The Colonial Wayside Grocery and Deli, a local landmark since perhaps the 1700s and the only grocery store in Cookstown, the residential center of mostly rural New Hanover, is from a different era. The nearest 7-Eleven is at a respectful distance, amid the relative bustle of strip stores and a car wash.
At the Colonial, there's none of the rush of people going in or out. Customers come in to linger. Most seem to be regulars, bantering with employees on a first-name basis, playfully bouncing insults off each other. Many come in "like clockwork," said Steve McDonough, co-owner of the business. Some even get credit.
And you don't have to be on the payroll to lend a helping hand.
"Customers are friends," said store employee Joann Sapp. "Around here, everybody helps everybody else."
Some will help clear tables, ring people up on the register, and even take out the trash, Sapp said.
"Customers who see that I'm busy will help make coffee," McDonough said. ''I say I have three employees, but I really have 50."
Township Manager James Nash Jr., 52, a lifelong resident of New Hanover, said he believed the Colonial went back to the 1700s. It was a tavern then, McDonough said.
Now, the front of the brick and tan two-story building is a small grocery store. The rear of the grocery store leads to the deli. Soft rock wafts from a small radio atop an ice cream freezer in a back corner of the deli. The furniture consists of five old wooden tables with chairs. A beverage center lines the left wall, and the aroma of fried onion rings and cheesesteaks permeates the air.
McDonough, 38, and his partner, Bill Nefferdorf, 37, also manage the 11- unit Colonial Wayside Motel next door.
McDonough, a business broker who lives in Medford Lakes, said he got involved with the Colonial last September after he was hired by the previous owners to find a manager for it. However, McDonough said he liked it so much that he persuaded Nefferdorf, who is in construction, to join in running the store.
"This is fun after dealing with attorneys and accountants all day," McDonough said. People can go to other convenience stores or fast-food restaurants, McDonough said, but they won't get this type of atmosphere.
One secret of the Colonial's success is that it keeps things flexible, McDonough said. In November, during hunting season, he and Sapp opened the deli at 4:30 a.m. so that hunters staying in the motel could get breakfast before they left.
"This is a place where people come to shoot the breeze and have a cup of coffee," McDonough said.
Raleigh and Marie Caines of Plumstead in Ocean County, known at the Colonial as Bedbug and ReRe, have been coming to the Colonial for 25 years. They can be found there every evening at dinner time.
"It's something to do. It's good to get out and meet people, and the food's decent," ReRe said, alternating between a cigarette and a cup of coffee.
"She doesn't know how to cook," said Bedbug, nudging his wife.
"I'm not a person for crowds," ReRe continued, rolling her eyes at Bedbug, "I'm only here for one hour or an hour and a half each day. It's a good place to pass the time. Sometimes I'll help with the register."
Wayne Shupe, a custodian at the North Hanover Township school, came into the deli, fixed himself a drink, and without invitation, pulled a seat up to Bedbug and ReRe's table. Shupe, a tall, thin man with a constant smile, said his father used to bring him to the Colonial when he was little. Now, he comes to the deli as often as three times a day.
"I enjoy talking to them," Shupe said, and "we're always laughing here."
The customers agree that the atmosphere is so homey because Cookstown, population 500, is so small.
It's like a little Mayberry RFD, McDonough said.