The former Southern States store in Whiteford, which has served the agricultural community since the transition from horse and plow to tractors took hold in the 1940s, has a new owner and a new lease on life.
Henry Holloway, a Harford County farmer and owner of the Mill of Bel Air, has acquired the inventory and equipment of the Whiteford store, along with that of another former Southern States store in Shawsville, for $600,000.
His plan is to keep both stores open and invest an additional $300,000 to $500,000 in renovations at each site.
State Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley praised the moves as "important to preserving the infrastructure that is so vital to retaining Maryland's farmland and farm operations."
He said the trend in recent years has been the opposite, noting that "a lot of our farm stores have been going out of business. This makes it harder for farmers to survive. Instead of going to a local store for a tractor part, some farmers are being forced to drive two or three counties away.
"It a tremendous loss to the agriculture community when these kinds of stores close."
C. John Sullivan III, Harford County's agricultural economic development coordinator, said the two Southern States stores were scheduled to close.
Holloway was unable to say when renovations will start. "It will depend on how fast the county approves a permit," he said. "But we hope to have the work done within the next two to three years."
The new stores will be similar to the Mill of Bel Air, which offers clothing and a wide array of other farm goods including feed for horses, beef cattle, hogs and goats.
"We will have a full line of pet food and a full line of poultry feed," said Holloway. "We will have pigeon food. It is unbelievable how many people have racing pigeons. Some cost $1,500."
Though the stores will offer some items for the home, Holloway said that "agriculture will be our primary focus. Without agriculture we would be out of business."
Holloway has also acquired Service Feed & Supply Inc., on Main Street in Cardiff a few miles from the Whiteford store.
"Service Feed will be our grain handling, feed manufacturing, fertilizer blending and bulk pesticide handling facility," said Holloway. All of the retail goods will be transferred to the Whiteford store, which has been renamed the Mill of Whiteford.
Marlyn G. Flaharty, a partner with Holloway in the acquisitions along with Ben Hushon, will continue to manage the feed mill. Hushon will manage the Shawsville store, which has been renamed the Mill of Black Horse.
The Shawsville store will remain near the intersection of Routes 23 and 439. Holloway said the Whiteford store, at Routes 136 and 165, might be moved but will remain in the area.