By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The last batch of Miss Winnie’s biscuits, the last fried catfish fillets and the last gallons of gas were sold Friday at Billy’s Quick Stop Farmers Market.
But there were plenty of stories, hugs and tears, too, as Jean Daniels closed her store for the final time, some 32 years after she and her husband, Billy, opened it.
“I’ll miss my customers,” she said. “It’s like growing up with children. I’ve seen a lot of them come through, I really have. But it’s always been about my customers.”
Daniels’ devotion to her customers is the main reason she’s kept the store open past normal retirement age. In July, she turns 70.
Since opening more than three decades ago, Daniels has been up by 3 a.m. every day, closing the store at 8 or 9 at night – or later.
The early hours, she won’t miss.
“I’m going to play with my grandkids,” she said. “They’re the reason why I decided to close. I’d like to spend more time with them.”
With 18 grandchildren, she’ll be spending quite a bit of time.
And at least one group of loyal customers will be a little lost without its usual place to go.
The Texaco Coffee Club, as it is often called, consists of more than a dozen men who have solved the world’s problems and come up with the right answers about as long as the store has been open.
On Friday, they were as jovial as usual, but there was a sense of loss they shared with the impending closure of their favorite hangout.
Among them was Danny Barrows, construction company owner and former city councilman.
“I’ve been coming here for 20 years, and for the 15 or 16 of us, we don’t know where we’ll go,” he said. “We’re going to try to find a place that’s going to put up with us.”
Ron McCafferty, another member of the group, said it was food, coffee and camaraderie that made the place special.
“The only difference between here and church is we like to sit up front,” he said.
Politicians – would-be and otherwise – have learned the hard way that the group is a tough one to convince.
“You’ve got to have thick skin around here,” Barrows said.
“You see what we did with him,” McCafferty added, referring to Barrows.
All kidding aside, the talk gets serious when it comes to Daniels.
But they all laugh about the time Daniels chased away a would-be robber by beating him with a stick. She ran him off, then called the police.
Robbers aside, she’s been a mother, grandmother and friend to any and all who have walked through the doors.
“This is like family to her,” said Mark Cash, whose wife is one of Daniels’ granddaughters. “She’s been through some hardships and tough times, but everybody’s been like family.”
In a few months, the store will be converted to a barbecue restaurant, the gas pumps will be gone and Billy’s Quick Stop and Farmers Market will be only a fond memory.
And for many, an unforgettable one, too.
“I’ve loved everybody,” Daniels said. “That’s the one thing I will miss.”