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Old Pilot Hill store still bringing in the customers

Writer:Dylan Aycock
Six years ago, Donnie and Denise Hall were traveling through Greeneville when they stopped for breakfast. On entering the restaurant, Denise picked up a real estate book. She flipped the booklet open and her eyes immediately landed on an ancient building, badly in need of repair, but a building that spoke to both of them.
The building was the Pilot Hill General Store, located about 15 miles southwest of Jonesborough in Limestone.
“She said ‘Call, call,’ so we called and luckily on Sunday the realtor met us,” said Donnie Hall, sitting on a recently built 14-by-60-foot covered porch.
“We fell in love with the store, (although) it was in great disrepair at the time. We made an offer on it and six years later, here we are.”
Built in 1902 by Union veteran George Walters, the store, now called the Old Pilot Hill General Store, served as a business hub of the community for several decades.
The store, run by Walters and his wife, provided patrons with easy access to groceries, a feed store and once-a-week chiropractic services.
“Once a week, the chiropractor would come in and straighten everybody up,” Hall said with a smile.
The second floor of the store also served as a courtroom in Washington County at the time, with a traveling magistrate holding court once a month.
When the previous owners auctioned the store off, everything that once inhabited the 106-year-old building went along with it. Completely bare and in need of much repair, the Halls seized the opportunity to renovate and restock with turn-of-the-century relics.
After traveling for miles down a long and winding road, a quaint white shingled building sits aside Pilot Hill, with white, feathery clouds creating the ideal backdrop for an old-fashioned general store. The outside appears strictly Americana, with rocking chairs lining the front porch, antique signs plastered sparingly across the building and four American flags blowing in the late July breeze.
On the inside, barrels of Pixy Stix, Cracker Jacks and Moon Pies crowd the front entrance, enticing customers to treat themselves to old fashioned candies. Above the screen door hangs a photograph of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signed, “Your’s truly, Babe Ruth.” The walls are lined with cherry, grape and boysenberry jams. The back wall, lined with shelves of pastel fabrics and threads of many colors, sits adjacent to an extended glass case housing photographs of the store’s rich history.
Apart from selling antiques, the store also doubles as a restaurant, serving nearby customers, Tennessee natives and other patrons from across the country, some as far as Maryland. The menu mirrors typical Southern favorites…sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs, and the store’s specialty, barbecue, both Boston butts and baby back ribs.
Hall, the “pit-master,” starts up the smoker on Wednesday afternoon, cooking 180 to 200 pounds of pork per week. He also reserves 40 to 50 pounds of baby back ribs, a specialty of his, for the weekend.
“I have a smoker out back, and we do everything on site. Low and slow, that’s the name of the game when you do barbecue,” he said.
The Halls owned a barbecue business in Tampa, Fla., and were familiar with the obstacles that come with maintaining a restaurant. Denise, however, had a hunch it would work.
“I told her at the time, ‘Are you sure you want to do a restaurant because that’s a full-time job’ and she said, ‘We’ll just start out with sandwiches’ and, lo and behold, one thing led to another.”
The general store currently employs five staff members, not including Donnie and Denise. Denise maintains the inside of the store, manages the bookkeeping, and greets customers as they enter. Donnie, on the other hand, manages the kitchen and maintains the daily, monthly and seasonal influx of supplies.
During the summer, the Old Pilot Hill General Store draws a large crowd for what Hall calls, “Pickin’ on the Porch.” Every Thursday evening, local musicians come together and play a few rounds of bluegrass tunes to a porch full of full and satisfied customers.
For Donnie and Denise, the general store isn’t just a business. It’s a place that gives customers an opportunity to “step back in time” and provides a “down-home feel when you walk in,” a feeling rarely experienced in today’s fast-paced society.
The Halls try to make customers feel at home.
“It’s a place to say ‘Hey’ to you, and ‘You’re welcome here,’ and treat them like a person and not like a number.”

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Dylan Aycock is a journalism student at MTSU. She was one of eight students who recently spent a week in Jonesborough writing stories for the Herald & Tribune.