PETERSBURG HAS been a drive-through town for too long — not for lack of community, but for a shortage of places to shop, eat, and gather. Marsh’s Department Store, Ed Scott’s Grocery, W.W. Gill’s Hardware Store, First National Bank of Petersburg, Ellis Drugstore, Bettie’s Beauty Salon, and others once dotted the square. Then, for many years the four corners slept through most of the week and perked up on weekends within the walls of the few shops that refused to let hope die. Today, the square is waking up, aglow from years of beauty sleep.
The square plays a starring role in the memories of Petersburg native Jean Griffin, whose father worked at the post office and was the subsequent owner of the Ellis Drugstore.
Griffin said, “My dad always had some kind of business going. After Mr. Ellis retired, my dad bought the drugstore where the Pickin’ & Grinnin’ building is now. I grew up dipping ice cream and making cokes. Then, my first real job was at the First National Bank of Petersburg, where the town hall is now.”
Griffin left Petersburg at 19, but she didn’t leave banking. A career in banking technology ultimately moved her to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where she worked from home until her husband, Taylor, passed away. Wanting to be near family, Griffin moved to Lewisburg and continued working until her employer required her to move to Charlotte.
“I said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ I decided to cut back and do nothing, which lasted two days,” Griffin said. She dabbled with a booth at a Chapel Hill antique store and worked in its small cafe but often visited Cathey Fullerton at her Junk and Stuff store on Petersburg’s square. Only a few businesses were on the square, and Fullerton always encouraged Griffin to open a cafe nearby. Griffin was discouraged by the size of necessary renovation costs leaving little room for startup funds. Then, in early 2022, a door opened when Fullerton mentioned someone was purchasing and renovating buildings around the square with a vision of seeing life return.
“So that Sunday at church during silent prayer, I said, ‘Okay, God, if I’m supposed to do this, you need to give me a sign.’ And I’ve never asked for a sign in my life,” she said. “But after church, I asked my friend to go out to eat. I said, ‘Let’s go to Fayetteville, but I want to go to Petersburg first.’”
They looked in the store’s windows next to Fullerton’s on the deserted square, but Griffin noticed a man walking around nearby buildings. He was still walking around when they prepared to leave. Griffin suspected he was an investor.
She investigated further.
She said, “So we drove over, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re not from here, are you?’ He laughed and said, ‘No, but I bought that building,’ pointing to the old theater, ‘and I’m attempting to buy these buildings to fix up to get businesses to come back to the square.’”
And they are coming back!
Miss Jean’s Sandwich and Ice Cream Shop now serves old and new memories in the former Lincoln Service Station building, from which she can see the old drug store and bank buildings of her childhood.
All menus and promotional materials extend the invitation. “Come share memories and make new ones,” it reads. And it’s more than good marketing; it’s a reality.
“I get the most joy looking at the square and seeing it so vital again. There are so many people here and so many cars out there,” Griffin said. “And God has sent the best people to work for me.”
Pick two from the soup and sandwich menu, enjoy fresh salads, or try the Petersburger, an Angus beef patty with grilled onions, bacon, Havarti cheese, and horseradish cream sauce on a grilled bun.
“Our best seller is our homemade chicken salad, and a close second is the red, white, and blue salad, which is regular blueberries, strawberries, pecans, and feta cheese with our Fuji apple salad dressing on fresh arugula greens. The thing that makes our sandwiches so good is the homemade bread. All of our sandwiches, including the hamburger buns, are homemade. We grill one side with a little bit of olive oil, and then the other side is left soft, so it’s kind of crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside,” said Griffin. “Our fruit tea is homemade, and all our sodas are bottled. We have eight different kinds of ice cream, and we can make a milkshake or a sundae with it.”
Griffin treasures seeing the rejuvenation of Petersburg outside her shop window with a team that feels like family already.
“I love the fact that God sent me some really, really good people. And I couldn’t do it without them. I literally could not do it without them,” she said. GN