By Sandy Semans Ross | Outer Banks Voice on May 27, 2020
With schools now resorting to online teaching due to the Covid-19 closure, the Hyde County school system is still feeding breakfast and lunch to more than 500 each day by delivering the meals to their homes. For many, the meals may be their only source of fresh meat and produce.
Farrow’s Red and White grocery store sat across the road from Gibbs Store for 60 years. “Mama and Daddy opened the store in 1960,” said Blair Farrow, the daughter of the late couple, Melba and Billy Farrow.
This is the last of a three-part series on the history and struggles of the small rural Hyde County community of Engelhard, NC.
“My mother’s dad came from Johnston County and brought a work crew to build the original structure. The next year, a hurricane took part of the roof off during the night,” said Farrow. “When dad got to work the next morning, Mr. Long had a truckload with plywood, and a few men, waiting for dad. They volunteered their time to repair the roof.”
In 1976, the store doubled in size after an addition was built. The business was immune to flood waters until Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003 and brought the first flood waters into the store.
Most of those years, Friday afternoons were always busy after workers were paid and went there to do their weekly grocery shopping. Cooking staples, fresh meat, produce and a few sundry items filled the shelves, coolers and freezers.
In addition to family shopping, fishermen, preparing to go back out to fish, would push multiple shopping carts around to hold the large amount of purchases needed to feed a boat load of fishermen for days. Some were from locally docked vessels, others were from boats from other states who came in to sell their catch and head back out to fish some more or head for home port in another state.
For most of its business life, the grocery store was one of only two in the county, the other one being in Fairfield.
In 2009, with Melba passed, Billy decided it was time to hang up his grocer’s apron, and he sold the business to the owner of Chris’s Grocery in Swanquarter. Chris Williams, owner of the grocery stores, could not be reached for comment for this story.
It was business as usual with mostly the same employees, the same family shopping and fishermen stocking up their boats. But that changed when a chain store came to the village. Dollar General, as do other similar retail giants, targets areas with low economic bases. Initially, the general merchandise store stocked some food products, mostly canned and boxed items.
Because of its corporate buying power, the store had lower prices that appealed to those stretching their meager paychecks. Slowly the store expanded its food section by adding dairy cases and selling frozen prepared meals and vegetables. Each expansion was more competition to the locally owned Red and White, which couldn’t compete with the pricing.
“My mother always shopped at Farrow’s but when Dollar General came in, she just had to switch to the lower prices,” said Tonya Roberts, of Washington. “But there are some things that the new store doesn’t carry and she always bought her meat from the old store.”
Finally, in January of this year, the 60-year-old grocery closed, leaving the village with no access to fresh meat and produce.
Because her mother is no longer able to drive, Roberts said that she purchases her meat in Washington and delivers it to her every couple of weeks. “Some of the family members still have gardens and share with her, but I still bring some vegetables and fresh fruit.”
Following the closure of the store, a small business that housed gaming machines and a pool table, placed a sign out by the road heralding that it was selling meat and produce. Owned by Walter Gibbs, its life was cut short. Signs placed outside the business say that it is temporarily closed due to a government shutdown as well as supply problems caused by Covid-19.
For at least some children, the meat and produce served with their meals from Hyde County Schools is their only source for those items.
For more than 60 years, the grocery store, general merchandise store and the bank were within a stone’s throw of each other.
As has long been the case, Gibbs Store is the only constant in the life in Engelhard where there now is no bank, no fresh meat and no produce to be found. Also missing are jobs, opportunity, and a strong economic base.
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