Friday, February 28, 2020

Bradleys reflect with a writer friend on their 41 years at the local grocery, "the community 'hub' of Midway"

Chuck, Scott and Shirley Bradley posed in front of the Midway Corner Grocery after Scott sold it. (Photo provided)
By Renee Head

To a small, historic town named Midway in the year 1979 came a strong, dedicated family: Chuck and Shirley Bradley and their three sons and two young daughters.

What brought this family from Los Angeles to a tight-knit community, wondering how they would be accepted? It was a desire for a safer place to raise their family and a need to help Chuck’s mother care for his grandmother, who was nearing 100.

Chuck had left the Lexington area when he was a young man and hitchhiked his way to Los Angeles! He spent his life in the trucking business. He left his job as terminal manager of the Santa Fe Trucking Co., a subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad. Shirley was a hairdresser.

Their family has become a cornerstone in Midway! They owned and operated the Midway Corner Grocery for 41 years. Their quiet children worked behind the cash registers and in the deli, and grew up in the store.

They told them it couldn't be done

Chuck and Shirley have many stories to tell of how God was involved in their move. His guiding eye was directing and protecting their every step. The long drive across our country found them in a terrible snowstorm; it was 5 below and they got a foot of snow. They had to stop every 10 minutes to clean the windshield wipers and headlights. Their steering on the vehicle was not working properly. They managed to get their family of seven safely to Kentucky to live with his mother and grandmother until he could get a job.

The only job he could find wanted him to move to Texas! One day he saw a very small ad in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Grocery store for sale,” and a phone number. When he called, the Realtor turned out to be his Mom and Dad’s Sunday-school teacher, Bob McCray. He went to look at the store and told McCray he could not afford it. McCray told him there were some creative ways to get a loan. So they did, at 23% interest! That was in 1979, just before a recession.

They had no experience in the grocery business, but they gave it their best. They were in the store day and night, seven days a week. They opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. They stocked the store to the ceilings and greeted every customer. The first thing they did was get rid of the unfavorable magazines. They received letters thanking them for doing that. That’s right, for 41 years they have run a successful grocery store without a dime coming from the unfavorable magazines or beer!

The bankers told them it couldn’t be done! You may wonder how they did it. Well, it was being there for their customers. They started charge accounts, and Chuck started delivering groceries to shut-ins. He would often do little repairs for the customers, especially the widows, while he was there. He would start a pilot light on a hot water heater, fix a toilet and so on! Sometimes they would drive their customers home. They even gave their vehicle to a lady who didn’t have a car. One customer didn’t have any hot water and they got her a portable hot water heater so she could have a hot bath.

They heard the true appreciation from their customers, who would thank them and say they were going to pray for them that night. Yes, it was a heart for people that helped them succeed. Families would buy their entire week’s groceries there. One family in Midway had three of their children work at the store. The lady comes in nearly every day. She thanked the Bradleys for teaching them how to work and to be responsible.

They were told they could not succeed without beer. But succeed they did. Their first year, the business more than doubled, and again the second year! And so it goes. A lot of hard work and a caring heart were more valuable!

Part of the community

The Bradleys lived in Scott County, but became a part of the Midway community. He volunteered at the fire department and was invited to teach a class at the Midway Christian Church how to cook a country ham. Another man knew how to make beaten biscuits so they served it up! Chuck was also on the president’s advisory board at Midway College. It was now home!

Their five kids grew up in the store. Each one learned the business. All the guys worked in the meat department and learned to be butchers. Lesley paid her tuition to Pensacola College working summers in the store. But Wendi was the bravest of all. She worked behind the cash registers and would chase down the shoplifters!

When you have been in business as long as they have, there are several stories to tell. Chuck would sometimes restrain the thief until the police came. He even had to stop one guy beating the police with the handcuffs.

If you ever met Chuck Bradley, you felt like you made a friend on the first encounter. They had small business promotions like midnight sales, 99 cents for a half gallon of ice cream, free coffee, chicken for 29 cents a pound, bacon for 99 cents a pound. One time they had an airplane fly over dropping handbills for free doughnuts or $5 cash! They generated a lot of traffic over that. They had contests and gave away a bike at Christmas.

They would have Wildcat days and put blue food coloring in the mayo. Once they had a Wildcat jacket on display. A customer, Mike Perry, would come in. Every time he saw the jacket he would fall in the floor and say someone give me that jacket! This month Chuck had the great pleasure of taking that jacket and giving it to him! Mike was so thankful. It was a great memory!

But maybe the biggest thing is what goes on behind the little screen door. It’s the lunch line! They serve soup and sandwiches. They started with a little skillet that cooked three cheeseburgers, fresh chuck, never frozen! Then they got a griddle, then three. They finally got a commercial grill! They sell hundreds of fresh, juicy cheeseburgers every day. And you must get a country ham sandwich! It is worth the wait in line.

For decades they sold country hams for the holidays, and even sold homemade jam cakes. Now the specialty is deviled eggs with jalapenos! They make six dozen at a time.

They tried for five years to get permission to put in gas pumps, but were always denied. They kept fighting, and in the mid-1980s, the third judge, Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs said, “You guys have given Bradley enough headaches; leave him alone and let him put his gas station in.”

The Bradleys are deep conservatives. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream made fun of President George W. Bush, by pulling a statue they had made of him saying, “Liar, liar pants on fire.” Chuck took all of his Ben and Jerry’s ice cream out of his store and set it on fire. Ice cream won’t burn, so Chuck Jr. got the Herald-Leader papers to burn it! They thought they had used the proper material, a liberal newspaper. A friend of theirs called a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, who flew over and videoed them burning it. It was shown on CNN.

Moving on

In 2001 Chuck and Shirley sold their business to their son, Scott. At age 10 he had started working behind the cash register. That was hard for him because he was a very quiet kid. He never outgrew being quiet, but he learned the grocery business. Chuck and Shirley actually got to retire for two years, except for doing the country hams at Christmas, but came back and continued as bookkeepers.

Scott and the Bradleys have stepped down from the grocery business. After four decades, it was time to move on. The business was sold Feb. 4, and they wanted to take this time to take you back through the years with them.

Their family started with seven, has grown to 31, and is expected to grow more. They have family in the professional world, military life, ministry, medical field and construction. “We are continuing to grow,” Shirley and Chuck say as they end this journey. “We certainly appreciate all the time with friends, neighbors and customers. We want to extend our thanks to all the people of Woodford and Scott county. We appreciate the 41 years Midway has been friends to us!”

They added, “Scott wants to try something new after 41 years in the grocery business. It remains to be seen what road he takes now. He wants to thank all of his customers in Midway for being so kind to him all these years. We want to give our best wishes to the new owners. May they create the relationships, memories, and continue the community ‘hub’ of Midway, Kentucky.Scott, Chuck and Shirley say, “Thanks to all who entered our doors through the years.”

Renee Head of Lawrenceburg is a friend of the Bradleys, who submitted this story to the Messenger. We thank them for it, and invite other examples of journalism by citizens.

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