With owner Danny Bryant confirming Sunday the official closing of Bryant's Pic-Pac, many residents feel as though downtown Frankfort is losing its heart.
The family-owned grocery store at the corner of Steele and West Second streets has been feeding the residents of South Frankfort and downtown since its construction in 1953. The store is of particular importance because it allows residents who lack transportation to easily access groceries in their neighborhood.
Bryant is a Frankfort native who began working at the store, which was then an A&P, in 1975, one year before his graduation from Frankfort High School. According to Bryant, A&P was converted to Pic-Pac in the early 1980s. After a period as manager, he bought the store in 1998 and has loyally served Frankfort since.
Bryant said he's ready for a change.
"I'm not going to retire really," he said. "But I've been here for 44 years. I'm ready to move on to something besides retail."
As far as a timetable for the closure, he couldn't give a definitive date, saying "after the stock sells." The deli and meat department will remain open until the end, he added.
Bryant previously announced plans to close the store early last year but was met with overwhelming support by the community, which rallied to keep the doors open.
"That outpouring was absolutely tremendous and we appreciated it so much," said Bryant. "But we're not really anticipating any resistance again this time. The customer base just isn't there."
Despite the dwindling number of patrons, Frankfort residents are devastated to see the neighborhood grocery close its doors for good.
"It's like losing a family member," said Steve Eddington, a Frankfort native and Pic-Pac regular who graduated from FHS with Bryant in 1976. "What are we going to do about ham? Can you freeze a country ham? I'm going to buy five pounds of country ham and as much beer cheese as I can."
The store's deli was overrun with customers stocking up on country ham, fried chicken and various salads. The deli has been operated by Kathy Johnson, whose cooking has provided affordable meals to the community for 21 years.
"Danny and Sheila (Bryant's wife) are so good to everybody," Johnson said. "I've worked in factories, many different stores — I've worked everywhere — and this is the only place I've worked where they treat you like family.”
According to Johnson, the deli attracts 300-400 regular customers.
"I have so many regulars and I love them," said Johnson. "They treat me like family, too. When I see them in public they always speak to me or give me a hug."
Pic-Pac has actively employed and served Frankfort residents for decades. Margaret Redden, a deli employee, said she had been coming to Pic-Pac as long as she could remember.
"I've only worked here a year," she said. "But I've been coming here my whole life. We're losing a huge part of the community."
According to Bryant, there are no current plans to bring business back into the building.
"There have been no plans yet and I don't know any details," he added. "The building is still owned by the same landlord and has not been bought."
Pic-Pac's closing is also a devastation for Bryant's family members, many of whom work at the store. His son, Richie Cheatham, has been working at Pic-Pac for nearly 28 years.
"I've seen a lot of kids grow up here," said Cheatham. "I've grown up here. But it‘s an old building, and it’s run down. It's a huge part of downtown gone, though."
Although Bryant and his wife plan to stay in Frankfort, residents of West Second Street say the couple's constant presence will be a major loss.
"Everybody on this street is going to miss Pic-Pac," said Bruce Clay, a Frankfort native. "I come over just about every day for some meatloaf, chicken or catfish, but most of all we're going to miss Danny."
Bryant thanked the community for its support over the years.
"This has always been about the great people you meet," he said. "I appreciate everybody that ever came in."