Opening the door to Ronnie’s Country Store is like opening a door into the past. Inside the old fashioned grocery store are shelves of canned goods, old-fashioned candies, and big bins filled with beans and lentils. Hanging from the ceiling and stacked on counters are the famous country hams. The store smells like smoked meat and simpler times.
Located at the intersection of North Cherry and 7th, the grocery store seems out of place. However, it has always been this way.
Ronnie Horton and his wife Carolyn purchased the store in 1994 and still run it today. Now, Ronnie mans the counter, balances the books, and orders groceries and supplies for the store. His main work occurs in a small back room with a quaint wooden sign labelling it as “Ronnie’s Office.” The walls are covered with newspaper clippings and photos displaying the history of the store. They piece together the story of W.G. White’s Grocery, first started in 1925 by White himself.
After a fire burned down the original location (now a parking lot for the Downtown School), White moved across the street. According to Ronnie, when he purchased the store in the 90s, he changed the name for legal reasons, and sought to maintain the original feeling of the place as much as he could. They are still the only place in the region to have a giant barrel of molasses. Customers have to bring their own jars to get the molasses, or the store would be considered a dispensary. Ronnie described the people from Old Salem following the Moravian tradition who frequent Ronnie’s store to get molasses for their traditional cookies.
“We tried to keep it as much original as we could. Anything we didn’t have to change we didn’t,” said Ronnie.
“I’ve enjoyed working here,” said cashier Linda Waller, known by her fellow employees as Billie. “They’re good people to work for. We’re all a big family here.” Waller came out of her retirement simply to be part of the action at Ronnie’s Country Store.
However, the store isn’t simply a tourist stop to remind us of simpler times. It is one of only a few grocery stores in the downtown area, and the only place to get fresh produce.
“We get all income levels in here,” said Ronnie. His store inherited a steady group of customers who used to come when it was White’s grocery.
The store serves doctors and lawyers looking for excellent country ham, but also lower socioeconomic families who need a nearby place to purchase food. Neighborhoods like Crystal Towers benefit from the basic line of groceries provided and locally grown produce, according to Ronnie. Many of these residents frequented the grocery before Ronnie took over, and the store has continued to serve the same wide array of Winston-Salem residents.
“It’s the best. I’d come a thousand times a day if I could,” said Thomas, a frequent customer of Ronnie’s who preferred to use only his first name. He described coming to the store with his mother as a child, back when it was still W.G. White’s Grocery. He is one of the many regular customers that sometimes stop in just to chat, or get out of the cold for a while.
“They real nice here,” said Thomas.
The store has become a regional institution. According to Ronnie, the produce is locally grown, and the hams are known across the area. Additionally, in the holidays, the store is filled with old fashioned candies and holiday fruit baskets. Sales shoot up in November and December. Ronnie and his employees find themselves with their hands full as they hustle to prepare seasonal treats.
Before buying the store, Ronnie worked as an assistant manager at another big food supplier for 16 years, and before that, he worked 15 years at a different grocery store. He has spent a career managing groceries. But after 30 years, it was time for something new.
“I wanted my own store,” said Ronnie. “I wanted to own my own business.”