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Family-run general store and post office keep small-town flavor NORTHWEST -- Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown


In this hustle-bustle world, convenience is a must. Rush to work, rush through dinner, rush to the store to pick up a few things. It seems that life plays at full speed, and everyone is just a number.

In Uniontown, the pace is slower. At the town post office and Devilbiss general store, everyone has a name and is treated like one of the family.

Owned and operated by siblings Caroline Devilbiss, 73, and Robert Devilbiss, 65, the combination store and post office, a substation of Westminster, is open from 7 a.m to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

The businesses have been in the family for three generations, dating back to the 1800s.

Outside the building, at 3444 Uniontown Road, is a wooden sign with black and red letters that reads "Uniontown Post Office Rural Station ZIP Code 21158." In the window to the left is a Green's Ice Cream sign.

If one does not know the area, this preserved piece of nostalgia might easily be missed.

As you enter the store through the old-style wire screen and wood doors, the post office is immediately to the right. On the protective piece of Plexiglas are black box numbers identifying the see-through mailboxes that are accessible only from behind the counter.

The "counter" is a miniature fortress constructed mostly of wood, with a metal screen atop it displaying public announcements. It's difficult to see a petite Ms. Devilbiss behind the counter using postal scales of various sizes, bookkeeping materials and rubber stamps.

Letty Grayson, who lives across the street, called the six-foot-by-four-foot post office "quaint."

"It's just a part of Uniontown," said Judy Lockard. "It's been here ever since I can remember, and long before that, so I would say it's an essential part of town. It's certainly a convenience to have a post office here."

The Devilbisses said the original post office and store were in their grandparents' home, but were moved to the present location sometime in the late 1800s, although they did not have a specific date.

Ms. Devilbiss has a certificate declaring Frank Eckard, her grandfather, postmaster of Uniontown on June 5, 1897.

"I don't know why they put Grandfather's name there," she mused. "My grandmother used to always do all the work and ran it." She said her grandmother operated the post office and then her mother did.

Now Ms. Devilbiss is "clerk in charge" and, in keeping with tradition, greets townspeople by name and hands them their mail without hesitation.

Neighbor Robert Yingling said of the post office: "I like it there. You have a little box number. But, see, they know everybody in town.

"That's the thing about a small town -- everybody knows everybody so they really don't need box numbers. You can just go up and ask for your mail and they hand it to you."

Of course, the down-home hospitality of the post office isn't the only reason Mr. Yingling frequents the store. He said he is a staunch advocate of keeping the antiquated store open, and has offered his support.

"I love it. I like that little place. I told them count on me to help you stay in business," he said, displaying the bottle of Gatorade and pack of cigarettes he had just purchased.

"If you run out of milk or something like that, it's really convenient.

"I grew up around here," he said. "That store was always there. When we were kids, we'd always go up there and buy candy and gum. It's really nice having the store."

Now his children buy their own penny candy from the same long, glass display cases their daddy did.

When the Devilbisses' grandfather and father operated the store, they were known for their ice cream, made 10 gallons at a time.

"When my grandfather first started, he had to turn the mixer with a horse," Mr. Devilbiss said. The ice cream was all natural, made with fresh fruits, or eggs for egg custard flavor. Twenty percent ,, butterfat accounted for its richness and creaminess.

Mr. Devilbiss said the ice cream was so thick when it was churned, "You could take a finger and peel the butter off."

Mr. Devilbiss was in high school when his father was in charge of making ice cream. He said he could remember stirring the ice cream by hand, some nights until midnight, in the small room adjacent to the ice house behind the store.

Ice taken from the 10-foot-deep hole in the ice house was chipped and used to insulate the ice cream. A five-gallon can sat inside a container of ice, and both were put into a cabinet to firm up until the ice cream was sold.

"During the war, we couldn't make it fast enough to keep it hard," Mr. Devilbiss laughed.

He said a batch would be made in the morning; by evening it would be gone and another batch would have to be made. This continued until 1950, when their father gave up the ice cream part of the business.

Mr. Devilbiss still has the stirring spade used to mix the ingredients, and the five-foot wooden-handled ice pick, used to shift ice blocks.

Another tradition of the store is the sale of bulk chocolate candies during the Christmas season. People travel from all across the state to purchase bonbons, chocolate drops, nonpareils and 15 other types of chocolates.

This year, the display will begin the second week of November.

But, the heyday of the country post office and general store may be coming to a close. Ms. Devilbiss said small stores like theirs are "going out one by one.

"There aren't too many of them around anymore."

She said they have thought about closing up both businesses, because the work exceeds the profit.

He reasoned, "We've got towns as close as four miles away, six miles away; Westminster is eight miles away. You know nowadays if you don't have something, they [customers] are not going to wait until you get it in. They are going to go somewhere else to get it."

He said the hometown flavor of the store's atmosphere "doesn't pay the bills."

"I'd really hate to see it close down," said Mr. Yingling. "I don't know what I'd do without it. They talked about it one time, about closing it down, and I told them I'd really hate to see you close down, because then I'd have to drive all the way to New Windsor, or Union Bridge or Taneytown to get little stuff.

For now, the sale of three pieces of lunch meat and some gummy bears keep the Devilbisses in business.

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