And I knew I loved Eldridge as soon as I asked her how old she was and she told me she was proud to be 73. It made her 40 years in 1989 when she walked through the door of the store.
It was 33 years ago.
At the time, she was a manager at Yellow Springs Instrument Co. and worked 60 to 80 hours a week, a circumstance that led her to make a crucial management decision: “If I have to kill myself for a business, I will kill myself for me.
When her son-in-law suggested take-out transport, it seemed more suitable than a bar, which her husband had suggested. So Eldridge took a look.
There was fishing gear, bric-a-brac and “more booze than anything else,” he said. But she also saw potential that she believed in.
“You just know in your heart that it’s right and it’s going to work. If you don’t have that (feeling), don’t do it, because it won’t (work).
A year later, the place burned down.
“We had gone to the Ducks Unlimited banquet the day before. There was a sign hanging on the front of the building and a ballast went out,” she recalled.
When the electrical circuits went out a time or two, store employees turned them back on and a fire broke out. And when volunteer firefighters hit the rising wall of flames at the front of the store with a jet of water, he found dry wood to burn in the back.
“We had to get the kids out of the house ‘behind the store,'” Eldridge recalled.
“It was so devastating…and heartbreaking.”
But a solid insurance policy and a helpful builder reopened the place on April 1, 1990. Eldridge then paid the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms $250 for a license to sell cigarettes with alcohol, milk and soft drinks.
The name of the agency also gave him an idea.
“I had alcohol and tobacco,” she said. Being so close to the public hunting at the Reservoir, “might as well get some firearms.
She remembers the licensing process as “quite an adventure”.
And while she did her due diligence in researching the business, “I learned more about firearms through my customers and word of mouth.”
This story highlights what Eldridge quickly identified as the crucial element at work in any convenience store’s success: its relationship with its customers. And she always stayed above that.
“I don’t care if you’re busy, if someone bothers to walk through the door, you take the time to say hello. We are all in the same position trying to make a living. We have different levels of responsibility, but we all do the same thing.
Along the way, she added booze, tobacco, and gun lottery tickets — like any convenience store should — and kept looking for ways to make things a little better. And as she did – always with her clients in mind – friendship merged with business.
Before she could imagine it, she was selling guns and fishing and hunting licenses first to the children of her first clients, then to their grandchildren.
The community they’ve formed can’t seem to get enough of photo contests during deer season and turkey season. And fishing and hunting gear giveaways for kids are popular enough that the adult winner of the Spring Mushroom Photo Contest turned in their winnings to the store so the kids can get some more.
For regulars, “It’s like Cheers,” said 30-year-old customer Marty DeWine. “Everyone knows your name. »
In a way lost to many, Eldridge has come to appreciate what her clients do to preserve species and the environment.
“If it weren’t for the hunters tending the land or buying land or renting farms for the animals, this world would be in bad shape,” she said.
She also learned that just as pheasants were devastated by habitat destruction in the 1978 blizzard, wild turkeys survive near the margins of habitat change and their presence depends on the health of their habitat.
“If animals don’t survive, humans surely won’t,” Eldridge said. “Because we keep ecosystems to support their life, we know we are doing the right job.”
Her own life changed a lot in four years when her husband passed away. Among the consequences, the transformation of the family dog, Dinky, into a business adviser.
“I didn’t know what to do with him, because he was never left alone (before),” she said.
When she started bringing it to work, “clients loved it,” she said. “He would be involved in a lot of gun deals (that regulators might or might not know about) and entertain a lot of kids.”
Since Eldridge sold the place to Taylor Pelfrey on April 11, Dinky has been missed, Pelfrey said.
She arrived with the quality number that a convenience store needs: “I had a lot of experience in customer service. »
And, as Eldridge points out, the 27-year-old emerged from the local habitat.
After growing up in Northridge, “she moved to the neighborhood about four years ago” and on her first visit said, “What a lovely little store! One day I will own this. “
“It’s so relaxing and welcoming,” Pelfrey said. “Everyone says hello and you make friends and everyone is awesome.”
She said the ‘accounting and behind the scenes’ were ‘a bit difficult’ at first – ‘a few tears were shed’.
But now, “I feel like I’m fine.”
None of Pelfrey’s pets are on the payroll yet, but Pelfrey’s husband Derek is involved in the operation and their 3-year-old son Walker ‘thinks he owns the place’ , Eldridge said.
Pelfey also benefits from a business decision made by Eldridge when fire destroyed the store in the first year of his ownership.
In the old place, “the counter was a big horseshoe right in the middle,” Eldridge said. “And it was really, really awkward, especially because of the drive-in window on the north side of the store.
So she moved the ledger near the front door, placed the hunting and fishing gear on the south wall, and concentrated the convenience store items in the center.
“It’s something that I love,” Pelfrey said. “People who come in who don’t care about guns,” she said, don’t have to be exposed to them.
But because all the customers mix at the counters and in the other aisles, she says, “we can talk about it and understand that we don’t have the same opinions on everything and that’s fine.”
On this subject, Eldridge had a similar intuition to the one she had when she bought the store.
“You know, something is going on. It’s like all over the world, we’re out of sync. But I notice that good people do their best to become better people. On a normal day, “they step in and let you know” with smiles and hellos that they are people of goodwill.
For some, at least, it’s goodwill hunting season.