When the children of Savage crave a piece of nickel candy, or when their parents need a loaf of bread, they often head for Pop's General Store on Baltimore Street.

And "Pop" himself -- 72-year old Jake Croston -- is never hard to find, standing behind the counter of the minigrocery or sitting in his rocking chair chatting with customers.

"It's a little, down-home country store, where you get the hot gossip and the latest news and an ice cream and a soda with it," said Jan Arnold, a Savage resident. "If you need a loaf of bread, Pop's store is great because you don't have to wait in long lines at the Wawa."

Tomorrow, Mr. Croston will be the center of attention in the town of 2,850, taking his place as the primary grand marshal in the parade that kicks off this year's Savage Fest. He will share the grand marshal's duties with sisters Alice and Myrtle Phelps, who are leaving the town to move into a nursing home in Montgomery County.

The annual two-day event, which takes place tomorrow and Sunday, draws a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 and raises money for the Savage Community Association's civic projects.

This year's festival will include pony rides, tours of historic mill homes, a dunking tank featuring local politicians and about 70 booths tended by artisans and local businesses. Among the games and competitions is a hog calling contest.

But the premier event is the parade, which features fire trucks and antique cars passing through the town's streets. That's where Mr. Croston fits in.

"When looking for a grand marshal, we generally have tried to pick somebody who has done a lot in the town," said Bill Waff, Savage Community Association president. "Pop has been around for a long time, and we thought he would be a good person for it."

A Savage resident for 40 years, Mr. Croston opened his store in May 1981 at the prodding of his son, Jimmy Croston, after giving up his job as a truck driver.

"I was a trucker on the road for 30 years until I had kidney trouble," Mr. Croston said, standing behind a counter lined with candy jars. "The doctors kind of talked me out of going back on the road."

When the store opened, Mr. Croston was the only grocer in town. An IGA Food store had closed months before. The Wawa food store that is less than a quarter-mile away on Baltimore Street opened a year after Mr. Croston's store.

These days, the Wawa often draws more customers. But Pop's retains a loyal following.

Five days a week, Mr. Croston walks into the corner grocery, which is in a room attached to his home. He opens at 7 a.m. and minds the store until 6:30 p.m., sometimes rocking in his chair while watching television. On weekends, the store is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-foot-by-14-foot store is a favorite stop for children after school or after a trip to nearby Savage Park.

"We like Pops," says 14-year-old Dwayne McTaggart. "Pops is real cool. He has a good attitude about what he's doing."

Despite the store's popularity, Mr. Croston's wife, Alma, would like her husband to take a break. "It keeps you tied down here all the time," she said.

And, sometimes Mr. Croston is willing to consider getting out of the business. "I have had thoughts of retiring," he said.

Most of the time, the Crostons just muse about cutting back the number of days they stay open, an option that would keep a local institution in place. Maybe with a little less pressure, says Mrs. Croston, "you're good for another 50 years."

Savage Fest will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday on the Baldwin Commons next to the Carroll Baldwin Community Hall off Baltimore Street in Savage.

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