By Marty Gordon
The sign above the exit said, “Thank you for shopping Wade’s.” The message was clear as hundreds of people packed the Roanoke Street store in Christiansburg for the very last time Sunday.
The line was five deep when the doors opened at 10 a.m. The store’s famous banana pudding was sold out by 11, and ham biscuits were flying off the counter as quickly as they were made. Chicken salad was also a hot commodity. Red Wade’s hats lay for sale at the checkout counter with people grabbing a piece of history as they left, as the longtime grocer shuttered its doors for good.
Suzanne Farris was one of those people who came to the store on the last day. “It’s sad,” she said. “Sad for the county and the town. It’s like a part of our family has died. We can’t just pop in here and grab a hot dog anymore. It’s sad for what we are losing.”
Ninety-five-year-old Ernistene Weeks was among those shoppers, looking over mostly empty shelves on Sunday. She has shopped Wade’s since 1995 and admitted she doesn’t shop for groceries at the big stores like Walmart. “It’s a very sad day for me and the town,” she said.
Co-owner Greg Wade issued a statement Sunday on his Facebook page that read: “Thank all of you who shopped, worked, supported or sold to us during our 69 years and three generations. For a family business to be successful is saying something. I am proud to say I was a part of it, pretty much all my life and full time for the last 30.
“Competitors have come and gone but today we are the one leaving. I am proudly wearing my Wade’s shirt today and I will always be proud of this organization. Without you, our customer, and the many thousands of employees who have worked for us through the years, this post would not be possible. Thank you again for supporting Wade’s,” he said.
The man who followed in his father’s footsteps (Lowell Wade) looked back at many great memories of the grocery business from the time he could remember until today. “I will treasure those forever. To those of you that were part of them, thank you,” he said.
The 69-year-old independent grocery-store chain had struggled for the past several years, closing stores in Radford and Dublin on its way to the one lone store in Christiansburg. Greg’s grandparents opened the first store in 1950. His father, Lowell who passed away last year, followed in their footsteps and moved the store to its present location.
At one time, Wade’s operated seven supermarkets and 13 convenience stores. A Pulaski location closed in 1998, and the rest slowly followed.
Most recently, the Christiansburg store had undergone a “downsizing,” cutting its physical footprint in half. The plan was to operate the deli and the bakery and to offer a small selection of groceries.
In addition to the longtime customers who flocked to the store on Sunday, many longtime employees like Cynthia “Bobbie” Conner were working the counter. She told onlookers on Sunday she would miss the people and the customers. Many of those same customers thanked her for waiting on them over the years and came around the counter to give her a hug.
During her time in the deli, people had started calling Conner “Mrs. Wade’s.”
Charlie Whitescarver, a local businessman and Christiansburg resident, said from a business point of view, it had simply been too hard for a small grocer like Wade’s to compete with the bigger stores.
Personally, he said, he will miss the deli. “I feel like that was their strength—fritters, hot dogs and chicken,” he said.
Christiansburg Mayor Michael Barber said he shopped at Wade’s most of his life. “I am sorry to see them close and will miss the great staff that stayed with them until the end. Wade’s served our town well and will be missed,” he said.