At 84, Spencer produce seller heads to retirement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SPENCER — Two to three times a week, David Heggins rides the city bus to Spencer so he can spend time at Bucky’s Produce.
He buys a slab of hoop cheese, a pack of crackers and a peach Nehi from Kathy Walters behind the counter. He then settles into a chair next to Bucky Walters, who likes to sit facing the door where all his customers come in.
Bucky says he has the best customers in America. That’s America, he emphasizes, not just North Carolina.
Heggins is one of many regulars who have been doing business with Bucky and Kathy Walters for more than 21 years. But those days are ending.
The couple have decided to close their Fifth Street “country store” Oct. 15.
“The last week, the last days, I may have to wear my shades to hide my crying,” Bucky says. He’s not kidding.
Kathy doesn’t know how she’ll take it, now that the closing is getting so near.
“That might be me,” she says of the crying part.
The reason they’re closing is simple, Bucky explains.
Old age.
Bucky likes to say a person gets old just once.
“I’ve never known a person to get old twice,” he declares, wearing his trademark railroader’s cap, in deference to this railroad town.
Bucky is 84; Kathy, 79. They’ve been married almost 60 years.
“Well, we could write a book — we’ve had a busy life,” Kathy says.
Their store — one of those nice retreats into another time — sells produce from local growers (Patterson’s, for example), or whatever they pick up on their weekly trip to the market in Winston-Salem.
The sweet potatoes have always come from Ellerbe, Bucky says, because they’re good.
Bucky knows everything, of course, about potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupes, strawberries, corn, onions, fruit — you name it. Before starting the produce stand, he had built a 30-plus-year career at the Patterson Brothers’ farm.
His Spencer store became known for its produce, meats, double-yoke eggs, hoop cheese and Amish jams and jellies. It also was the place to pick up Daniel Boone flour, corn meal and grits.
And on the side, Bucky sharpened lawn mower blades.
He started a tradition of giving first-time customers an apple, as a way to entice them back. It usually worked.
“He’s a big pusher,” Kathy says.
An unusual sign hangs proudly near the chair where Bucky likes to sit. It gives notice, up front, that Bucky’s Produce has the highest prices in town. Usually a business likes to say it has the lowest prices, but not Bucky’s.
“In order to back that up,” Bucky says of the highest-price claim, “we have to have the highest quality.”
Kathy and William “Bucky” Walters met in 1951, when Bucky already was in the Army and stationed in New Jersey. Bucky’s uncle had married Kathy’s aunt, and they lived in Landis.
Kathy, a Rowan County girl, was always being told by the uncle if she ever met Bucky, she would marry him. One day Bucky was in Landis visiting his relatives, and Kathy decided she was “just going to go over and see what he looks like.”
“Now I know what he looks like — been knowing it for 60 years,” she says.
Bucky’s 71/2 years in the Army took him to Japan and Korea. The couple lived in Bucky’s native state of Ohio for six years after his Army days, before they came south for Kathy to look after her ailing father.
“I’ve never regretted it,” Bucky says of the move.
He became a key, loyal employee for Leonard and Hubert Patterson. As a retirement gift, the brothers gave Bucky and Kathy the deed to the house they had been living in and 2.6 acres to boot.
“We loved working for those people,” Kathy says.
Bucky was one of 11 children, six of whom are still living. They grew up in Jackson, Ohio, a town that made railcars, so it’s sort of fitting that his store is in Spencer.
When he was playing baseball as a kid, friends started calling him “Bucky,” because a Cincinnati Reds baseball player of the day had the same name.
It was his idea for the produce stand, which actually started at the corner of Sixth Street and Salisbury Avenue.
Kathy claims her husband started the produce operation so he wouldn’t have to pay to exercise and stay active. They opened July 15, 1990.
Betty Smith, 91, walked into the store Tuesday afternoon with her daughter, Dicy McCullough, to pick up some sweet potatoes and onions.
Larry and Jill Maynor stopped in so Larry could show how he had polished and sharpened an old ax head from the store. He also had affixed a handle, so it looked as good as new.
Kathy says the Maynors were among the store’s first customers.
Much of the store looks bare these days because Bucky and Kathy have been, in Kathy’s words, “selling out as we go.” They used to have “The Goody Room” just packed with stuff.
Larry Maynor bought the store’s peanut roaster last week and says he’ll miss so many things about the place.
“But Kathy and Buddy’s company is the big thing,” he adds.
In retirement, Kathy promises, she will stay active and not allow herself to be “stiff and useless.”
Stiff, maybe. Old age, you know.
But useless, never.
“I’m going to miss these people,” Heggins says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or