Serving a community

Published 12:41 pm Monday, January 31, 2022

Store opened to prevent a food desert and to appeal to tourists

Story, Photography Jeremy Holtzapfel

EOLIA, Ky. — Nestled at the foot of Pine Mountain in Letcher County, Kentucky rests The General Store. The only business on the southern side of the mountain in the county has quickly become a staple in the community. It’s both a throwback to the stores of yesteryear and clearly the product of some modern thinking. It earns its name with a selection of over a thousand unique items from all over the state. The store offers everything ranging from gourmet fudge to fishing licenses to wagyu beef.

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Owners Tiffany and Ernie Scott source most of the items themselves spending many hours driving statewide to find their goods.

“When we decided to do this business, we knew we wanted to focus on Kentucky,” Tiffany recalled.

The General Store is designated a Kentucky Proud business due to their high volume of products certified as Kentucky Proud, having either been grown or produced in state, such as coffee, jams, jellies, honey and woodcraft items from local artisans. Much of their stock has also come by way of requests from members of the community either searching for tastes of their childhood or looking to meet dietary restrictions. Eastern Kentucky has been labeled a ‘food desert’ by the United States Department of Agriculture making The General Store the oasis many in the community desperately need.

The General Store opened in January 2021, but not in the spot it currently sits. The store was originally located in nearby Partridge, Kentucky, in a space that had been a small grocery store since the 1970s. Upon hearing of the impending closure in October 2020 the Scotts were determined to fill the community’s need. Not wanting to see yet another empty building in their community, Tiffany recalled, “We decided to sign a lease the following January in the middle of a pandemic, in an area of poor economic standing… not a great business decision in the eyes of most folks.” After a successful first year, the Scotts relocated the business to where it now stands.

Knowing they had to offer more than just groceries to be successful, the Scotts had to take it a step further by focusing on tourism and community. Their goal was to create a destination location and something the community can gather around. This approach manifests itself in nearly every aspect of the Scotts’ business.

“We’re community-minded folks,” Tiffany said. “With our education backgrounds we could have gone anywhere in the state, anywhere in the country and gotten jobs, but we wanted to stay in the mountains  — this is home for us.”

Through cooperation with the motorsport tourism group Backroads of Appalachia and Letcher County officials, The General Store has become a hub for both tourists visiting the area and community members looking for a place to gather. With the devilishly curvy road along Pine Mountain that leads right to the store, it makes it the perfect pitstop for motorheads. Additionally, the new location has a meeting room that serves as the community center hosting anything from knitting groups to gingerbread cookie parties. These disparate community threads are all tied together by this beloved store.

This love of their home and its people is apparent in every inch of The General Store. While discussing the positive relationship with their employees, Ernie shared a common refrain in the store that seemingly extends to an entire community, “This isn’t just Ernie and Tiffany’s store — this is all our store.”