Business Thursday: Bald Knob’s country store lives on

Little Market co-owners Dan Midkiff and Katie Clark cut a ceremonial ribbon as friends Patty Smith (left to right), Tyler Grimes, Donnie Smith, Marshall Flynn, Frankfort Police Capt. Chris Quire, Sixth District Magistrate Lambert Moore, Cynthia Kelly, Todd Kelly, Chris Wright, Nickie Wright, John Newberry, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton, Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells and Alice Childs look on. (Alfred Miller/alfred.miller@state-journal.com)

A local couple is breathing new life into one of the area’s last remaining country stores.

Katie Clark and Dan Midkiff have invested steadily in refurbishing the former Wright’s Grocery since purchasing the venerable Bald Knob institution a year ago. On Wednesday, the recently engaged couple celebrated with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting in the snow.

“We’ve been serving and operating for a year,” Midkiff told The State Journal. “With the last purchase of a freezer, this was the right time to go ahead and introduce ourselves.”

Clark and Midkiff have renamed the store “Little Market” after Clark’s former organic food market on Todd Street in South Frankfort. With the addition of hot food as well as new products like Clark’s homemade lavender cookies and ham salad, they bring their own twist to a store Ronnie and Sylvia Wright ran for nearly 50 years.

The co-owners of the new Little Market are also aware of their roles as guardians of a long tradition. They note that the store was founded more than a century ago by “Peg Leg” Wilson and “Patty Cake” Blackerby before it was bought by Yancey Estes in the 1930s. Catering to local tobacco farmers, the Wrights took over the store in 1969.

In a 2015 interview for Western Kentucky University’s Mountain Workshop, longtime customer Ray Stivers said, “If [Ronnie Wright] decides to close again, we are going to take the keys and pay the light bill and stay.”

And that’s essentially what Wright’s customers did. Before she became co-owner, Clark was a regular at Wright’s Grocery for 18 years.

In keeping with tradition, chit-chat and a coffee-to-stay remain free at Little Market. A guitar in the corner is available to anyone who wants to strum a few chords. And, customers can count on seeing “Gunsmoke” on the shop television.

“It really is where you would picture your father going — to the store to talk about tobacco,” said Midkiff, a Versailles native.

Regulars are also still allowed to run up tabs.

“You get to know the people — know who’s good for the money and who’s not,” said Clark, noting that “whatever you do in Bald Knob, everybody knows, pretty much.” “Sometimes times are tough and we do allow credit for some people.”

In addition to catering to Bald Knob natives, Clark and Midkiff are also banking, in part, on becoming a destination for hunters and bourbon tourists. North across the Henry County line in Pleasureville, Six-Mile Creek Distillery is slated to open later this year. Midkiff hopes that new $5 million, 8,000-square-foot facility will attract more people looking to “go have fun in the country.”

Located at 7460 Bald Knob Road, Little Market is open weekdays from 6:45 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to at least 5 p.m. This Saturday, the store is marking its grand opening with an all-day celebration featuring visits from antique cars and local musicians as well as food hot off Little Market’s smoker.

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