Bell, 66, knows the landmark on Highway 20 not only as the former hub of activity and commerce for the Buffington community, but as the family home, where many of his earliest and best memories of childhood reside.
With a south Georgia developer’s plans to demolish the relic imminent, Bell took a walk through the building Wednesday and remembered working in the store and growing up with his sisters and brother in the small attached house.
The Cherokee County Historical Society’s executive director, Stefanie Joyner, walked along with Bell and reporters and took photographs to preserve what she could.
Bell beamed as he told his story.
His father, Edwin Bell, built Bell’s Store in 1935 on the corner of Highway 20 and Union Hill Road. It replaced the original family store and home across the street, which W.F. Bell’s grandfather opened near the turn of the century.
Both locations had a history of being the place to shop in the area east of Canton.
“For years, we were the main store in this whole part of the county. You had to go to either Jones Mercantile in town or Stancil’s Store on Yellow Creek Road,” Bell said. “This was a really busy place because he sold groceries, household goods ... but then he also sold feed and all kinds of farming equipment.”
They also sold building material and more. In those days, the store’s motto was: “If we don’t have, it we’ll get it.”
“He made weekly trips to Atlanta in a pickup to pick up anything anybody wanted,” Bell said of his father, after showing a commemorative ruler with the slogan on it. “And he would deliver it to them, too.”
As a boy, W.F. Bell used to sit and watch television and talk with his family in the living room, just on the other side of a door from where the cash register for the building’s present tenant stands.
“It was so unusual. You could step from your living room right into the store,” he said, standing in the now-dusty room used for storage, before adding with a laugh: “Of course, I frequented the candy and the drinks quite often.”
The building currently houses Cherokee Market, which must relocate by July 1 to make way for Flash Foods’ plans to build a gas station. The market, owned by Lisa Meyer, is moving to the former W.A. Lathem and Sons General Merchandise building, a landmark in the Lathem town area.
On Wednesday, workers were busy moving things out of the building as Bell walked through the rooms of the old house and pointed out the differences in the store from when he was young. He remembers plumbing supplies where the potatoes now sit; wires and electrical parts where the coolers are; sacks of cornmeal and flour in the window; and meat by the cash register.
The retired 66-year-old lived in the house until he was 18, when he got married. The store closed down in 1979, though family remained living out back.
“I reopened it myself in 1979 and owned it and operated it from ’79 to ‘82,” Bell said.
Other businesses came, such RC’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, which was open for about a decade.
None of the family has lived in the house since 1991, when Bell’s mother moved to downtown Canton after his father died in 1988.
Since then, Bell has put all the history down in a book, “Buffington and Macedonia in Days Gone By.” He’s thankful he took the step, as the physical remnants of the tale are soon to be destroyed.
Still, he said he doesn’t hold a grudge because he understands “progress” has to come somehow, and, as the developers of the gas station have argued, Bell’s Store sits too close to Highway 20 and would go eventually, as the road is widened.
“I would have liked to have seen it moved and preserved,” he said. “But we tried, and it just couldn’t be done.”
Joyner said it will be a sad day.
“It’s been a landmark since 1935,” she said. “It’s going to change the landscape. The Flash Foods is going to look like every other Flash Foods on the corner of a major road. You’re not going to be able to tell where you are anymore. This is distinctive to Cherokee County.”
Those who patronize Cherokee Market will also be disappointed.
On Wednesday, Lisa Logan, of Marietta, strolled through the store, looking over canned goods. It was only her second visit, but she said she loved what she saw.
“I love markets. I love the old town feel, and I love the antique-looking building,” she said. “It’s just the charm. I just love that it’s still standing. There’s not much left like this.”
Logan didn’t know when she came in the building was doomed.
Told that come the first week in July it could be demolished, she was frustrated.
“That’s just sad,” she said shaking her head. “That’s just disappointing.”