CHESTER -- The lottery tickets have already left.
Soon the bottles of Pepsi, the container of pickled pigs feet and the jars of muscadine jelly and blueberry jam also will go.
For the first time since the early 1950s, this tiny community near the West Chester Rural Fire Department will be without its country store. Sam and Helen Dodds will close up Dodds Grocery & Produce at the end of the month. The couple has run the place since Sept. 14, 1999.
"We have not closed a full day in that eight years," said Sam, the bearded leader in an S.C. Education Lottery baseball cap dragging on Basic cigarettes while breeze-shooting with his cronies.
Never miss a local story.
Around 4 p.m. on a weekday afternoon, four pickups are parked outside of Dodds. The trucks are the only signs of life here, except for a sign in the parking lot that advertises "Live bait sold here" and another by the door that tells customers, "Welcome Y'all." No other signs are needed.
"It's just too many years," Sam said, when asked why he and Helen are closing up. "My wife is 79 and I'm 78, and it's time to take a break -- if we're ever gonna take one."
Sam sits at one end of the liars' table. This is the den where locals come to talk politics while grabbing a burger. The table's contents include the day's Herald, three ashtrays, pepper shakers and an empty Cool Whip container holding Morton salt packets.
All the chairs are filled. Everything is set for good conversation.
Sam grew up in Chester County. He met Helen, a Rock Hill native, in her hometown September 1954, when she was a waitress at the lunch counter across the street from the insurance office where Sam worked. He went there for coffee. They married in 1955.
Over the years, Sam held different jobs. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1971 after 20 years of service. He and Helen ran some convenience stores. He drove a tractor-trailer. He raised cattle.
For six years, Sam and Helen worked as park attendants at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds in Georgia and Texas.
Then Sam was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999.
"When I got out of the hospital, we came back here," he said of Chester. "We needed something to do and this is what we wound up with."
Known for years as Wade's Grocery, the Dodds took over the place with the idea of using it to sell vegetables.
"I wanted to come in here and use it, seasonally, as a produce stand," Sam said. "But once we got in here, we realized there were other needs. People wanted to gossip and (have) a place to sit around."
So the local lair with the particle board floors stayed open year-round. Even when Sam or Helen were in the hospital, folks such as Jennie Lance would help run the place.
A longtime friend, Lance came here after her husband died in 2003, when she was searching for a place to keep her busy.
Often the only woman at the table, Lance has a seat that no man dare claim. It's at the end of the table nearest the counter, at the opposite side from Sam. This is her post. When she gets here, the person in her chair moves.
Other regulars at the table come here for the camaraderie.
"Aggravate Sam Dodds," joked Albert Causey, wearing a flannel shirt and denim John Deere ballcap. "Tell lies and go back home."
Dodds also is the local news network. An EMS scanner buzzes in the background. The chatter tips off the visiting firefighters from across the street if they need to leave the table and run to call. Several times a day, folks call the store to find out where a wreck is or the destination of the firetrucks.
"If there's anything going on, you can come to Dodds store and find it out," said Marion Estes, another bearded fellow in a camouflage ballcap and blue work shirt.
The table also is an outlet for armchair pundits to air their views.
"There's been a lot of problems solved and a lot of 'em started right here," Sam said. "Sunday morning, we hold everything but church, and then they get up and go to church."
Sam and Helen hoped to find someone to take over the store. One guy seemed interested, Sam said, but he decided to keep his day job.
The Dodds know the community doesn't want them to go, but they also realize people understand. Helen said she's ready for a break from all the paperwork and crunching numbers.
Standing in the kitchen where she often fixes eggs on a griddle, the septuagenarian in the floral apron thinks about all her years here, the people she's cooked for and the folks she ordered cigars and chewing tobacco for when the store didn't have the items in stock.
As retirees, she and Sam didn't have to keep this place open. They didn't need the money; the people needed them. And those are the ones she'll miss.
"This little community has got to have a store," she said. "That's all there is to it."