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Owners of old general store in White House planning to close up shop for good; Sale will probably mean end of the Sparks Store


For more than a 100 years, the general store at the corner of Falls and Mount Carmel roads has been fixture in the rural Baltimore County community of White House, providing cattle feed to farmers and, later, coffee and newspapers to commuters.

But yesterday, the Sparks Store went on the auction block, now that owners Jimmie and Barbara Douglas have decided it is time to move on to other ventures.

While the auction failed to generate a bid they were willing to accept, the couple is negotiating with prospective buyers -- including one who is hoping to open a restaurant on the site.

A few long-time residents who attended the auction to see what the future would bring seemed resigned that their general store probably will be gone for good.

"It's such a different community now. It won't be much effect, I guess," said Grafton Miller, 73, a farmer who has lived in the area his whole life.

The closing of the country store is just one more change for the area to witness. Long ago, the blacksmith shop on the opposite corner turned into a farm implement store; now it sells mostly lawn mowers. Another general store across the road burned and was rebuilt; it now sells pizza, sandwiches and snow cones.

The Sparks Store, probably the oldest business in White House, lingered with its open front porch and rough plank floors, exuding a rustic charm that earned it a spot in commercials and films, including the recently filmed "Runaway Bride."

The Douglases purchased the store, its adjacent house and four acres in 1996 from the Sparks family, which had owned the property for 75 years. But the Douglases had different visions of what they wanted to do with the property.

Jimmie Douglas, who worked in an auto body shop, wanted a place to sell collectibles and motorcycle memorabilia. Barbara Douglas, who ran a house cleaning service, wanted to keep the store, which she had patronized for years.

Although they displayed a few antiques in the store, the Sparks Store remained much like it was before they bought it.

Last fall, the Douglases agreed that running a general store was not what they wanted to do.

"I'm not a sales person," Barbara Douglas said. "I'd as soon give the stuff away."

And sometimes she did. When a construction worker ran out of gas, she gave him $5 worth of fuel from the pump. When a young hitchhiker ordered a sandwich and soup, Barbara Douglas charged her only a quarter.

In the last few days, the Douglases have been sorting through their supplies. The stock was taken down from shelves, the worn, wooden floors vacuumed. A mammoth brown cash register with blue and white buttons was silent.

The Douglases are waiting to see whether a deal can be worked out with prospective buyers. If not, they will reopen temporarily until the business sells.

When the time does come to leave, they say it will be with mixed feelings. Although they never quite took to the long hours and hard work of operating a general store, they are happy for the experience and the people they met.

"The guys who come in here for years and years, I think, where are they going to go for coffee? I feel like I'm shoving them out the door," said Barbara Douglas.

But she is looking forward to settling into a new home and opening an antique business.

Jimmie Douglas is still deciding on his next venture, but says he has no regrets about the time he's spent at the store.

"This was the best thing that happened to me," he said.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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