A country store is more than a business where one can acquire goods. In many rural areas, it is the local gathering spot, a place where people come together, grab a bottle of Coca Cola and a pack of Nabs, and catch up on the news. This old building, located in the Kelleytown community of Hartsville, once served as such an establishment. Sadly, Ralph’s Store came to a tragic end when owner Ralph Segars was shot and killed during a robbery at his store on November 23, 1973.
Remembering Ralph’s Store
Although Ralph’s story ends with heartache, we are blessed to be able to share some of the happy memories he and his customers made during his career. Bill Segars, who contributed the photos on this page, was a relative and Kelleytown neighbor, and he and his father, Graham Segars, spent a good bit of time at the store. The memories he recounts below will bring you laughter even as they bring you tears.
Note that after sending this to us, Bill was able to clarify – by way of his cousin Ralph, Jr. – that the store opened in 1935. It is through Ralph and his wife Linda that we are able to share the two vintage photos showing Ralph at his store.
I’m not sure when Mr. Ralph’s Store was built [Ralph Segar’s son – Ralph, Jr. – later clarified that it opened in 1935.] I was born in 1953 and it was there when I was old enough to ride my bike a quarter of a mile to it.
It is one of those buildings that has always been there. The store was operated by Ralph Segars, a distant cousin in my family. It was the typical country store, not necessarily a general store but a country store. A general store typically had everything that country folks needed. A country store was a building that had a few items for sale, but all the country folks gather there. So if you city folks understand that difference, you get the picture. If you don’t, then read on.
Mr. Ralph’s was a county store. About the only items that you could buy there were soft drinks, hoop cheese, Johnny cakes, crackers, potted meat, pickled pig feet and tobacco products. He did have a few other items, but this was not the Kelleytown Wal-Mart. He may have been short on product, but he was never short on conversation. This was the gathering place. A person’s day was not complete if they hadn’t stopped by Mr. Ralph’s to catch up on the happenings of the area at least once a day.
Conversation was always in the air, but the more people, mostly men, who were there, the livelier and more interesting the conversation was. Mr. Ralph was glad to see anyone stop by, but he made it real clear that if you were going to be there, you needed to add to the conversation. He didn’t like, as he called them, a sponge. Those men just sat there and soaked up the news and never brought any news. Just to be clear here, we are talking about news not gossip. Everything that was told was told to be the truth, or so Mr. Ralph said, and I was too young to question him.
All in all, good times were always had at Mr. Ralph’s. I don’t know of any problems that ever arose from conversation. It was just simple, good fun. The most time that I spent there was from the mid-1960s until 1973. My Father and I would go by very often to catch up on conversation and get a drink and a pack of square Nabs. This is when cheese Nabs would come five to the pack. My father and I would inevitably have the discussion as to which one of us would get that odd, fifth nab.
I’ll tell you how much I enjoyed the happenings around Mr. Ralph’s. When I was in military basic training in 1971, my Father sent me a two-hour audio cassette tap of conversation from Mr. Ralph’s. Now that might not mean much to some folks, but to me, at 19 years old in military basic training, that was as close to home as one could get.
One man in particular who enjoyed pulling pranks on Mr. Ralph would come in the store to buy a drink and pay for it with a hundred dollar bill. He did this so he could watch Mr. Ralph pull a wad of money out of his hip pocket and count the change back to him. Mr. Ralph didn’t believe in a cash register. He said that it was too much trouble, he’d have to get up out of his chair to use it. Mr. Ralph always sat in an overstuffed chair beside the side door so he could spit chewing tobacco juice out the side door or between cracks in the floor boards. If anyone needed to buy an item from the store, you got it yourself and carried the money to Mr. Ralph. I guess this was the beginning of self service.
“Well that wad of money proved to be the demise of Mr. Ralph. Two young men came in the store on Friday after Thanksgiving, November 23, 1973, robbed and killed 75-year-old Mr. Ralph, right there in his chair. Words can not begin to describe the hush that came over the 300 or so residents of Kelleytown that day. The two young men were caught and convicted.
Historic Pictures of Ralph’s Country Store
Below, historic photographs of the storied proprietor show Mr. Segars in his element. Both images were generously shared by Bill Segars by way of Ralph’s son – Ralph, Segars, Jr.