By Laurie Paolicelli
Growing up in a small town, or even in a small neighborhood of a larger one, there was often a “corner store.” A corner store functioned as the repository for the staples of our daily lives – bread, candy, milk, vegetables, meat, you name it – as well as providing a sense of belonging and familiarity. It was a place where everybody really did know your name.
Such places still exist, and Steve’s Garden Market and Butchery in Hillsborough is one of them. It’s located on the corner of North Churton and Corbin Streets. Times have changed a bit: penny candy is no longer available. But you can still find regional sweets, local baked goods, fresh meat, seafood, and North Carolina beers and delicacies.
Frequent visitor and Hillsborough denizen Cathy Armstrong is a big fan of the Garden Market. “This market and butchery is exactly why I love living in Hillsborough so much,” she says. “You walk in and they will butcher the meat any way you wish. Superior quality and delightful, friendly service. We are so lucky to have this in our back yard.”
The Garden Market began in Graham, North Carolina back in 1988. True to form, Steve’s Garden Market had long stocked customer favorites such as their famous pimento cheese and delicious jams and jellies. When it came under new ownership in early 2017, they added the “& Butchery” to their Graham location. The Hillsborough location officially opened in the summer of 2018.
Chris Strickland, a Rockingham native and Graham resident, is a managing partner in the Steve’s Market family and he is now running the Hillsborough location. He’s assembled a friendly team, building on the existing customer base with, among many other things, a new commitment to local North Carolina beers.
As Hillsborough residents know, Steve’s Market was formerly Bacon’s Meat Market, named after the original owners Cannie Bacon Lloyd and her husband Bob. Cannie and Bob built a beautiful, beloved store, but after a diagnosis of cancer and the treatment that followed, Cannie knew it was time to let the store go.
After hearing about Steve’s Garden Market, the Lloyds approached the owners, Justin and Meagan Long. With a chance to grow and connect with a new community of people and farmers, the Longs jumped at the opportunity to open another location. Justin and Meagan purchased and expanded on the store’s concept –maintaining the hallowed tradition of selling the town’s biggest and best BLT.
It’s a great butchery, as well.
“We cut meat anyway the customer would like,” says Strickland, and reminds us: “Butchers aren’t just there to grab the second sirloin from the back out of the meat case for you; they are equipped to do all sorts of meat-related tasks, probably much better than you would do yourself. All you have to do is ask.”
Steve’s Garden Market built upon the legacy of the Bacons by expanding into the adjacent space, previously a laundromat, claiming the entire corner dwelling. But the store still has that small-town feeling, maintaining a connection with the locals and the local farmers, one of the many features helping to create the sense that this truly is a neighborhood corner store. Some bygone eras are not as gone as we may have thought.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.