Living quarters above a family business were once a familiar sight in Lexington’s older neighborhoods.
These have all but disappeared, except at Wilson’s Grocery on Cramer Avenue in Kenwick. Jennifer and Roger Wilson have lived on the second floor over their store for 21 years.
“It’s convenient; you have to say that,” Jennifer said. “There’s no excuse for being late, like getting tied up in traffic.”
The spacious apartment, 1,900 square feet, has two bedrooms, a living room, a sunny dining room that doubles as their office, a kitchen, a bath, a laundry room and a glassed-in sunroom.
The Wilsons renovated the space before moving in, removing part of a hallway to enlarge the living room, refinishing the wood floors and laying a tile floor in the kitchen.
“It’s not too awful big, not too awful small. It’s just right,” Roger said.
They hardly ever put miles on their car, he said. “I bought a new Buick seven or eight months ago, and it’s only got 2,000 miles on it.”
The building at 1010 Cramer Avenue was built in 1928 as a grocery store, when few people had automobiles and small corner grocery stores were common.
We’ve never closed. Not one day, not Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Even the day of my mother’s funeral, I got somebody to come and work.
Most people today think nothing of hopping into their cars and driving to a large supermarket, but Wilson’s has many older customers who like the store because it’s small, they know where to find everything, and parking is easy.
“We’re a neighborhood store,” Jennifer said. “Everybody knows us, we know them, and people depend on us.”
Since they’ve owned the store, Wilson’s grocery has been open every single day. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve never closed. Not one day, not Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Even the day of my mother’s funeral, I got somebody to come and work,” Roger said.
Besides the usual things you find in a store — produce, canned goods, cleaning supplies, bread and milk — Wilson’s has a meat counter whose reputation goes well beyond the Kenwick neighborhood.
Roger cuts steaks to order and carries dry-aged rib eye, sirloin and porterhouse steaks that he ages in a large cooler that’s kept between 32 and 35 degrees.
“You have to keep it exactly at that temperature. That ages them just right,” he said. “We age them 21 days. Aging makes the meat more tender and gives it a better flavor.”
Wilson’s takes orders for homemade jam cakes and jam bars, red velvet cakes, pumpkin rolls, whole wheat carrot cakes, canned pickles and all kinds of specialty pies. “My sister makes a delicious chocolate pie with real cocoa,” Roger said.
You can buy a sandwich made with homemade chicken salad, country ham salad or pimento cheese, and a bowl of homemade chili or vegetable soup.
“We cook tenderloins for people, tons of country hams, and turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. He starts with fresh turkeys, not frozen.
“We’ll cook your turkey and you can pick it up Thanksgiving morning,” Jennifer said. For deer hunters, they also process venison.
Wilson’s is a family endeavor. Roger’s sisters Louise Summers and Martha Charkey make pies, plus blackberry jam cakes using their grandmother’s recipe. Grandson Eli Nelson and nephew Cody Wilson are employed.
Roger’s nephew Roger Allen “Podge” Wilson manages the meat department and takes the early shift, coming in at 5:30 a.m. to make breakfast sandwiches and open the store at 6:30 a.m. five days a week.
Johnny Hayes, from the neighborhood, is one of only two employees who aren’t family.
Starting about 11 a.m., Wilson’s is a nonstop, bustling place as people pop in to buy lunch, especially workmen in their pickup trucks. “You have to have two people to handle the lunch trade,” Roger said.
Ray Towles comes about every day for the lunch special of a bologna sandwich, a bag of chips and a canned soft drink for $2.59. “It’s better than McDonald’s,” he said.
Cindy Giles walks across the street from her home décor shop, Cramer Cottage. “I come all the time, but especially on Wednesday for their pork chop sandwich,” she said. “But you have to get here before noon on Wednesday or they sell out.”
Roger has worked in the grocery business since he was in first grade and his mother had a little grocery store in Georgetown called Betty’s.
When he was 17, he went to work for Shopper’s Choice (it later became Randall’s) and was a store manager by the time he was 20. Eventually, he worked for Mega Market on Richmond Road, where he was the manager of perishables, overseeing the meat, produce and deli counters.
“When Kroger bought Mega Market was about when I planned to buy my own little store,” Roger said. He and Jennifer moved into a small apartment to save money. “I found this store in a Herald-Leader want ad,” he said.
Having a grocery store is just like real estate, Roger said. “It’s all about location, location, location.”
And the corner of Cramer and Victory avenues has proved to be good for Wilson’s.
“It’s such a diverse area, that’s what I love about the place,” Jennifer said. “There are poor people, middle class people and rich people. Most everyone is just so friendly.”
You can reach Beverly Fortune, a former Herald-Leader reporter, at email@example.com or 859-948-7846.