These days, it seems like Big Box grocers and convenience stores are on nearly every corner in every city in America. But, if you live in a small, rural town, you might do your shopping at the general store. That's what the people of Skull Valley - just south of Prescott - have been doing for nearly 100 years. And where would they go if the store shut down? As Arizona Public Radio's Aaron Granillo reports, they're about to find out.
It's about 8 o'clock in the morning when Archy McDonald opens up the Skull Valley General Store. And, within a few minutes, "The Boys" - as Archy calls them - start to file in. They're a group of locals; some retired, others old cowboys. And, for about a decade, they've been coming here nearly every morning to drink coffee and make small talk around the store's wood stove.
"We never solve anything," Richard Bowerman says. "The next day we go over the same thing again because we forgot what we talked about the day before."
But soon, there won't be a 'next day' because after tonight, the Skull Valley General Store will be out of business for the first time since it opened in 1916. Bob Pearson has been coming to the store since he was a boy - nearly 70 years. "It was the center of activity, basically, in a rural community," Pearson says. It was a place to get fresh meat and horseshoes. And one of the state's first post offices operated out of the store. "Back in those days," Pearson says, "it wasn't very easy to go to an alternate source. For instance, a trip to Prescott would take them a half a day. Today, we can drive 20 miles."
The store is just down the road from the old Skull Valley Depot. That's where the train would stop to let off ranchers and miners. But, the depot hasn't been operating since the late 1960's, which has meant no extra business from passengers for nearly 50 years.
Lilly Bergin is the self-proclaimed "Storekeep" at the general store. "So, I do whatever needs doing," she says. Bergin's worked here for about 10 years, and she's not sure what she's going to do for work - or her social life. For 98 years, the store has been the town's main hangout. Today, she's gathered with some friends to talk about old times at the store. "You know, we watched people's kids, we rescued people's dogs that were out in the middle of the road. Met my best friends here." Bergin and her friends wonder what it will be like to have to drive 20 miles to the nearest grocery store in Prescott. "I know my husband will have to remember to buy his Copenhagen in town, says one of the women. "It's going to be tough on the guy."
But, no matter how important the general store is to the community, the reality is it just isn't making enough money. So, after 19 years of running the place, owner Archy McDonald is closing the doors. "This wasn't a light decision to make," he says. "There's a lot of thought, and a lot of prayer."
Right now, McDonald's prayers are focused on a new buyer. He's hopeful that somebody new will step in and revive the heart of Skull Valley.