BLADENSBURG — For more than a century Davidson’s Grocery and Hardware has been an institution in the small and tight-knit community of Bladensburg. But now, owners Stephanie and Larry Stimpert, have announced their plans to close the shop down at the end of the business day Saturday.
Over the past several months, Larry has been fighting cancer, and since the couple took over Davidson’s in 2005, most of their time has been spent caring for the store with very little free time. Now the couple is ready for a break.
“I’ve been thinking about it, I’ll be 70 this winter, so it’s getting time to retire,” Larry said.
The past few months have been especially tough for Larry because cancer treatments make him feel “about like having the flu,” but over the last 13 years the couple has had very little time away from the store. For the first 10 years they were open, they were open seven days a week. Even when they cut down to six days a week in 2015, it was still hard to find time to do anything but care for the store.
“2010 I had open heart surgery,” Larry said. “That was my longest vacation. I took eight days off counting surgery and all. There wasn’t any real vacations. Other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, and once and a while I would pick a holiday … Fourth of July, Labor Day or something and I’d close one day, but it was generally three days off a year.”
With their free time, Stephanie said, the couple will be able to catch up on work around their house. The couple is also looking forward to spending more time with family including their grand and great-grand children and heading to North Carolina to see Stephanie’s father. Larry is especially looking forward to spending his summers fishing and getting out on his boat.
The Stimperts moved to Bladensburg in 1973 one year after they were married. Larry lived within 10 miles of Utica his entire life, but for Stephanie, who grew up in Papua New Guinea from age 5 to 18 where her parents were missionaries, it was quite the change of pace. Over the years, the Stimperts became entrenched in the community and, not surprisingly, even visited Davidson’s Grocery themselves over the years.
When owner Pete Davidson put the shop up for sale in 2005, Larry said, it was a great opportunity to become his own boss and work for himself. Larry explained they didn’t make any noticeable changes to the way Davidson had kept the store, including the name because “Pete was just a super guy” and because “it just seemed comfortable the way it was.”
“Everybody that came in was just used to everything. Most people don’t like change,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
Over the years, the Stimperts have had to make a few small changes. Within the last few years, they have cut back on hardware sales significantly, and in the last few months they have stopped selling feed because chemotherapy treatments have made heavy lifting difficult for Larry. One thing that hasn’t changed under the Stimperts watch is that Davidson’s is the local hub for socializing, getting information and getting necessities.
“It’s been around since 1890,” Larry said of Davidson’s. “I hate to close. It was just always the place that if people needed something, why, they came here. Not for the big hardware items, but the emergency stuff. [Customers] would come here and say ‘When’s the community yard sales? When’s trick-or-treat?’ It used to be where did the fire trucks go or the squad and we had a scanner in here. It’s been enjoyable.”
Locals in the area are sad to see the store close. Kaitlyn Hayes an employee at Ms B’s Restaurant and Bakery, said the news that Davidson’s is closing is really upsetting.
“[The Stimperts] have been here for so long around the town and so many people know everything about them and it’s really nice to go in there and know that everyone around town knows everything. My family has taken over the diner four years ago so that’s when we started going to [Davidson’s]. Just in the four years, they’ve been really welcoming. [Davidson’s] really means a lot I think, to a lot of people because they’ve been around for so long. It’s nice to have a local business to come to every afternoon rather than going to like a dollar store. I like the fact that I know who the money is going to.”
For now, Davidson’s will be closed and the building will be for sale with the equipment left in. Both Larry and Stephanie said they hope that someone will pick up where they left off and keep Davidson’s Grocery going.
“It’s bittersweet,” Stephanie said. “That’s why we’ve been trying to sell it, because we’d like it to stay open.”