- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) - After 65 years of selling in downtown, Hile’s has closed.

Joe Hile watched as volunteers from his long-time church, Christ Episcopal, loaded box after box of leftover stock into vehicles on Sept. 20, calling it a bittersweet time.

“We’ve been here for 65 years; my parents opened the store on Oct. 1, 1951,” Hile said. “I was 10 years old and I’ve been here ever since.”

Hile said the store opened as a linen shop, back when “linen” meant items made out of real linen, such as tablecloths, napkins and sheets.

As the popularity of expensive linens waned with the arrival of synthetic fabric, the Hiles added curtains and draperies to the stock and ultimately added various gift and decorative items.

About 20 years ago, Hile added his own touch to the inventory, bringing a large assortment of model trains and their accessories to Hile’s shelves.

“I’ve always liked trains; it’s what I really enjoyed,” Hile said, noting that some of the train inventory would be going to the Danville Model Railroad Club. “I had trains at home and my wife talked me into carrying them here.”

A few years later - in 1998 - his wife, Laura, died of cancer.

“That broke my spirit - nothing seemed to matter anymore,” Hile said.

But he kept coming to work each day, enjoying the chats with friends who stopped by to talk about trains and whatever topics were in the news that day.

“Already people are complaining there’s nowhere to go to talk,” Hile said. “It has been more like an old country store; the only thing missing was a potbelly stove.”

One of the reasons he is closing the store are the health issues he has had in recent years, including heart surgery. Hile said he is donating the inventory of the store - less some of the model train equipment - to his church.

” They were mighty good to me during my heart surgery at Duke (Medical Center); they really watched over me,” Hile said, particularly the pastor who was the rector of Christ Episcopal Church at the time, the Rev. Cleon Ross and his wife, who remain close friends.

Ross - who now pastors St. John’s Episcopal Church in Halifax - was one of the volunteers on Tuesday hauling boxes out of the store.

“He’s a gentle spirit,” Ross said. “This is quite a gift he’s given (Christ Episcopal Church).”

Ross said items found in the store included still-boxed - and once highly sought-after - linens.

“People came from all over the East Coast to buy his linens,” Ross said. “They are real linens, Irish linens, Belgian linens; you can’t find them anymore . and there are probably enough curtain rods here to put them in every window in Danville.”

“I do hate (closing the store) in a way, but being my age and health, I would like a little time to do some things for myself . but I will miss the place,” Hiles said.

___

Information from: Danville Register & Bee, http://www.registerbee.com

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