Around this time of year, Upper Tygart Mini Mart in Carter County sell tons of candy one pound at a time as old-fashioned “sweets” continue to connect families and friends for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
“I remember dad got crème drops, orange slices, apples, oranges and one coconut. We would split up chocolate covered peanuts. And occasionally he would get caramel nut clusters, because they were more expensive,” said Marc Orcutt, who owns Upper Tygart Mini Mart with his wife, Denise.
The lone coconut his dad brought home each year was cracked open and provided each kid with a small sip of the juice inside, he explained.
“He always got it from Burchett’s store, at the forks of the road in Emerson, in Lewis County,” he said.
A few decades later, families rely on Orcutt’s store on Rt. 60 a few miles from Olive Hill for the traditional tastes of the holiday season – orange slices coated with crystalized sugar; peanuts double dipped in chocolate; peanut brittle; chocolate covered cherries; crème drops and even orange slices in green, red and blue, as well as sweets known by brand names including Goetze’s.
The words “caramel nut clusters” still bring a smile to Orcutt’s face as he talks about the way people from places including Wheelersburg, Ohio as well as Boyd, Bath, Elliott and Lewis counties visited the store and shared their own family Christmas stories last year.
“Caramel nut clusters and orange slices, chocolate covered peanuts and crème drops are the number one things,” Orcutt said, explaining he has received 97 cases of different candies this season, and has only 13 remaining.
“I will reorder next week,” adding customers literally carried away 8,000 pounds of old-timey candies last year.
The season also brings a spike in demand for another well-known brand name product, Orcutt added.
“We sell a lot of Case knives this time of year. Most of them are for gifts – Christmas and birthdays,” he said.
Smiling, Orcutt said he recently gave his son a caramel nut cluster, who ate it as he drove away from home.
“He called and said it reminded him of Christmas at his grandmother’s house,” he said.
Orcutt enjoys hearing Christmas stories from customers, and feels blessed to carry on his own family’s holiday traditions.
“We were super poor. If you got one Matchbox car, you were sailing! … We were poor, but happy,” he recalled, adding Thanksgiving and Christmas meals were anchored by foods from their own farm, such as chicken or ham, and “always a big apple stack cake, with the layers of apple butter, for dessert.”
Big meals, candy and toys weren’t the only aspects of his family’s holidays which continue to this day.
“On Christmas eve, mom and dad would read from the Bible,” he said “We continued to do that as our kids grew up, and we still do.”
In every sense, Upper Tygart Mini Mart is the modern version of the old-time general store, with practically everything nearby residents might need. Spring, for example, will bring loads of vegetable plants for local gardens, and the store will probably sell more than 500 hanging baskets for Mother’s Day.
“We just sell everything here – rugs, hardware, chainsaw chains …” Orcutt said with a chuckle, before noting the store has a team of 14 employees, including himself and Denise. The store’s deli, which offers lunch specials throughout the week, is the busiest part of the business.
Upper Tygart Mini Mart, located at 20484 West Hwy 60, is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page or call (606) 286-8400.
Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON
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