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Passing the Torch

General store owners put their 75-year-old business on the market.



Last year, when multinational corporations were suffering the effects of an economic recession, Doug and Kristin Ammons were bringing in record sales at the quaint Shelby Forest General Store on the edge of Meeman-Shelby Forest.

A period of unparalleled business growth might seem like a strange time to sell, but the couple is ready to move on with the next phase of their lives. They're seeking a buyer to take the reins of the 75-year-old general store, an icon of yesteryear boasting original wooden floors and a slew of regulars who gather at the store daily for coffee, omelets, and "world-famous" cheeseburgers.

"This is a throwback to an easier, softer time, a time when you could leave your bike in the front yard and not lock the door," Doug Ammons says. "That's why I think business has grown as much as it has. We're good old-fashioned, elbow-grease Americana."

The last stop before entering Meeman-Shelby Forest, the general store offers something for everyone: live bait and tackle, hoop cheese, sodas, snacks, a wide selection of Frisbee golf discs, and a full deli and kitchen.

Ammons and his wife began throwing around the idea of selling when Doug's father was diagnosed with cancer. Before they could settle on a decision, Doug's father died. Despite that loss, the couple is following through with selling the store because they'd like to spend more time with their daughters.

"I was selfishly reluctant to let go of this. It felt premature to leave," Ammons says. "It's like going to a Beatles concert and leaving halfway through the second set."

The couple purchased the store and the surrounding three acres in 2003 from a descendant of the store's original owners, Dixie and Emmett Jeter. At the time, the owner was considering razing the store.

"[The owner] lived in Nashville, and he loved the notion of the family heirloom, but he didn't have the time to run it long-distance," Ammons says. "I said, you can't tear it down. It's like a community center. You ought to see what the front porch looks like at 6 a.m. with 15 guys in their 70s and 80s all arguing and fussing. It's just really cool."

Ammons, a financial partner at Northwest Mutual at the time, fell in love with the place. He and his family fixed up the derelict building, and despite their lack of store management experience, business boomed.

"We've shattered what this old gal used to do business-wise, but we have a lot of humility about it," Ammons says. "It's the store. We're the pilots. I didn't build this plane. I've just had the pleasure and honor of getting to fly it to altitudes previously unimaginable."

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