Small Business Spotlight: Conrad & Hinkle food market

Small Business Spotlight

LEXINGTON, N.C. — It’s one thing to survive a worldwide pandemic. It’s quite another to survive two.

Odell Hinkle and W.E. Conrad opened their food market on the square in uptown Lexington in 1919, right in the middle of the Spanish Flu Pandemic which killed tens of millions of people.

When Conrad became ill in 1927, he sold his shares to Hinkle who, when he discovered what it would cost to change the sign above the door to just, “Hinkle’s Grocery,” decided to simply leave the name and now, more than a century later, Conrad & Hinkle is an institution.

“We don’t have everything that the Walmarts and the big stores have, but we have everything you need,” says Lee Hinkle, Odell’s grandson, who runs the store, now. “We buy local produce – we’ve been buying local and doing local produce before local was a thing.”’

Lee feels for his friends in the restaurant business, for whom the government’s shutdown order has been catastrophic.

“We’ve been blessed, we’ve been blessed, I don’t know if you want to say fortunately or unfortunately, but we have been blessed,” Lee says.

They’ve long been known for their pimento cheese, made from Lee’s grandmother’s recipe, and it’s hard to keep up with the demand.

“Generally, this time of year, I’d be making 1,500 1,800 pounds a week, which is a lot, don’t get me wrong,” says Lee. “But, right now – I brought in two extra people to help make it, dip it up, and we’re doing 3,500 pounds a week right now.”

The pandemic hit at a very inopportune time for uptown Lexington, as it was in the midst of a big revival. But Lee isn’t worried.

“One thing I’ve noticed about people is we tend to be big forgetters,” says Lee, about whether the shutdown order will have a lasting effect on the city’s development. “In the short run, yeah, it’ll take time to get built back up but, as long as the news media leaves it alone and we don’t play it up too much, I think by the fall we’ll be rolling right along.”

See both what’s changed and what’s stayed the same at Conrad & Hinkle over the last century in this Small Business Spotlight.

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