The Family Business | Fall 2007 Out Here Magazine
Penn's Store has served customers for more than 150 years
Photography by Jeff Frazier
Jeanne Penn Lane knows a little something about family tradition. Every time she unlocks the front door and steps behind the counter of her country store, she continues a family custom that has endured for some 150 years.
Penn's Store, just outside Gravel Switch, KY — a secluded area about halfway between Lexington and Bowling Green — has been in the Penn family since 1850, when Gabriel "Jack" Penn bought it from the Spraggins family, who had operated it for about five years.
Since then, it has been handed down from generation to generation, changing hands in the large family usually upon the death of the proprietor at the time.
Now, Jeanne, who inherited the store from her mother, Alma "Tincy" Penn Lane, who died in 2006, runs it three days a week, with some help from her daughter, Dawn, of nearby Elizabethton.
Proprietors may have changed through the years, but little in the store has. A walk through this historical building is like stepping back in time. Everything is original, from the tongue-in-groove ceiling to the glass display cases to the worn, sloping floor. It's not restored, Jeanne says; it's authentic.
The covered front porch where local men once gathered on Sunday mornings while their wives were in church, still beckons, with its chairs and potted flowers. Jeanne still makes change, not from a cash register, but from an old cigar box. She tried to put in a cash register once, but visitors preferred the old way.
Most changes around Penn's Store can be found outside. The little store once stood amidst a cluster of buildings — the Penn family home, a doctor's office, and a whiskey and spirits shop — that comprised this little community set between high rock bluffs and the North Rolling Fork River. It even had a chicken coop that once housed chickens that customers in this farming community would bring to barter for merchandise. "I remember as a kid people bringing eggs," Dawn says.