Mike Carroll still remembers walking through the front door and seeing the candy.
In the 1950s, Carroll would walk from his home to catch the school bus in front of the old Hallsboro Store in Midlothian. Inside was a glass display case where schoolchildren could buy malted milk balls and bubble gum – and the drink cooler offered chilled Coca-Cola and Royal Crown soda.
“They had everything you really needed as far as a general store,” said Carroll, now 71.
Country stores – offering dry goods, groceries, hardware and more – used to be a common sight in villages and small towns such as Midlothian. They served as post offices, polling places and simply a place for folks to hang out on the porch.
Hallsboro Store dates to the second half of the 19th century, and the fact that it's still standing – albeit as a different business today – near the railroad tracks at Mount Hermon and Hallsboro roads makes it an uncommon survivor.
"It's amazing that this humble frame building survived when most of the buildings of this small commercial village are gone," said Marc Wagner, a senior architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. "It is in wonderfully good condition inside and out."
There are 25 such store buildings – Hallsboro among them – that have been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register as well as the National Register of Historic Places, most of them in rural villages or crossroads, Wagner said. (More should be listed, he said, but the owners haven't applied to do so.)
Hallsboro Store now houses Gather, a boutique gift shop from which owner Melissa Carr sells candles, jewelry, Scottish shortbread cookies and other items. Carr said she and her husband spotted the store in 2005 when they were biking past it.
At the time, the first floor, which once housed the general store and post office, sat unused. The second-floor apartment, which was once home to the storekeeper, was being rented out, Carr said.
"I think nobody could see it as a business, operating as a business," she said. "It used to be a real gathering space, and people shopped here. They bought fabric here, and they bought all kinds of goods here."
The Hallsboro Store's history is rich, if a bit muddled.
First, don't confuse the store with a similarly named but different historic site nearby: the Hallsborough Tavern, which is 2 miles north at Midlothian Turnpike and Huguenot Springs Road.
The community post office used to be in the tavern, but it was transferred to the Hallsboro area (also known as Tomahawk in the era) after the Richmond and Danville Railroad reached the area around 1851, Jeffrey M. O’Dell wrote in the 1983 book "Chesterfield County: Early Architecture and Historic Sites." It was common for general stores to rise near train depots and to house postal operations.
While postal officials wanted to use "Hallsborough" for the new post office name, the tavern owner objected. That led to a compromise in which the new post office was given the altered name "Hallsboro," O'Dell wrote.
A National Register of Historic Places wall plaque near the entrance puts the store's roots at 1851, which is when the train depot was established; the nomination form for adding the store to the register estimates that the current structure was built around 1885.
The Hallsboro Store is said to have been built as a commissary for a nearby tannery, which was later changed to a pulpwood and excelsior mill, according to O’Dell. He indicated that the store was built by local businessman and state lawmaker W.W. Baker, though the national register form cites a neighborhood history written in 1936 that points to another man, J.O. Martin. (The Martin and Baker families were connected by marriage and operated the store into the 1920s, according to the register form.)
Regardless, O'Dell described Hallsboro as “probably the best preserved store of its period in Chesterfield,” and it's clear that the building has stood the test of time.
An original 19-foot wood counter is still there, just to the right of the front door as a visitor walks in. The shelving attached to the walls behind the counter is also original.
On the side of the building, near its four-post front porch, is a "Hallsboro" station sign that once stood at the nearby train depot, Carr said.
The depot was torn down in the 1950s, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The post office and store closed in the early 1960s.
That Hallsboro Store remained in its rural enclave might not have been expected. Just a couple of miles down the road, the development of Chesterfield County is evident in the sprawling Westchester Commons shopping center, where apartments are being built next to a Buffalo Wild Wings, a Regal Cinemas and a Sedona Taphouse that offers a long list of craft beers to patrons.
A visit to Hallsboro Store recalls a simpler time. Windows on either side of the front door still bear advertisements, painted on the glass, announcing that the shop sold Coca-Cola, meats and fruits.
"The store is rare, especially in an increasingly less rural area," said Wagner, the historian. "The rural commercial centers – once many small clusters of buildings that included one or two stores, a post office and a car repair shop [that replaced the blacksmith] – are dwindling down to a few, especially in central Virginia."
He said the building – with its classic front porch with Italianate-style posts, display windows and brackets along the roof line – owes its survival to several factors, including that it served as the post office until the 1960s.
"The survival of the Hallsboro Store is partly because that area of Chesterfield was less developed," Wagner said.
Carr has given the store new life as a business again. She and her husband bought the building from Jean Hudson, who had inherited it from her aunt and uncle, Alice and Henry Page. They ran the store from the 1930s to the 1960s, Carr said.
Since buying Hallsboro in 2005, Carr continues to hear historical tidbits about the old store and post office from customers who stop by, including neighbors who have fond memories of their times inside.
"I hear so much history from the people that come in," she said. "I had a woman saying she used to come in with her mother and drop off packages or pick up packages. And the mail, when it was a passenger line, they threw it on the ring [at the train depot], and Alice Page – supposedly whatever kid got it and brought it in would get candy" from her.
Hallsboro will get another use, as Carr has received county approval to construct a barn in the woods next to the store to host sales and other events.
As with Carroll, the former schoolboy with a sweet tooth, Sandy Mincz recalls taking her horse or her bicycle to the store decades ago. She said she would stare at the candy cases, and other patrons would be milling around with a Coke or smoking a cigarette.
"It was like now, you've got convenience stores when you come in and pick up a loaf of bread," said Mincz, 77. "Everyone was going in and out to pick up their mail, and it was a good way to get caught up, find out how everybody was and check on your neighbors."