‘Heartbeat’ of Saluda closes

Published 6:27 pm Friday, March 12, 2010

What has been referred to as Saludas “heartbeat” served its last goose liver sandwich and peanut butter and chocolate shake last Saturday.
Unfortunately, more people ate lunch there on its last day of business than had in years.
Some local residents who made a point to get a taste of old Saluda say they cant believe they missed it all these years, adding that the up to 45-minute wait for food was well worth it.
Thompsons Market and Wards Grill, an “everything” market and meats store and adjoining short order grill and soda shop have closed. Thompsons Market was still selling out this week with 30 percent off merchandise and equipment.
Owners Larry and Debra Jackson, who have owned the historic businesses for the last few years say going out of business is the last thing they want to do, but recent, harsh economic times have left them no choice. Larry Jackson said if he had half the business he had last Saturday at Wards every Saturday, closing would not be necessary.
“It was the perfect storm,” Larry Jackson said recently. “If I thought it was my fault, I would take another look, but its the economy. Its devastating all the way around for the people of Saluda.”
The Jacksons are also upset for their employees, who they refer to as “the best crew we ever had.”
Thompsons and Wards has been a family owned business since 1941 and customers still got a sense of those times until its last days. Not much had changed over its 69 years, except maybe requiring shirts to enter the store as enforced by a sign that still hangs.
Walking into Thompsons was like stepping back in time with its hardwood floors and old time grocery feel. A store where customers could get everything from necessities to cook dinner that night, to hardware to fresh cut meats and cheeses. The back meat counter was pristine, with blocks of cheeses adorning the top of the counter and fresh peppers hanging from the ceiling.
Customers could step down from the market to Wards, a small soda shop feel, with a turquoise green counter and red topped circular barstools, checker board floors and a wall covered with pictures of the stores originator, Lola Thompson Ward, her son Charlie Ward, who ran the store for about 60 years and pictures of other family members, Saluda locals and regulars. Charlie Ward passed away in 2008, not long after selling the stores.
The menu included hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, ham plain, soups-any flavor, sandwiches of ham salad, minced or sliced bbq, ham and egg, cheese and egg, goose liver, fried egg and BLT. Short orders were steaks and chops, hot roast pork or beef, shrimp and oysters and bacon and eggs. Also cold plates ham and eggs, fries, potato salad, tossed salad, soups and oyster stew. And then there were the milkshakes. The sign simply said, “reg. thick, any flavor.”
Sundaes were also sold with choices of chocolate, chocolate-nut, pineapple or pineapple-nut.
The restaurant served many years as a place for locals and visitors to meet, especially those early risers in town.
“Thompsons Store and Wards Grill is a part of vanishing America,” says Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden. “These businesses are the center of our town and strategic part of Saluda. It is sad to see this business close. Wards Grill has been the meeting place for many of us to start our day. A great place to meet with old friends and meet new friends.”
The building is one of many architecturally historic buildings in the small towns Main Street district, which was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1996.
The building was constructed circa 1910 along with the identical building of M.A. Paces, to serve as general stores at the time. The two-story building was operated by the Lola Ward family at its current location since 1941 with the faade still having decorative panel and corbelled brick cornice, which was typical of the era. A long red awning stretches above the entrances with a Coca-Cola sign next to the “Thompsons” brand up high. A green bench also sits on the street and still serves as a popular resting spot under the downtown trees for locals and visitors to perch.
The Jacksons are hoping someone will continue selling crickets and red worms for bait, at the same time as sweet potato butter and moon pies. Maybe someone will even one day whistle through the market, hug friends and strangers alike, refer to everyone as “buddy” and yell out the side door again like Charlie Ward used to, saying, “Yall come back.”

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