South River Market Called 'A Pleasant Place To Be'

Kit Huffman

The South River community suffered a shocking loss Friday morning when the South River Market exploded into flames, along with gasoline tanks next to the store.

Community members drove as close to the scene as they could to learn more about the losses from the fire during the morning.  An employee of the Virginia Department of Transportation stopped traffic through most of the morning from crossing the railroad tracks on Old Buena Vista Road just east of Mountain View Elementary School.  Traffic was also stopped at the intersection of Old Buena Vista Road and Borden Grant Trail, just below Neriah Baptist Church.

A neighbor and her son standing near the railroad tracks above the school and beyond that the store said her father had just driven across the tracks Friday morning on his way to work when he heard the explosion and saw the roof blow off the market.  Her father immediately called 911.  “He saw the roof and beams from the building go into the air,” the woman said.

She did not know how long South River Market had been in operation, but knew it was more than 40 years ago, as it had been there when she was born.

The market was a “mom and pop” operation, and the owner, Roger Roberts, fixed food, including breakfast and his very popular hotdogs, the neighbor said.  “It was a pleasant place to be,” she said.  “The older generation of retired people” appreciated the atmosphere of the store, and workers with VDOT and electric companies often gathered at the store for lunch, using a picnic table on the grounds.

“For people who live on South River, this was the only store for miles,” the woman said.  She said that she and her son had just been talking about how there had been so many floods in the South River area that had never taken out the store − and then it was destroyed by fire.

Mountain View Elementary fourth grader Kayleith arrived at the railroad tracks with her mother, an employee of Natural Bridge Elementary.  The mother said she’d received an alert from the county schools at around 9:30 a.m., saying the Mountain View students were being evacuated to Rockbridge County High School, where they could be picked up.

“We were scared and worried,” said Kayleith, whose classroom was located on the side of the school farthest away from the market, which is just down the road and across the street.

The school first went into a “code yellow” meaning to lock the doors, and then into code red.  “Then the principal looked out and saw the fire and we went to the buses,” she said.

Mountain View had just held an emergency drill two weeks earlier, so the students knew what to do, but that didn’t mean they weren’t upset.  Kayleith’s mother explained, “Everyone in the community knows Roger (the owner).”  The child added, “He was really nice, and they had some of the best hotdogs ever.”

A press information session was held in the early afternoon on the bridge over South River, with access from the west side of Old Buena Vista Road.  Virginia State Police public information officer Sgt. Richard Garletts said that South River had provided adequate water for the firefighting effort.



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