It’s just after 6 on a pleasant weekday evening and Stanford A. Stanford is manning the cash register at the Economy Food Market on Fall Hill Avenue in Fredericksburg.
While he smoothly rings up an assortment of cigarettes, ice cream, Dr. Pepper and snacks for customers, he’s doing more than checking folks out.
He’s also working hard to create a personal connection with each person who walks through the door. He greets most of them by name and asks about their days, trying to make his store part of the neighborhood.
“I saw you out cutting grass yesterday,” he said to one customer.
If it was in New York, the Economy Food Market would be a classic bodega—a corner store that works its way into the daily lives of people who live nearby.
Before Stanford finishes out the evening shift—his wife Amy handles the day shift—he’ll tell one neighbor that a package he was hoping to pick up hadn’t arrived, another that he was glad to see them after a long absence and tease a third that he’d better get all the items his wife sent him to the store for.
“While we’re a store that looks to have most of the things our customers come in looking for, we’re also a piece of this neighborhood, sort of a community center where people come in to talk and see other neighbors,” said Stanford. “We have people of all ages come in and say they remember their parents bringing them in here when they were 10 or 12 years old.”
The store is a second job for Stanford and his wife. He’s a banker, and she’s a Realtor. They live in Stafford County, and purchased the business in December 2020. COVID-19 regulations prevented them from having a proper grand opening.
But with most restrictions lifted, the Stanfords are holding a grand opening June 26 at 10 a.m., a bit of an ironic moment for a store that dates back to 1914.
Stanford explained that while he and his wife had operated retail clothing stores in the area, they weren’t prepared for everything they would need to know. The shop sells everything from lottery tickets to souse, and offers more than 100 different types of soft drinks.
The previous owner stayed on during the transition, spending more than a month explaining the ins and outs of operating a classic corner store.
“Sure, we’ve got the cigarettes, beer and snacks that bring guests in, but we’ve also got fruit, some vegetables, bologna that we slice and the souse that some customers drive an hour to come get,” Stanford said. “And if we see customers looking for something and not finding it, we ask them about it so we can get it the next time they’re in.”
One recent night, shoppers came in for beer, smokes and ice cream. One came in specifically for Dole strawberry lemonade, an item the customer had requested on a previous visit.
Stanford said they had to create a list of all the products sold at the store, something that only existed in the head of the previous owner.
“We needed to get all that and put it into a system we could work from,” said Stanford. “There was a learning curve as we learned how to price what we sell, and there were a few things we lost money on initially because we didn’t price them correctly. But we got the hang of it.”
He said some of the changes were physical, as they tweaked the store’s layout and check-out counter a bit to improve traffic flow, remove clutter and display products better.
“And we eliminated some things that just weren’t selling, like greeting cards and some champagne no one ever seemed to buy,” Stanford said.
They removed some decorations that seemed a bit out of date, although there are still things like a Washington Redskins poster and artwork you’d never find in a WaWa or 7-Eleven. Stanford said things were slow in the store in the first few months of this year as COVID kept some from coming in, but as warmer weather has returned, so have customers.
“And we’ve had neighbors who came in to welcome us, one bringing flowers one day and saying how glad they are that the store will continue,” he said.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415