When you turn off of the U.S. 421 bypass in Harlan and travel up KY 38 around 21 miles, you will find one of Harlan County’s treasures.
Saylor’s Body Shop and Grocery opened for business in 1970. Although your “Mom and Pop” stores are quickly becoming a thing of the past in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, especially since numerous coal mines have closed in the area, Dewayne and Terry Saylor have managed to stay in business at Closplint.
The Saylors, married for 39 years, are a unique couple with mountain charm and a personality that is welcoming to their customers. They have three sons and a daughter and seven grandchildren.
Dewayne said they started with their business as a body shop after he returned from serving in the Vietnam War. A few years later, they began selling groceries, grill/restaurant food and gas.
“When our youngest son was born, Terry put a mattress on the floor behind the counter to let him play on while she tended the store,” Dewayne said. “When we first started in business there were 10 grocery stores from Evarts and on up through here. Now, we are the only one left.”
Saylor’s Grocery is about 13 miles from Evarts and around 10 miles from the store to the next store across the Virginia line.
Dewayne said there were a lot of coal mines in Evarts in the 70s and 80s, and the grocery stores were always busy. He said now there are only a couple coal mines left.
“We are just paying the bills – just barely hanging on,” he said.
Dewayne said he has stayed in the area because it is “home.”
“My parents lived here, Terry’s parents lived here; we were both born here. It’s home,” he said.
Dewayne said his parents moved to Indiana in the early 1960s to find work.
“I graduated from high school in Indiana, and after I served in Vietnam, all I ever wanted to do is come back home to Harlan County,” he said. “Harlan County is home. We have four kids we raised here, and they all have a college education but one, and he’s got a good job, and they’re all working. This is where we’re going to live until we die.”
Dewayne said they will keep their business going as long as they can. They currently employ five people. Ella Sue Bowman has been with them for 25 years, and Diane Smith has worked for them for 11 years. They also employ Debbie Peace, Angel Parker and Jonathan Saylor. He said if the coal operation at Lone Mountain Processing ever closes they may have to close their store.
He said he hopes mining comes back because not only the miners and truckers, but the people in the community rely on their store instead of traveling to Evarts for what they need.
They sold gas from 1985 to 2012, but Dewayne said with all the government regulations they couldn’t afford to keep it going. They do, however, sell kerosene and diesel, hardware items, groceries and restaurant food.
There are a few old relics left in the store. His mother’s washboard is hanging on the wall. His mother, Thelma Hall Saylor, was born in 1925.
“When she married my dad, Oscar Saylor, in 1946, she didn’t have a washing machine – she had to use that washboard,” he said.
A couple of crosscut saws are hanging around the walls, along with his dad’s mining hat.
“My dad wore that mining hat at the Cloversplint Mine,” Dewayne said as he pointed along the wall.
One item in the store the Saylors are proud to have is a set of scales they bought from Bill Carter, who ran the community Commissary at Louellen. Dewayne said the scales are around 90 years old and are used every day.
The walls around the store are also adorned with not only photos of family, but also pictures of hunters with the game they killed. Dewayne said his store was a hunting check-in station for many years. If you visit the store, you will see many mounted deer heads and stuffed wild turkeys. If you are an avid seeker of this type of scenery, he may show you some of his big game mounted animals inside his house that is connected to the store. He said their store still offers hunting and fishing licenses.
“I only hunt adult animals,” he said. “I am very selective in what I hunt. Terry said I kill less animals so I can hunt more days – she might be right.”
He said they sold lottery for a while, but there was a lot of paperwork and little profit in that area.
“What’s happening is we’re gradually winding down, and I think it’s happening to all small businesses,” he said.
Dewayne is 69 and Terry is 65.
“We’ve had a good life up here,” he said. “We’ve been married almost 40 years, and we don’t function well without each other.”
Reach Debbie Caldwell at 606-573-4510 or on Twitter @raiders42.