Customers walk into Southern States Gloucester with dead plants and baggies of bugs.
“Why is this plant dying?”
“What kind of bug is this?”
The questions haven’t stopped for 60 years.
“What’s wrong with my soil?”
“What can I do about squirrels in my attic?”
Middlesex County native Candace Lawson is chief problem-solver with the support of a knowledgeable staff of eight, many of whom know their customers on a first-name basis.
Lawson manages Southern States Gloucester, which falls under Richmond-based Southern States Cooperative, serving customers across eight states in the southeastern United States.
“Basically if you live on a farm, we can help,” says Lawson, whose grandfather actually hauled loads for the store, which started at its Main Street location in Gloucester Village in 1961. “We can pretty much help with anything for your home and garden.”
Many customers have shopped there for decades. Some visit every week to pick up birdseed or feed for their horses.
Others come in seeking solutions to problems ranging from garden pests to a lack of grass to why the heck is this tomato rotting? The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow business; in fact, it increased customer traffic.
“People are spending more time growing their own food; canning has been outrageous. We can’t keep canning jars in stock,” Lawson said. “We’ve had brand new faces come in as customers during COVID and because we had the products they needed, they came right back to us.”
Lawson has held every job in the store over the last 15 years and is a certified in feed specialist.
“Feed is still our No. 1 in sales,” she said.
A variety of horse, beef and dairy feeds are part of the store’s extensive selection. Want to treat your horse? Uckele Equi Treats, made from timothy grass and sunflower seed meal, come in cherry vanilla or banana. Anise orange and spice treats from Ginger Ridge Silver Stars are another option. Ask Lawson for a recommendation.
As helpful as the staff is, the website also includes a knowledge base with instructions on everything from how to make blueberry jam to creating a habitat for wildlife in your backyard. Southern States’ roots date back to 1923, when two employees with $11,000 in capital and a secondhand typewriter opened Virginia Seed Service. What started out as two farmers determined to sell seed best suited to Virginia’s growing conditions morphed into Southern States.
In addition to being a retail store, the Gloucester location also has a full-time mechanic to repair STIHL machinery. It’s also a stop to get your propane tank filled. Buy chickens here, and in the spring, baby rabbits are for sale.
“They call me the chicken lady because I help out with any questions,” Lawson said.
Southern State Gloucester recently became part of the Main Street Association.
“We’ve always been on Main Street, but we weren’t involved in the Association until three years ago,” Lawson said. “I’ve always been a community person myself. I want our store to be a big part of the community.”
The store donates to horse shows and supports the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society.
“We’re here to help,” Lawson said. “We’re farmer owned.”
Lawn, garden, farm animal or pest problems? Anything else? Bring your questions to Southern States Gloucester, and they’ll be happy to help.
Southern States Gloucester at 6766 Main St., is open weekdays from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Call 804-693-3411 for information.