It’s hard to beat the homey feel of a family-owned, rural country store. One where it’s more than just a convenience store or gas station, but more like a place to hangout, eat, talk, sip coffee and feel comfortable.
Achieving such a feeling was the goal of Garett Smith and Jeramy Rich when they purchased what was at the time called Castle Grocery in June.
It will now aptly be called the Castle Store, and Smith and Rich say they want all the surrounding communities to know it’s the kind of place with a unique and new atmosphere.
“We are focused on putting our own personal touch on the store that longtime owners, Mike and Linda Neal, had already remodeled and redesigned from a small country store,” Smith said. “We are really hoping to make this a hotspot for breakfast with daily specials for lunch.”
Part of their personal touch includes a new sign, much like a large mural on the side of the store, painted by Prague art students Clare Galloway, Hannah Tinsley and Kaden Brill.
Smith said Chris Clark, good friend of the store, provided a handmade “classic, vintage” bench, using antique truck parts and tailgates to prompt people to “sit down and relax at the store.”
“We want people to know they can come here and eat and sit and talk, and … well, we even installed a (large, flatscreen) TV, so people can catch the news in the morning while they have their coffee,” adding with a joking laugh, “… we want to make this the Castle ‘country’ club.”
To officially celebrate the occasion of their new business, Smith and Rich and their families gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony with the Okemah Chamber of Commerce Monday.
“We joined the chamber because we both feel it is really important to show support to our communities, whether Mason, Paden, Boley, Bearden or Okemah,” Smith said.
Asked why they decided to buy the store, Smith said it just seemed right.
“I have lived here in Castle for more than 20 years. My husband is from here, and I love the community,” she said. “I was working at RiverSpirit Casino in Tulsa, and I really wanted to be closer to home, so this was a perfect opportunity.”
If closer to home is what she wanted, she got it. Smith and her husband, Justin, live with their children only two miles north of the store.
Before the purchase, she partnered up with Rich, a close family friend and basketball coach of her daughter. Together they created Castle Investments, LLC as the entity that would purchase and operate the store.
Rich, his wife, Cambor, and their children are from Prague. He said he was brought to the area about eight years ago when he had the chance to buy Cross Timbers Insurance Group, a business he eventually re-located to downtown Okemah.
Then, he and his family purchased and moved to a ranch about a mile west of the store, so Smith’s idea to buy the store seemed like a no-brainer for Rich.
They share the same desire for customer comfort at the new Castle Store. And while they have already improved and expanded the it some, Rich says he wants to do more.
“We want to expand a bit more,” he said. “We are going to cover the gas pumps and continue to do things to make the store more and more customer friendly.”
Though the Castle Store is a hotspot for coffee drinkers, breakfast, lunch and all the other community-friendly comforts, it is also a well-stocked and -staffed convenience store and gas station for the travelers and passersby or those that need to get in and out in a hurry.
Most important to the customer-friendliness is a great staff. Smith and Rich echoed the same sentiment when discussing their employees.
“We have the most friendly, best staff any owners could ask for.”
By Josh Allen, ONL Staff Writer