The red paneled screen door creaks shut as you enter The Bradford Store, established in 1912 — the same year the Titanic sank. But the store hasn't been in continuous operation since then. Although the building has always been in the Bradford family, there were periods the family leased it, and for more than a decade, the building sat vacant. Owner Kim Bradford, a native of Asheville, tells how she used to travel by the old roadside store every weekend as a child on her way to visit her grandparents.
In 2005, Bradford convinced her mother-in-law, who still owned the store, to move the building away from the roadside of Highway 73, and in May 2006, the store opened to sell the farm products of her husband, Grier Bradford, a certified organic and multi-generational farmer. Their farm is about 23 acres. Before the store opened, he sold his products at an area farmers market.
When the Bradford Store first opened, only tomatoes, squash and cucumbers were sold. Today, the store is packed with a variety of food products from family-owned companies throughout North and South Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The hand-hewn shelves behind the main counter are lined with colorful mason jars filled with jams and preserves, many from the Asheville Farmers Market. The center aisle has old-fashioned candies and locally made products, such as Blowing Smoke barbecue sauce and organic apple vinegar. Since opening the store, Bradford has also moved a barn and an old log cabin to her property. The barn has a working blacksmith and a garden shop, while the cabin contains an antique shop.
Bradford originally intended to be open only during the summer, but as she expanded into dairy and meats, her customers convinced her to be open year-round. One of the most popular dairy products is Homeland Creamery milk, which Bradford says "is as close to raw milk as you can legally buy in North Carolina." She also carries organic and double-yolk eggs and local cheeses, including cheddar cheese from Ashe County Cheese.
On the shelves are sacks of Daniel Boone stone ground grits from Boonville Mill and Lindley Mill's organic flours made in Graham, N.C. This mill was first opened by the Lindley family in 1755; the family bought back the property and the current operation began in 1976.
Some of the best finds at Bradford are the baked items. Pam Hyatt makes delicious fried pies, a Southern treat, and third-generation baker and Massachusetts native Steve Lindberg of Carolina Pie Company, which opened in Mooresville in 2009, offers a line of fruit pies as well as single crust chess pies in lemon, chocolate and original. Strawberry rhubarb is available in the spring. These pies are sold in the 4-inch personal or 9-inch formats.
The McLaughlin's Sausage Company, a fourth generation company, provides the lean and flavorful sausage. Their "hot" is exactly that. Bradford also carries Circle "D," all grass-fed hormone-free beef from China Grove.
What drew me to the Bradford Store, though, were peanuts. Whenever I am close to the North Carolina beaches, I seek out the oil roasted peanuts made by the men of the Swansboro United Methodist Church: Swansboro peanuts are arguably the best in the state. Bradford stocks both the salted and unsalted (7 oz., $4).