By Sister Kathy Curtis
Inez is located just about as far east as you can get and still be in Kentucky. Inez is the little town where, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared his “War on Poverty”. Like the rest of the region, Inez, has had its share of economic upswings and downturns. And like the rest of the coalfield counties today things are grim. Martin County’s last working coal mine will close at the end of the month and so will it’s health center.
In the middle of this doom and gloom is a really bright spot of hope. Jared and Laken Goforth opened their general store just two months ago in response to the outpouring of prayer they had been hearing in their community. “God laid it on our hearts to do something for the community, so we opened this store.” Jared Goforth told me.
The Cain Building, where the general store is located, was built in 1936 and was a Texaco service station for a number of years. The building, which had been donated to the Martin County Historical Society had been damaged by a fire. When Jared Goforth, a talented carpenter and self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, was hired to repair the damage, he saw potential in the renovated space. “We wanted a place where the community could come,” Jared told me. “We decided on calling it a “general store” because it has all sorts of things in it. Plus it sounds old-timey.”
The store has a great mix of items provided by at least six community members in addition to the. The Sudsy Gals handmade soap fills a hutch on one side of the room sandwiched between a rack of shoes, for sale, and wall hangings done by Laken.. “I don’t get much time for that right now,” Laken told me, holding her nine month old son Finley. Down the middle of the store are shelves filled with knit dishcloths, utensils with horn handles, hand painted jars and of course UK themed Christmas ornaments, all handmade by Jared and Laken’s friends and neighbors. “It’s their store too,” Jared said.
The store also sells Goforth General Store jellies, relishes and sauces. I asked Jared if he processed them himself. “No, actually those are from the Amish. But, we are working with KCARD (Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development) and next year we hope to have our micro-processing certification and be able to sell our own.” He is also planning on getting the store registered as an official Kentucky Proud Farm Store so he can sell not only his own products but those created by other microprocessors in the area.
“All the produce I sell comes from our farm and from a couple other farmers in the area. Sometimes a farmer I know will come in with some stuff he had left [from market] and I’ll buy it from him”. Currently, “we are selling mums now from Griffith Family Farms in Johnson County.” The Goforth General Store offers fresh meats from Appalachian Meats in Prestonsburg too. “That’s where I take my pigs to be processed. We sell our pork here too” said Jared.
Our tour around the store ended up back in the corner with the old fashioned cash register, where antique tins, boxes and bins were full of penny candy. “Which is five dollars a pound now.” Jared told me. The back corner is also where Laken had spent most of her time while I was visiting putting together orders that had been coming in for the Miner’s Bucket lunch, something I had been thinking about since leaving Floyd County.
I had timed my trip to arrive about noon-thirty, hoping to catch the tail end of the lunch rush. Yes, the Goforth General Store also sells hot lunches. The Miner’s bucket lunch is a sandwich, a bag of chips and a drink for $5.00 and today’s special was fried bologna on white bread. Now, I love whole grains and fresh veggies with the best of them, but every now and again you have to wander down memory lane; for me, that’s fried bologna on white bread with a touch of mustard. Yum!
As Laken handed me my sandwich I asked her why a general store?
“We wanted to do something for our community and this seemed like it. It’s a big leap of faith. We love it here and we don’t want to have to leave. We want our kids to have the same thing we had; growing up in the country with family around.” Jared and Laken, who both grew up in Martin County, have three children and like most mountains folks, family and place are very important to them.
As I headed out of the store, brown bag in hand, I noticed the iconic picture of President Johnson. He was talking with Martin County resident, Tom Fletcher, on that sunny afternoon fifty-three years ago. “There are some folks who wonder if that was such a good thing for us,” Jared mentioned as he bid me goodbye. Personally, I’m not sure either, but there is one thing I am pretty clear on: Eastern Kentucky is full of people like Jared and Laken Goforth. People who are doing what they can to continue to live and raise their children in the region. For them, returning to some of the old ways like general stores, Friday night “pickin and grinnin” and fried bologna sandwiches is a real good thing.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 6:00 and the first Saturday of the month. “We are trying to open every other Friday evening for music.” Jared, an accomplished fiddle player too, says that “having a safe, family friendly place to come is important to the community too”. According to a recent post on their Facebook page, “Pickin and grinnin Friday at 7pm. We will have polish sausages and soup beans. Bring a chair! And all pickers and singers are welcome to come!!” Hope to see you all there.