A friendly welcome is offered as a customer enters Cheese ‘N More in Gap Mills. The floorboards, original to the 1940s building, creak beneath the feet of Charlie Matthews and his wife Marilyn as they make their way through the small store, selecting a few canned good items before heading to the deli counter to order lunch.
“I’ve been coming here for a long, long time,” says Charlie, a resident of Union. “We like the quality of everything they’ve got, from the dried stuff to sliced turkey, sliced roast beef and the various canned goods like jelly and peaches.
“I would hate to see it ever go out of business.”
Based upon the parking lot traffic at any given time and the social media comments on accounts started by fans, Charlie’s sentiments are popular. And they’re shared by locals and loyal customers who regularly make their way down W.Va. 3 in Monroe County for a bit of cheese and much more.
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With a population of just over 1,000, Gap Mills isn’t quite the social hub of Monroe County. But, when the opportunity arose in 2015 for Peterstown resident Ethan Fisher and his wife Latisha to purchase the popular and already established general store, they decided to take the plunge.
“It’s worked out great,” Fisher says, adding it enabled him to offer jobs to a few women from his church, the Old German Baptist Brethren Church in Lindside.
And, he says, taking on the nearly 40-year-old business allowed him to continue to offer the service to the Gap Mills community providing quality kitchen staples that people would otherwise have to drive eight miles to Union to purchase or, in some cases, 30 miles to Lewisburg.
“We’ve got good prices on quality products,” he says, adding the small store even offers items that can’t be found in larger stores. “We have somewhere around 100 spices (in addition to), meats, candies, rolled oats, puddings, honey, maple syrup, dried fruit.”
He points to dried hibiscus, which he says is “surprisingly good,” and cinnamon pecans, which he says are his favorite type of nuts. The store offers a sugar-free line of candy for those dieting or for those who might require it for health reasons.
The coolers feature salads — pasta, macaroni and potato — that are made in-house.
And at the deli counter, customers can order sliced meat, sandwiches made-to-order, and cheese, of course.
“We have between 40 and 50 types of cheese,” Fisher says, listing Colby as the most popular and naming vegetable yogurt, pepperoni cheddar, Havarti dill, three different types of Swiss, and ghost pepper cheese as other options.
“Some people really love it but it’s not for me,” he says of the ghost pepper. “I like pepper jack. It’s not too hot, but it’s got a little bit of spice to it.”
Fisher says customers will always find their favorite top-sellers in the store, but they’ll find something new, too, as he tries to add things that might be of interest.
“We’ve got people who come and ask for a certain product, and if we think we can sell enough, we’ll get it,” he says, adding his goal is to provide as much as he can in the space he has. “And we’re trying to keep prices down as low as we can, too.”
Although Gap Mills is small, there is a furniture business across the street and a bakery, too.
Fisher, who sells a selection of homemade tables, chairs, swings, bridges and other outdoor furniture, says the businesses work together, rather than against one another.
“Kitchen Creek Bakery sells all the baked goods so we don’t sell any baked goods here,” he says. “And we don’t sell any indoor furniture as Bob (at Valley Springs Furniture) would over there.
“We try to feed off of each other and help each other out.”
He doesn’t have the space to offer much more anyway. And he says that’s OK.
“I would say it’s a pretty decent variety for the small store that it is,” he says. “We could carry a lot more, naturally, if it was a bigger storefront, but we try to utilize the space that we do have.”
The store attracts locals and passers-by alike, and even regulars who travel out of their way to come in or only stop by during certain times of the year.
“Moncove Lake is just 6 or 7 miles away so we get lake traffic on the weekends with people coming here to get snacks or deli products,” he says.
The Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory is only about 3 miles away so people headed up that way for a hike or to count them in fall often stop in to grab lunch or something for the road.
And then, Fisher says, there are people with relatives nearby who stop in whenever they’re passing through.
They’re tight on space on the inside, but on warm, sunny days Fisher says people enjoy sitting at picnic tables, on the furniture for sale or on the bridge seating out back over top of Kitchens Creek.
Although the business is popular with a loyal customer base, unlike most today, it has no internet presence — except the Facebook page established by happy customers and reviews and photos posted on Google in the same vein.
Fisher, not overly keen on talking about himself, says he’s not sure exactly what it is that draws customers in.
“We’ve got good cheese,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask them.”
On this afternoon, Union resident Denise Jackson, who works nearby at Sweet Springs Water Company, stops in for some Colby jack cheese, crackers and a soda, but she says she regularly visits the store for the variety of offerings and for the company.
“My mother lives close by so if I’m at her house, I’ll just run up here and say hi to the girls at the Cheese ‘N More,” she says. “See who’s working, talk a little bit, get my stuff and be on my way.
“Everyone is nice and friendly,” she continues. “They recognize you when you come in the door. It’s just a nice, warm hometown atmosphere.”
Fisher says that’s his goal.
“We try to provide a quality product at a good price,” he says. “Try to do the best we can. Try to treat others like you’d like to be treated. It’s nice to hear feedback. If people keep coming, they must appreciate that.”
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Cheese ‘N More, at 5521 Sweet Springs Valley in Gap Mills, is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s closed on Sunday.