If streets, stores, parks or other local venues seemed a little devoid of people Tuesday, it might have been because everybody and his brother (and their cattle) seemed to be at the Mount Airy Livestock Exchange.
That included an Angus calf that shyly made its way onto the auction room around noon — as hundreds of buyers, sellers and other spectators waited in the stands — unaware it was making history.
That animal became the first sold Tuesday as the exchange on Locust Lane near Interstate 77 held its grand opening at the former Mount Airy Livestock Market facilities, which had closed three years ago.
“On days like this, you get reminded that agriculture is the greatest industry in the world,” said Mike Anderson, one of three managing partners for the Mount Airy Livestock Exchange, as he surveyed the heavy turnout for the event.
Sellers started showing up Monday at the market, and by Tuesday morning the parking lots there were filled and cattle haulers were parked along both sides of Locust Lane leading into the facility for about a half-mile.
“There’s over a thousand head of cattle in the barns and they’re still coming in,” Anderson said at the market office shortly before Tuesday’s sales began, with all holding pens full at that time.
The impression one got from strolling around the grounds was that the exchange was filling a void that had been empty for too long.
“Mount Airy needed a stockyard,” said Anderson, a resident of Abingdon, Virginia, who launched the enterprise with Russell Williams of Wytheville, Virginia, and Danny Reynolds, also of Abingdon.
“They’ve showed us a Mount Airy welcome,” Anderson added regarding the response in a community known for its hospitality. “This is the best welcome we’ve ever had anywhere we’ve been.” Anderson and his partners previously built a livestock market in Wytheville from the ground up, he said.
Much work went into readying the existing facilities for Tuesday’s grand opening.
“We refurbished a lot of things,” Anderson said. This included air-conditioning the sales area, restroom improvements and other changes. “We wanted you to be able to bring your wife to the sale.”
Reynolds, another of the partners, said that 49 people are on the payroll at Mount Airy Livestock Exchange, which is a boost to the economy along with the presence of market patrons who will be coming for the sales every Tuesday. In addition to cattle, the market will handle sheep and goats.
Anderson said that due to the heavy volume, the opening-day sales would take some time to complete. “It’ll be tomorrow before we get done.”
Tuesday’s opening drew farmers from near and far, including many who brought their families.
Many said not having a livestock market in the Mount Airy area for the past three years has posed a transportation hardship.
“It’s a good thing — a good thing to have it back open,” Jack Duncan of Cana, Virginia, said after unloading seven head of cattle for sale Tuesday.
“We’ve brought cows here for years,” Duncan said of his operation consisting of beef stock and Holsteins.
The Cana resident said he has been forced to drive to other markets in Statesville and Wytheville in the absence of a Mount Airy sales outlet.
Judging by Tuesday’s reception, other people were equally grateful. “It’s an excellent crowd here today,” Duncan said.
Wayne Clark, another livestock producer from Critz, Virginia, in Patrick County, also was thankful for a market closer to his home, one county over.
“I’ve had to drive two hours to go to any market,” Clark said, mentioning one in Moneta, Virginia, in particular.
“Love it,” he added concerning the emergence of Mount Airy Livestock Exchange while preparing to sell an older cow and a calf.
Such opinions seemed rampant Tuesday.
“Several hundred people have thanked us,” Reynolds said of the response to the market’s return.
Anderson thinks Tuesday’s heavy turnout is a barometer for future success.
“It’s going to be good.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.