SHEPHERDSTOWN – Squeezed between the town line and the railroad tracks, O’Hurley’s General Store caters to modern shoppers with merchandise popular in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.
“If it was in a 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog, I’d want 60 percent of it in stock,” says Jay Hurley, the 77-year-old who has owned and operated the store since 1979.
He took the store over from his father, Melburn Glenn Hurley, with an idea of creating a place that represents “the good part of yesteryear.”
Now time-tested merchandise reproduced by niche companies are displayed cheek to jowl on shelves and in bins, cases and counters. It’s “eclectic with a focus,” he explains.
The store’s centerpiece is a large potbellied stove cast in Shepherdstown around 1900. In cold months, it warms the main retail space in front. Sales space also fills a large room in the back and in the Great Hall next to it.
“This was a Mom-and-Pop store that Dad ran for years selling groceries, tires, batteries, anything he could sell, but it was the kind of store whose time was running out in Shepherdstown,” Hurley explains.
Hurley buys from small specialty companies including the Columbus Washboard Co. in Columbus, Ohio, “which just makes washboards that can wash clothes or make music,” he said.
He also stocks wooden plows and farm tools from Amish farmers as well as handcrafted, old-fashioned brooms and baskets, and clothes sewn both for regular customers and for period re-enactors.
Hurley buys furniture and hard-to-find specialized pieces from crafters and 17th- and 18th-century cast and wrought iron reproductions. Bins at O’Hurley’s are filled with tens of thousands of nails hand-made to mimic those from Colonial times.
Hurley’s vision for the store came in the 1970s with his belief “that technology was racing down the road so fast we were abandoning” what deserved to endure.
To create the space, Hurley checked out other country stores for ideas and repurposed boards and other materials from old barns, houses and factories to make his store’s floors, counters and interior features.
Hurley’s path led from Shepherdstown High, where he graduated in 1959, to a “sporadic” career at then-Shepherd College and then a technical school education that left him with the skills to maintain radar systems in the Aleutians and Turkey. But he eventually returned to Shepherdstown and the store, and now lives in the apartment above the store, the place where he grew up.
It took him six years ending in 1998 to build what he named the Great Hall, which boasts a ceiling high enough to hold a full second story. A huge brick fireplace covers much of the west wall and the timber frame construction provides a vast open space.
For the last 30 years, the Great Hall on Thursday nights have been home to free concerts for an audience of more than two dozen or so music lovers. Musicians bring everything from hammer dulcimers, guitars and fiddles to mandolins, banjos, harps, flutes and more.
The store’s parking lot is busy on weekends but finding a spot in the two months leading up to Christmas is a challenge. “The season makes up about 40 percent of our year’s business,” Hurley said.
Though he has a cell phone, Hurley is no fan of technology. He chooses to run his business the old-fashioned way – with help from a trio of jills-of-all trades – Loretta Short, Genevieve O’Louglin and Debbie Halverson.
There are no computers here in the store that measures 32 feet long by 28 feet wide.
Asked how the staff keeps up with the extensive inventory, Short said: “We just know what’s here.”
She also knows how good she has it here. Working in O’Hurley’s, she says, is “the best job I’ve ever had.”