West Virginia store brings back childhood memories

August 19, 2018

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — One of Phil Thornton’s favorite memories is of Beckley at Christmas time.

He had a paper route, and, at Christmas one year, he walked “up town” and spent his route savings on gifts for his family.

Thornton, now 65, proudly walked from a local store to his childhood home, which was in the district that now hosts West Virginia University-Institute of Technology.

“He walked all that long ways, carrying his presents from uptown,” said his wife,Tammy Thornton. “He’s sentimental about it.”

Like her husband, she is also sentimental.

Her memories, when she shares them, are comforting and warm. They settle over the listener like a fluffy blanket on a snowy “school’s out” day, beckoning to a time when problems were smaller, a summer day was longer, and Christmas would never be bigger — or more magically absorbed.

She and Phil aren’t story tellers, exactly. They are the owners of The Little Shoppe at the Corner at Beckley. Their stories — and the stories of others — are within the artifacts that cheerfully crowd their store, awaiting the right remember-er. Their porch offers a spot for folks to sit and watch the world go by.

“We love vintage,” Thornton explained. “We love the history of what we grew up with.

“When we were small, uptown Beckley made a very big impression on both of us. We love the stores that were uptown, like G.C. Murphy’s, Grant’s, Montgomery Ward.

“The Melody Shop was where you could buy vinyl records. As we grew older, we collected items we remembered seeing, or having, when we were young.”

Those items — 2,000 vinyl records of various genres, antique dolls, dishes, glassware, Elvis memorabilia, a 30-volume set of classic hardback Harvard books, stoneware, lamps, antique radios, books, Christmas ornaments and even the classic glass pop bottles — create a hodgepodge of Americana in the lamp-lit nook of a shop.

The Little Shoppe on the Corner offers things that were once loved but thought to be lost and forgotten. When a wanderer through the eclectic cove unexpectedly encounters a treasure — a vintage lamp like Mom’s, a familiar dish set, a Chrissy doll from 1972 — a delighted jolt of recognition follows, and the story starts.

“I hear people say, ‘Oh, my mom had one of those’ or ‘My grandmother had that’ or ‘My dad collects that,’” Thornton reported. “That’s what they talk about.

“You just go back in time when you’re walking through them, because you see stuff from years ago.”

Tammy Thornton has a rare jewel: an aluminum Christmas tree with a “color wheel,” still in a box from Grant’s.

“When I was small, my aunt and uncle had a silver aluminum Christmas tree, with a color wheel,” she explained. “What you did was, you put this vintage color wheel down to the floor. It shined down on that tree and made it look like there were lights.

“Usually, people put red balls or all-blue balls, and the tree was silver.

“It fascinated me, and, as I got older, I searched everywhere to find one of those trees.”

Along with Christmas, Phil Thornton loves vinyl records, and the extensive collection at the shop is a tribute to his passion for vinyls and his sentimental streak. Phil began to recreate his collection from his youth several years ago, and that’s how the massive vinyl collection at the shop started.

One section of the store is now dedicated to “the vinyls.”

Tammy Thornton pointed out that many “old” things circle back into favor with the American culture, and vinyl records are having a resurrected heyday in the digital age.

“A lot of the teenagers, and a lot of the people our age, are wanting them again,” she said. “They got rid of them, and now, they’re getting sentimental about them.

“A lot of the young kids going to Woodrow (Wilson High School), they’re coming in to look at vinyl records. We’re really excited about that.”

The Thorntons both love Beckley. They loved the way city workers once strung multi-colored lights across the tops of the telephone poles to celebrate the season. They loved the uptown stores that glowed with snowy promise at Christmas and predicted the end of summer with back-to-school clothing.

Their store offers history of their beloved hometown. The Thorntons have two copies of Volume #1 Beckley USA books, along with a large collection of older pictures of Beckley and its history.

Along with a collection of older dolls like Shirley Temple, Barbie, Ms. Beasley, and the 1990s Chatty Patty by Mattel (a replica of Chatty Cathy), The Little Shoppe on the Corner offers newer Disney dolls.

Tammy Thornton urged visitors to come in and find their own treasure or to let her know what she can find for their collection. Then, they’re welcome to sit on the glider out front and watch the good old days happen.

The Little Shoppe on the Corner is at 350 N. Vance Drive, near 110 Marshall.

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