After 73 years as a familiar fixture on the Kernersville landscape, hometown grocery Musten & Crutchfield is in the midst of a re-birth of sorts, one John Crutchfield hopes will not only have people talking but walking through the front doors, as well.
Crutchfield is the fourth generation of Musten & Crutchfield descendants to take on the family business after becoming more involved with the store's operations as a way to lessen the load on his father, owner Robert Crutchfield.
Crutchfield is the great-grandson of John Clarence Musten, Sr. and grandson of Everett Dace Crutchfield, Sr., co-founders of the grocery store on North Main Street that has borne their names for the almost three quarters of a century. Crutchfield's father, Robert, and uncle, Everett Crutchfield, Jr., worked together in the business until Everett's retirement several years ago. When it became apparent that Robert needed to step back a bit from day-to-day operations, John stepped in.
"I've been working here off and on since I was 14-years-old", said John, now 41, as he took a break from Monday morning's work preparing what truly has become the store's signature offering - pimento cheese. "I was in software sales, but Dad started having some health issues and I was brough back in to handle the wholesale side of things and deliveries. I wanted to take some of the load off him."
That was in mid-March this year, and since then Crutchfield has been quietly rebuilding a business that many thought had closed some 10 years ago.
Under the younger Crutchfield, Musten & Crutchfield has entered a more mainstream digital age with an updated web site and even a Facebook page where the store can make direct contact with a newer generation of customer.
"I've tried to find other avenues to get our name out there, " said Crutchfield. We've gone more electronic, such as using Facebook, to appeal to a wider audience."
The store's website gives readers a history of Musten & Crutchfield, from its beginnings with earlier generations and provides an amazing pictorial history of the store at its original location a little further south on North Main to its current location at the end of what is considered Kernersville's downtown historic district, near the railroad tracks at Bodenhamer Street.
One area John has tried to focus on as he puts his own stamp on teh Musten & Crutchfield legacy is buying local, which means products made throughout N.C. He stocks milk and creamery products made in Julian and homemade Moravian chicken pies from Advance and is on the lookout for a local beef supplier so he doesn't have to order meats from outside of the state.
"One of the things I noticed while out doing routes was a need for local products. I thought, 'Let's get more local stuff in here, what no one else has to try to build that niche market," explained John.
He also looked around inside the store inself and began working on updating its appearance, as well. He updated counters and built new display cases for things such as the old-fashioned candy the store has always stocked. John also did a little re-arranging so more colorful, eye-catching products would be the first thing customers see when they walk in the door.
"A lot of this appears to be major changes, but they're really minor changes," said John. "Most are visual changes so the store doesn't look so 'old' and more inviting."
John's hard work has begun to pay off. He has seen the store's route sales increase and sales of the Musten & Crutchfield mainstay - pimento cheese - have also increased.
"We've gone from producing 2,500 pounds of pimento cheese a week to about 3,000 pounds," he said.
Along with pimento cheese made on Mondays, Musten & Crutchfield makes its own chicken salad on Tuesdays that seems to be gaining in popularity.
"I've bee trying to convice Dad and his brothers to distribute the chicken salad," he said.
Crutchfield wants people to know the changes being made at the store won't change the character of the business nor how it values customers.
"People are starting to come back around," said Crutchfield. "I think people want the hometown feel you won't find in the chain stores. We will have conversations with our customers. We know them and they're family to us. That hometown family atmosphere is not going to change. You don't get that at chain stores."
Crutchfield spends two days a week in the store. The rest of the week he's out doing route and making sure the store's wholesale customers have what they need. His father Robert still makes deliveries as well and will often call him to let him know just how much pimento cheese needs to be re-stocked.
It's a challenge," Crutchfield admitted. "I see hundreds of things that need to be done, but it's one thing at a time. Sales have increased enough that we're able to make some upgrades but a lot of things need to be done."
"It's a work in progress," he continued. "We've been here for 71, almost 74 years, and we've seen a lot of change come through Kernersville. We were stagnant over a long period of time but that's beginning to change. Musten & Crutchfield is heritage."