GRETNA — A new family-operated butcher shop and grocery store opened here on South Shelton Street last week.
Elba Butcher Shoppe, owned by area natives Wendell and Stephanie Dawson, began welcoming customers with open doors Feb. 12.
But it’s more than just a place where you can get a variety of fresh meat cut to order. It’s a full-fledged mom-and-pop grocery store carrying everything from fruits, vegetables and dairy products to canned and frozen goods.
The business is a vital addition to this ambitious town, especially after the 2010 closing of Food Land that had left Food Lion as the only downtown grocery option for Gretna’s residents.
“The community needed another grocery store,” Stephanie said during an interview Friday at the shop at 102 S. Shelton St. in Gretna.
The store occupies Gretna Drug Co.’s former location across the street from Gretna’s municipal building. The drug store moved to another location years ago.
Wendell has 36 years of experience in the grocery business, having worked for an independent grocer in Altavista and Bedford. The Dawsons have owned and operated Sycamore Grocery beside Sycamore Baptist Church on U.S. 29 since 2006.
“Our customers encouraged us to open a grocery store,” Stephanie said, adding that it was the right time after the closing of Food Land.
Elba is the town of Gretna’s original name, and it’s a fitting one for the Dawsons’ new venture. The name and the store hark back to a simpler time before the arrival of big-box retailers led to the closing of many locally-owned shops.
“We’re going with a general-store theme and using the old Gretna name,” Stephanie said.
Gretna once had three or four supermarkets, said Keith Motley, the town’s mayor.
“It’s exciting to have a small, hometown grocery store like many years ago,” Motley said of the Dawsons’ business.
“It’s an asset to the community,” Motley said. “I think the people will support it.”
Before starting Elba Butcher Shoppe, Stephanie and Wendell checked out a butcher shop in Chase City in the fall of 2011 to see how it operates. They ran into a friend who happened to own the former Gretna Drug Co. location, Stephanie said. The Dawsons are now renting the structure for their business.
The couple began remodeling the building — which had been empty for several years — on South Shelton Street last fall. For the new business, the Dawsons hired five employees and brought others from their other store, Stephanie said.
The couple may hire more workers, depending on customer volume, Stephanie said.
The Dawsons are thankful for assistance from friends and family getting the business up and running.
Their son, Brent Dawson, helps out at the shop, where he’s apprenticing under his father as a butcher. Stephanie, with help from her sister, Pam Betterton, does bookkeeping at both stores.
The sales floor at Elba Butcher Shoppe is 4,200 square feet and includes a 96-foot section of fresh meat, a 24-foot area of luncheon meat, 48 feet of produce, a cooler with dairy products, frozen foods and ice cream, and aisles of canned goods, dry goods — including cereal — snacks, soft drinks and a small automotive section.
As for meats, the store offers Western beef, steaks, seafood, chicken and pork. The Dawsons can take requests for special orders.
The store will accept EBT cards, or “food stamps,” and will carry beer and wine. Elba Butcher Shoppe also has a 19-foot “dollar-value wall” with low-price items.
The store is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and is closed Sunday.
Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee.