November 14, 2007 Edition

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Latham's grocery was located in this building, the former Watson's Grocery and Hardware building, until 1995.

New owners plan
few changes at Latham's

Alex Latham points out a marker on the third building Latham's was located in. The 100-year-old building still stands on Main Street in Portia.

Lynda Latham and Barry Holder, the new manager at Latham's grocery, discuss the grocery items the store offers, including the full line of meats, which the butcher will continue to cut fresh daily.
Gretchen Hunt

As a young couple, Alex and Lynda Latham stepped out on faith and opened a grocery store in Portia. Now, more than 30 years later, they are again diving into the unknown as they have sold their store.

"It's been spiritually guided," Alex said of their decision to sell the store. "We realize where the strength and guidance comes from."

He said when they first opened, he had to mortgage their house and quit his job to make a go at it. Though they are nearing retirement age, Alex said they were not really looking to sell the store.

"The opportunity knocked," he said. "We're getting older, and we don't have anyone to leave it to."

The deal was finalized on Oct. 18, 2007, just a little over 34 years from when the store originally opened.

When Latham's grocery first opened on Oct. 1, 1974, it was located on Main Street in Portia in the former Arvis and Opal McDaniel store building. It is now home to Poor Richards antique store.

They then moved next door to the old drug store building, which is no longer standing.

From there, they moved into the former Watson's Grocery and Hardware, also located on Main Street. The 100-year-old building, which is still owned by the Lathams, was home to the store until July 18, 1995, when it moved to its current location. Alex said they built the new building on part of Lynda's family's homestead.

Longtime residents of Portia, the couple plan to remain there, according to Alex. He also serves as the county judge, and they raised their daughter, Angie, who is disabled, in the community.

"We plan on living our last days here," he said. "We appreciate all the people who have done business with us, and we want to see the new owners do well. We want to encourage everyone to patronize them."

The new owners of the store, J&P Flash Market, plan to continue offering the same services Latham's customers are used to, along with a few additions.

The most noticeable change will be the addition of fuel with customers being able to select from all three grades of gasoline, as well as highway and off road diesel.

Oscar Patterson and Dwayne Jones are co-owners of J&P Flash Market, headquartered in West Memphis. The new owners are not strangers to the area as they have roots in Cave City and Poughkeepsie.

Patterson was raised in Cave City and is a graduate of Cave City High School. Jones' father, Stan Jones, is a Poughkeepsie native and now lives in Poughkeepsie again after returning to the area from Little Rock, where Jones grew up.

J&P Flash Market owns 40 convenience stores in Arkansas and Missouri including Village Creek Express in Walnut Ridge and the former Cookie's One Stop in Ravenden.

"We are local people," Patterson said. "That's really where we want to be. We are focusing our efforts from Walnut Ridge to the north and the west."

Patterson said they have farmland in Sharp County, and they come through Lawrence County nearly every weekend.

"We think these people are real good people and are going to be a plus to the community," Alex said.

In addition, Barry Holder, who will be serving as manager of the store, is a Walnut Ridge native who returned to the area a couple of years ago.

"I'm glad to be back in the community," Holder said. "There's a lot of folks I haven't seen in a while that I've gotten to see since I started here."

A Walnut Ridge High School graduate, Holder moved to Little Rock where he worked in the restaurant industry. He said the transition to working in a store will be a learning experience, but he is looking forward to serving in the position.

"It's a good group of people," Holder said of the employees at Latham's.

"They've been real supportive of me. I appreciate all the hard work they have put forth."

Patterson said he is grateful that Lynda is going to continue to work with them at the store.

"We're lucky that Lynda stayed on with us," he said. "She's a valuable asset to us."

Lynda is glad to still be a part of the store, as well.

"Our customers are our family," Lynda said. "We grew old together."

Alex agreed saying the store is now serving the grandchildren of some of their original customers.

"We're on the third generation of people who trade with us," he said.

He said they draw most of their customers from the Portia, Black Rock, Powhatan and Clover Bend areas, as well as a lot from the highway.

Lynda will work with J&P as a buyer, keeping the groceries ordered for the store and is also helping with the transition. She hopes to soon be able to cut her hours back to 30-35 hours, instead of the 60-70 hours she's been used to.

On Friday, she received her first paycheck as an employee of Latham's grocery.

"I'd like to frame it, but I think I'll cash it," she said. "Maybe I'll make a copy of it and frame it."

Patterson said other than the addition of fuel and a few other small changes, his goal is for customers to feel like they are walking into the same Latham's.

"We want to do the same thing they've done for the last 34 years," he said. They've done an excellent job with it."

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