“I’m trying to keep it like it was back in the ’30s and ’40s,” said Meyer, who rents the historic Bell’s Store building in the Buffington community to house her thriving business. “I want to keep it the way it is. That’s why people move out to this community.”
Meyer doesn’t appear to be alone in her push to save the building, which was built in 1935 by Edwin Bell Sr. as a general store, from developer Jim Rollins, who plans to buy the land her market sits on at the corner of Highway 20 and Union Hill Road to build a Flash Foods gas station.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 600 people had signed an online petition on change.org to stop the plans.
More people shopping in Cherokee Market on Thursday morning said they would also hate to see the old store go.
“There’s no place else in Cherokee County to get fresh produce,” said Pat Lee, who lives nearby and has been coming to the store since before Meyer took over in 2010. “There’s a lot of neighborhoods around here that depend on it. We don’t need a gas station here.”
Longtime Woodstock resident Lois Dobson said she’s been coming to the shop for decades and even remembers Bell.
“I’d miss it,” Dobson said. “I bought tomatoes to can here all summer.”
Through the years, Dobson added she’s seen a lot of the history in Cherokee County die.
Even with so many people wanting to save the store, though, officials have said the land is already zoned to allow a gas station, and if Meyer’s landlord, who is based in New York, wants to sell the land, not much can be done.
Commissioner Harry Johnston said it would be a “tragedy” to see the store, which is part of the history of Buffington, torn down.
Johnston said he has in recent days been researching — along with Jeff Watkins, Cherokee County director of planning and land use, and Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the Cherokee County Historical Society — to find out what, if anything, can be done to stop the plans.
So far, they haven’t had much luck in finding a way to stop the potential demolition altogether.
“I’m not finding anything that tells me that we really have the power to permanently prevent the destruction of a historic structure,” said Johnston, who represents Post 1, where the store is located. “My thinking at this point is that we probably can’t prohibit demolition of a historic structure.”
But Johnston said he plans to start a discussion at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday on a potential historic preservation ordinance that could delay such a project. Johnston said he wasn’t sure exactly what the ordinance would say, or if it would even pass, but he hopes a delay in tearing down a structure like Bell’s Store could give time for an alternative to arise.
Rollins said Thursday his company, the Summit Group, is still in the process of purchasing the property, and so far, they aren’t exactly sure if the store will be torn down or not.
“We’ve looked at a bunch of alternatives,” he said.
Rollins said those alternatives could include keeping the store and using it for the gas station, or tearing it down, although he doesn’t expect work on the building one way or the other to start any time soon.
“We’re not going to kick the folks right out anyway,” he said. “We’re not going to close tomorrow and kick her out. Nobody’s going to put the lady out of business and put her out on the street.”
Rollins said whatever happens, the company plans to give Meyer time to find another location.
Meyer, though, doesn’t like the idea of moving.
“You could always move to another location,” she said. “But it wouldn’t have this charm. This building has character.”
Meyer said the business she’s running also has character and a charm of a long-gone time in Cherokee County.
“You’d be amazed the amount of people that put money in my mailbox or slide it under my door,” she said.
The store also gives out candy and popsicles to kids and offers free sweet tea on weekends.
“I’m just trying to keep it like it was in the old days,” Meyer said.