A Country Store Carries On
It’s been called the best country store in South Carolina. You can buy Virginia cured hams there, and you can buy gas, diesel, propane, shotgun shells, wrenches, and frying pans. Why you can even buy hog heads for headcheese, red hash, fig jam, hoop cheese, Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, and cheap wine there. As country stores in this part of the South go, it’s famous. Its fame, in fact, earned it a spot in the esteemed Southern magazine, Garden & Gun. So, if you have a hankering to see a genuine survivor, an honest-to-goodness country store, get in your car and drive US 521 to Salters, South Carolina. There sits Cooper’s Country Store on a major backroad to the Grand Stand.
You can’t miss it. The red-and-white two-story store commands the eye. The big Exxon sign on top the living quarters adds its splash of patriotic colors to the scene. So does the Pepsi sign to the right in front of the upstairs porch. The store is classic and just about everything about it delights the senses. Go to the rear and stand near the fine Southampton hams hanging in a screened-off cage. Inhale an aroma that has been making mouths water for many, many decades.
Everywhere you look, a jumble of sights delights the eyes: cookies, candies, hand-lettered signs, and an amazing table featuring the shiny brass heads of 12-gauge shotgun shells. Fan belts hang on racks. The bacon here makes many a breakfast at the beach a feast. Curiously out of place is a surveillance camera, a sign of the times and not at good one.
Toilet tank repair kits, eyebolts (Good for hanging Pawley’s Island hammocks), and collectible but not for sale old farm implements grace the store. A precursor in a way to Walmart, old country stores like Cooper’s provided just about anything country folk needed.
Cotton farmer, Theron Burrows, built the store in 1937. Known from the start as Burrow’s Service Station, it sold Esso gas. The name changed in 1974 when Burrow’s son-in-law, George Cooper, and Burrows’s daughter, Adalyn, took over the venerable store. Russell Cooper runs the store today.
Like a lot of old country stores that surrendered to time, Cooper’s Country Store is a two-story affair with a home upstairs where the proprietors once lived and occasionally still stay. The French have a beautiful architectural term describing the covered entrance beneath which vehicles drive through: “porte cochere,” a porch where vehicles stop to discharge passengers. Well, you can be sure a lot of vehicles and passengers have passed through here, and so should you.
I should issue a warning to people hell bent to get to the beach. Don’t stop at Cooper’s Country Store. You’ll linger far longer than you intend. God knows you may end up late to the land of traffic congestion, Yankee accents, “anyways,” and wacky golf. But, for those who want to see what was a common part of their grandparents’ lives, you’ll find the old store at the intersection of 521 and 377, the junction where the past meets the present.
If You Go…
Be sure to drive through nearby Salters to see an old whistle-stop town.
For more information: SouthernFoodways.org.
- Images: All of the photos were taken by the author, Tom Poland