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Closing of Cope’s Superette in Sylva marks end of an era

It’s 8 a.m. and the everyday regulars — Sylva’s working class Janes and Joes — are stopping by Cope’s Superette on Mill Street for packs of cigarettes, morning newspapers, soft drinks, candy and other breakfast necessities you grab when on the go and in a hurry.

“Hey, Tanya,” says Jeremy Edmonds. He’s at Cope’s to buy a bag of Bugler tobacco on his way to work at Whittier Automotive. Times are hard. Like many smokers, Edmonds has taken to rolling his own cigarettes to save a few dollars.

Edmonds is one of many who walk in and greet storeowner Tanya Calhoun-Cope by first name. Ed Cope, her father, and Fred Cope, her grandfather, opened the store 49 years ago.

It’s been left to Calhoun-Cope to shut Cope’s down, for good, come Dec. 23.

Edmonds, at 24, has never known his hometown absent Cope’s Superette. In fact, he worked here for a short time following high school. He managed to accidentally set a trashcan on fire with a smoldering cigarette butt. It’s a story he and Calhoun-Cope joke together about. They are happy, for the moment at least, to have a fresh set of ears to hear their well-honed, practiced tale.

These are difficult times for Calhoun-Cope. She’s been six years coming to grips with her decision — her desire, actually — to close the family’s namesake store. Calhoun-Cope kept Cope’s Superette open during those years since her mother, Anne, died; unwilling to take that step she knew, one day, she must.

“I’m just tired of doing it,” Calhoun-Cope says in explanation. “This is not what I wanted to do. I’m going to go back to the laboratory.”

She wants to return to the medical field, to use the education she acquired at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville after graduating from Swain County High School. To, frankly, do something else with her life rather than operate a corner store. But closing Cope’s Superette feels like a funeral, Calhoun-Cope says. She’s grieving; so are Cope’s many customers.

“Stopping here is almost like a habit,” Edmonds says. “And we’ve had so many small businesses close down. It is sad to see them leave. I sure hope more businesses will come in and rejuvenate the downtown.”

There’s a moment in the film “The Fugitive” when actor Harrison Ford is walking on Mill Street. What you see in that sequence is Cope’s Superette. But the store has been more to this community than just quaint local color.

Before new technology surged, opening fast and more direct flows of information, and before newspapers started their corresponding spiraling declines, Cope’s Superette functioned as a classic newsstand. Cope’s was where you picked up copies of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Charlotte Observer, the Raleigh News and Observer, The New York Times and any of a dozen or so community newspapers in the area. Calhoun-Cope remembers when the store sold 150 newspapers each Sunday.

Atlanta, Charlotte and other metro newspapers stopped delivery to this region as cost-saving measures. Even some of the community newspapers stopped deliveries, Calhoun-Cope said.

There weren’t a lot of these classic newsstands such as Cope’s to begin with. The other well-known one in Western North Carolina was the Curb Market on Main Street in Waynesville. It shut in 2004 following the death of the market’s original owner, Adeline Patrick. The store passed on to her children. They were forced to supplement the store from their own pockets to stay afloat until finally accepting, like Calhoun-Cope, that it was time to say goodbye. Waynesville mourned the loss of the last place on Main Street where a simple loaf of bread, candy bar or boiled peanuts could be found.

Mind you, Cope’s Superette isn’t just a simple newspaper stand. There are magazines, books, T-shirts, party items — the glorious eclectic mix of items every great corner store found in small mountain towns once boasted.

Crystal Styles of Bryson City and Beth Maynor of Whittier work in a medical services practice in Sylva near Cope’s Superette. They aren’t quite sure what they’ll do each morning for their drinks and food once the store closes.

“We’re here almost daily,” Styles says. “We’ll miss it.”

And so will everyone else in Sylva.

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