In Archer Lodge, the Barnes’ family history lives behind the counter of their country store.
It’s on a shelf under the cash register, in a black binder.
Josh Barnes stands behind the same counter most days now, just as his great-grandfather and grandfather did, just as his father has.
As the fourth generation heir to the C.E. Barnes Store, Josh is well aware the local grocery runs in his blood. And he intends to keep it that way.
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But with competition from chain grocers putting a strain on what has been the store’s bread and butter, Josh is having to make some changes to stay relevant.
“The country stores are dying,” Josh said. “You’ve got to do something different if you want to stay alive.”
After searching for a niche for nearly seven years, Josh said his new vision for the store starts not far from home. He wants to sell products from local vendors – so many that 95 percent of the store’s goods come from North Carolina.
The store has added local T-shirt and hat brands popular with younger customers and introduced peanuts, jams, popcorn and honey made mostly in Eastern North Carolina.
“You can’t make it on gas, cigarettes and drinks anymore,” Josh said.
The store is still stocking those traditional items, just not as many.
Before the recession, it was common for the store to spend $2,500 a week stocking its shelves with groceries. Archer Lodge was benefiting from the population surges in Wake and Johnston counties, which led to good business.
But things slowed after the housing market crash in 2008, and when the economy started to rebound, the country store suddenly had big-box competitors close by.
In 2010, Food Lion opened a store in the Riverwood community, about three miles from the Barnes’ store at the corner of Buffalo and Covered Bridge roads. In 2013, Harris Teeter built a store about three miles away.
Josh’s father, Paul Barnes, said he and his son had been mulling new ideas for the store even before the new grocery stores came into town. Paul said they also had opportunities to lease or sell, which the family politely declined.
“It was in our blood,” Paul said.
Josh and his wife, Blair, traveled to other country stores throughout the Carolinas to get ideas. In January, Josh committed to the “shop local” approach.
Out front, the store revamp includes a picket fence and flags, along with local produce. Archer Lodge resident Rachel Kennedy, a friend of the Barnes family, said that’s added a lot of curb appeal.
“We needed something in the area where you could stop in and purchase that last-minute gift that’s really special,” Kennedy said. “And I really like the idea of having a spot where you can grab a glass of Coke and some nabs and chat with your friends – young and old.”
But while Josh has changed some things in his family’s store, he hasn’t removed the rustic and down-home nuances that make the place unique.
In fact, he’s tried to add to them.
One corner of the store, now devoted to local history, has old photographs, newspaper articles and signs that provide a glimpse into the past. A shelf displays antique cans and bottles Josh found in the upstairs of the two-story store.
A Cheerwine bench and chairs with Coca-Cola cushions offer customers a place to sit and talk, like local farmers once did. Josh said many of the men who used to come by and tell stories are gone.
“There used to be a lot of lies told in this store,” Josh said. His biggest regret is not writing down or recording those tales, he said.
Photos of the Barnes family are also prominently displayed.
Josh’s great-grandfather, Otis Barnes, who opened the store with his brother Weldon in 1927, is pictured with his twin daughters.
Otis originally opened the store across the street from its current location. He moved it so his daughters wouldn’t have to walk across the road, Josh said.
Otis ran the operation until he died in 1944, when Weldon took over. After Weldon died in 1950, Josh’s grandfather, C.E. Barnes ran it until his death in 2007.
Paul, Josh’s father, works in the store in the afternoons but has had a day job at Schneider Electric since 1976.
Josh started working full time for his grandfather after graduating from N.C. State University in 2004. However, he’s worked at the store since he was 15.
“I’ve been here just as long as I could look over the cash register,” Josh said.
In the future, he said he hopes to add a grill and more vendors.
Josh knows competition will make business tough. But with 15,000 households within a three-mile perimeter, the customer base is there.
“It’s not a Han-dee Hugo; it’s not a Walmart,” Josh said. “I’m not bashing the big-box stores, but they have put a lot of people out of business.”
“But I think people still like that this is a local place,” he added. “There aren’t a lot of these around anymore.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104