he just got in too much over his head, buying something that he wasn’t able to keep the store stocked the way it should be stocked.”
Yet, Gilliam felt Singh does not shoulder all the blame for the state of the store.
“I think when it started going downhill, people stopped coming there, too, instead of supporting it,” she said.
“That’s shame on them, because, to me, if you live in the community, you should support your community.”
Gilliam is concerned that Singh’s ethnicity was a factor in the lack of community support.
“You know, I hear that about the Morgantown gas station as well,” she said. “The ‘foreigners’ own it, so some people aren’t going to go to it, because of that. And to me, that’s not what a community should do. It should be diversified. I really do believe it should be diversified.”
A piece of the community
Orlene Gritton will miss the store if it remains closed, she said.Though it is not the only place she shops, it is convenient, and she had missed the availability of groceries even as the stock declined over the past months.
She still remembers the days before owner Jack McDonald — Jim McDonald’s father — passed away, stopping to talk with him when she passed by.
“Even there at the last, he would be sittin’ on the bench outside,” she said.
Biddle was unable to say much about how she felt about the state of her late parents’ store.
“I — I can’t even talk about it,” she said. “It upsets me that much.”
Browning said there isn’t much else left to tie Bean Blossom together; the loss of the Shopworth has left a tear in the community.
Jack Smith, who works at a local furniture store and lives in the trailer court, claims a personal connection to the store through his name: he said he was named after Jack McDonald.
He does not hold much faith that Singh is going to reopen the store. Like many residents, he just hopes someone will be able to bring a local grocery to the spot.
Across State Road 135 from the store, Lisa Kelp manages Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park.
For the people who attend events — especially the ones who camp there — the Shopworth served an essential role, she said.
“They’ll go get a pizza for dinner one night. They’ll go over and get their milk, or, you know, their staples,” she said.
If the Shopworth doesn’t reopen in some form, Kelp expects the park will try to make up for by stocking staples in their camp store.
Bean Blossom is about halfway between the two nearest IGA stores, in Nashville and Morgantown.
In Morgantown, Woodchuck IGA owner Randy Wood has already started to reach out to Bean Blossom residents.
He placed yard signs heading north and posted on Facebook specifically welcoming Bean Blossom customers. He is also looking into placing advertisements.
“Since they are closed, we do see a few more folks who are coming this direction,” he said.
Woods said many Bean Blossom customers may have shopped there in the past and are now coming more often. As the only other store in the area aside from Shopworth that served Hutch Brother’s pizza, he hopes there are many ways his store can help to fill the gap.
In Nashville, Brown County IGA store manager Wayne Koester said they have noticed a little increased traffic from Bean Blossom over the past year or two.
For now, like everyone else, they are waiting to see if McDonald’s Shopworth has seen its last day, or if someone will be bringing it back to life.