Jack Sharp – Right Around the Bend
By Bob Tagert
Jack Sharp – Right Around the Bend
I have travelled Route 522 between Front Royal and the wineries of Rappahannock and Fauquier Counties from the late 60’s on my motorcycle up until today as I deliver the Old Town Crier to this area each month. In all that time, I have never stopped at the Blue Ridge Grocery & Country Store. I really don’t have a good reason except that it is on a sweeping bend in the road and I was usually going downhill. No time to react. When we were out there in September I passed the store again and Lani said that we should stop…”It looks pretty cool.” Luckily I was going uphill this time and slowing down was easier as I pulled off the road to turn around. This turned out to be one of the better moves in my life.
Sitting on the small front porch on a two person bench was the proprietor, Jack Sharp. If Route 522 had been a country dirt road, I could have been transported back to my youth visiting the small town of Nevils, Georgia, home of my grandparents. This store is certainly a throwback and the man is a perfect match. It was almost like sitting there and reminiscing with my grandfather, but that won’t work this time around…Jack is 75 and I am 73.
On the afternoon we went back to write this interview Jack brought out his 1950, Red Chevy pickup truck. He told me had been wanting an older pickup truck. “My wife told me I could get one, but it had to be red”, he tells me. “So I looked on the internet and found this one…showed it to her and she said, ‘What are you waiting for?”
A country store was something that Jack had always wanted to own. The original owner of the store used to live in the back and operate the front as a store selling essentials to the locals. Jack bought the store in 1986 and he and his wife Barbara lived in the back as he began to build a permanent home behind the store. As it turns out, Barbara is involved with the store as well. She hand paints signs on the walls, painted the bench out front as well as the mats that adorn the porch – she also takes care of all of the technology related work. “She is very artistic,” he brags.
As we retreated to the shade of the front porch I went to my truck to fetch a bottle of Copper Fox Single Malt whiskey that I had purchased earlier that day at the distillery. “I have the real stuff inside”, he tells me, “It was just made the other day!” We passed on the moonshine and hit the single malt…”Just a little”, he said, “I am a sipper.”
Jack Sharp is a man of many talents. Right out of high school he worked at a shipyard for several years. After that he joined the Naval Air Reserve and completed his tour of duty. After that he worked for a contractor that had business with NASA and, as a photo lab technician, he helped develop the film of the Apollo moon pictures in 1967. One of the first persons to witness the earth rising behind the moon.
Jack’s next adventure was working for Smith-Corona on photocopy equipment. His first assignment was to go to the White House to work on a photocopy machine. “I was driving around looking for a place to park and couldn’t find a single spot so I thought, the hell with this…I am going in,” he says. “I was driving a VW Beetle and the main gate was a little bit open, so I drove in. A guard flagged me down as my hubcap hit the iron gate as I came to a stop,” he remembers. Turns out, by the time the car stopped the guard had Jack out of the car and up against a wall as other guards scrambled. After about 45 minutes they finally said, “Get out of here.” The photocopier didn’t get fixed, he had to face his boss. “I never got to go to the White House again,” Jack laughs.
Jack’s best comment about owning the store is that it is fun. His customers are equally divided between locals and tourists who he can hear turning around down the hill. The store is quite the experience. Anywhere from soft drinks to snacks to Moon Pies, this place has it all. Jack is also an avid wood worker and had built a shop in the basement of his house. He has built birdhouses, used woodworking skills to make wine stoppers, whirligigs and walking sticks. He has just about everything in this store and as Jack says, ”If we ain’t got it-you don’t need it!”
To capture the real meaning of this place and this man, there is a hand drawn sign out front that says Beware of Dog, with “Dog” crossed out and below it reads “Wife”. When asked what happened Jack responds,” the dog died!” After meeting Barbara, she admitted that changing the sign was her idea!
Jack met his wife in 1987 while working for Raytheon which was bought out by Telex. “She was the security officer at the headquarters of Delta in Oklahoma and I was the branch manager in D.C. I needed things done yesterday and Barbara was my contact,” he says. Jack had to make a business trip to the Oklahoma headquarters so he called Barbara and suggested that they get together for lunch. “I remember when she came down the little spiral staircase, and I thought “My Goodness!!!” Thus started a long distance relationship and I bet he racked up few frequent flyer miles. They were married in 1988.
When asked, why this place? Jack responded, “I always wanted to buy property outside of D.C., you have got to get out of D.C. For many years I would drive around on weekends with a friend looking for a place. While looking at some property in Rappahannock we happened into Little Washington and I picked up a brochure that had this place listed,” he says. After he got home Jack began to think about it and thought, I have got to have that! Jack called a realtor but could get no answers so he and his friend drove out the next weekend. “I drove up, parked right where your truck is and thought, I have to buy this, I need to buy it today.” Jack got into the store and found out it was a total disaster, but discovered that the store had to be operational in six months or they would lose their grandfather clause. The agent asked jack if he wanted to make an offer, which Jack did and had $20 in his pocket for a down payment. SOLD.
About this time Barbara showed up and the party began. If you are coming down the mountain from Chester Gap slow down and look for the Blue Ridge Store on the left…it is definitely worth the stop. It took me 40 years. And you know, Jack is right…If they ain’t got it, you don’t need it! But, I will add…you will want it!