Little stores and scouting did a lot of good for communities

By David Broyles

November 14, 2013

Narrows is a Southwestern Virginia town where a savvy observer can see where almost everybody having their own car was not always the case. The oldest areas in town left no space for parking and just a smidge for sidewalks. Probably because there isn’t much flat land and the founders didn’t want to move any more hillside than necessary.

Hand in glove with this quaint lack of development, as it were, was that many of the “hollers” boasted small grocery stores. Not a mega mart or a convenience store mind you. Back then, I’m told the merchandise was just necessities. The placement of these businesses was important because many people couldn’t hop in a car and drive miles to a big store.

These little groceries were abandoned later on as cheap gasoline, a chicken in every stew pot and “make your get away in a Chevrolet” took hold. I began thinking of them again during the annual Dogwood District Boy Scout Recognition Banquet recently. The reason why is one of my favorite little groceries in Narrows was run by the Harris family and Jerry Harris was my scoutmaster.

The clan Harris ran a lot of produce and did it successfully which requires superhuman savvy, if you ask me. They are an interesting bunch. I can remember hearing about how two Harris brothers once worked together as carpenters. They shared one pair of glasses between them because the only time they needed glasses was when they had to saw something. You can imagine that went over big with the rest of the crew but it showed how straight forward, frugal and forthright the family always was.

All of the help they did for the town when some frequent shoppers fell on hard times will never be known. They just don’t talk about it. The Harris’ and their stores operated this way as a matter of general principal. Calling attention to this would have been like pointing out coins in a vending machine drop down. They were happy to help when they could. It was this same big hearted behavior that got them involved in scouting.

After the banquet, District Chairman David Taylor was talking to me about a lot of the good BSA does and the recent scathing the group has had in the popular media. A lot of cold Klondike Derby memories came flooding back to me.

I was only a Tenderfoot scout but I loved the hiking, camping, crafts and meetings. Jerry and his wife, Evelyn, were family to a lot of boys back then. They still are. I saw a lot of that in Pilot Mountain Tuesday. I left scouting later but Jerry and Evelyn never left me. I truly believe I could have walked in their home in the Elliston Subdivision (aka Hungry Holler) and sat down for supper anytime.

I remember Jerry taking all of us scouts to our first NASCAR race in the back of the grocery’s produce truck. (Things were different then folks.) I am still awestruck at how Evelyn could take the most common ingredients and make the best “campfire stew” I had ever tasted. I remember the troop deciding to use hammocks instead of tents and overlapping them between two trees. We didn’t have the knots quite right and it was a disaster. It always rained when we camped and no matter where Troop 68 pitched our tents there was a rock where my sleeping bag lay.

I can also remember the one guy in the troop who always hurt himself being so proud of being put in charge of teaching safety at camp. A lot was learned and quite a bit of it even revolved around scouting. I’m just not going to say scouting should go away like those little groceries. Times change and a lot of the good both done by scouting and those little groceries is going to be handy again. Scouting hasn’t gone away thankfully and you know, a lot of the small dollar stores popping up remind me of the first really cold soda I ever bought.

It was at Harris Grocery and the sodas were cooled by water. The dryer, newer coolers between cash registers just don’t have the flair.

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.