By Maggie Edwards
Strands of lights, rustic hardwood floors, glass bottle Cokes and unique signs bring the 66-year-old Jefferson Country Store to life.
“I remember running around this store when I was a little girl,” said Betsy Compton Luker, who owns Jefferson’s with her husband, Tony. “My cousin, Clifford Compton, built the store back in 1957. This place has been in the family for generations.”
Country stores served communities decades ago with dry goods and bulk groceries — and still serve locals, Betsy said.
“A community needs its necessities,” she said. “We are not a municipality or an incorporated community, but people living in this area could need a product, a safety net and a sense of community. We try to meet two or three of those needs.”
Betsy and Tony reopened the Marengo County landmark in 2013, giving the store a new taste with the same country feel.
“It is bittersweet seeing my daughter and son-in-law run this store,” said Betsy’s father and Jefferson Country Store institution David Compton. “It is fantastic for this community.”
Betsy’s father bought the store in ‘67 and ran it for decades. Betsy said seeing her husband run the business her family started is special.
“Tony has a good mindset, personality and cooking skills,” Betsy said. “He forges relationships with people. He cares how people are doing.”
Jefferson Country Store is best known for “Chef Tony’s” old-fashioned bologna, barbecue and cheeseburgers. Stickers plastered across the store highlight clever sayings and local businesses like Alfa Insurance, whose iconic red logo is on the cash register.
From neighboring Mississippians to visitors from France, Betsy and Tony have served a diverse cross section of guests. That includes Yvonne Dikes, a Mississippi native who camps nearby.
“We were told about the store, so we came to see its uniqueness and to savor the flavor of the cooking,” she said.
Two-hundred thirty miles from Marengo County lies a similar hidden gem in Hollywood.
Just like Jefferson’s, Shorty Machen’s Grocery & Deli serves its community in northeast Jackson County.
“People get to come in here and be a family,” said Cassandra Mason, who has worked at Shorty’s for 15 years. “The kids can run through the store and play. They become family. They’re not just another ticket.”
Shorty’s is owned by Aubrey Machen Jr. — lovingly called Shorty — and his son, Rob.
The two-story brick building has been standing since the late 1800s, and the Machen family took ownership in the 1960s.
In between cutting hay, moving fields and working animals, farmers often pop in for a fresh bite to eat and down-home Southern hospitality.
“We used to do credit tickets, and some of our farmers still do,” Mason said. “We used to help farmers until their crop check came in. The store and farmers have fed off each other for years. We wouldn’t make it without farmers, and I think they feel the same.”
Jackson County Farmers Federation (JCFF) board member Clay Kennamer agreed.
“I have been coming here 40 years,” Kennamer said. “This is a community staple.”
As Kennamer and JCFF President Phillip Thompson finished hearty breakfasts, they chatted about black-and-white photos on the walls, generations of Shorty’s customers and, of course, the cattle market.
“Shorty’s gives us a place to go to get food now, but it used to have groceries and hardware,” Kennamer said. “It is still a place for the community to gather. They are like family to us.”
Hollywood Fire Chief Patrick Allen echoed Kennamer.
“Both of my grandmothers used to work here,” said Allen, 35. “This place is one of the fire department’s biggest supporters. We truly can’t thank them enough. They are a huge asset in the community.”
Community support keeps the Hollywood country store going, Rob said.
“This store has always been here, and it’s what people know,” said Rob, as he grilled burgers for a growing lunch crowd. “Our customers are our family, and they act like each other’s family, too.”
Jefferson’s and Shorty’s bring a sense of nostalgia to the generations who visit, Betsy said.
“We believe this is our mission field,” Betsy said. “We believe there is a shortage of love and caring in the community. Where else are you going to stop, get a drink and chips and have someone care about how your day is going?”