Rebirth of the Orlean Store

By Posted on Dec 17 2009 | By

A fading part of Americana is the rural grocery store.

Over the last decade, numerous establishments that had been an integral part of the Virginia landscape have shuttered their doors. Declining business and competition from the major chains have seemingly rendered these stores obsolete.

The loss of small locally owned and operated grocery stores impact rural communities and its citizens in far reaching ways. The demise of these retail outlets can result in a diminution of community contact and spirit. And, in an era when the term “carbon footprint” is constantly invoked, the price for families who can no longer shop locally can be costly in terms of wasted fuel and time.

Orlean Store

Orlean Store

Peter McMurray, the new owner of the Orlean Store, believes such shops can be relevant and profitable if owners listen to their customers and provide a venue for the sale of locally grown products.

Orlean is the quintessential small village situated in the heart of Virginia’s Piedmont country with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town is located about 15 miles northwest of Warrenton and was established in the early 1800s. It was named in honor of Andrew Jackson’s defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.                                                                                                                                 

McMurray is an entrepreneur with a host of successful businesses on his resume’.  Among his more unique ventures was the development of one of the first eCommerce businesses in the country, called PC Flowers. Created in 1989, the business sold flowers nationwide via the embryonic Internet system. He then shifted gears and purchased and operated a major marina located near the Outer Banks in North Carolina. His early career involved stints with IBM and Boeing Computer Services.

In 2002, after selling the marina business and moving to Flint Hill, VA his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After her death, McMurray led a quiet life, looking for an opportunity to express his instinctive drive to own and operate a business.

Brenda & Peter McMurray

Brenda & Peter McMurray

During this period, he also fell in love again. After a courtship of a few years, he married Brenda, who had run a successful grocery store in Manassas. Together they began looking for a business they could build as a team. Enter the Orlean Store.

The Orlean Store is located in a 1850s era building at the corner of Routes 688 and 732 in Fauquier County. The market had served the community for many years but its last owner, feeling the same pressures as many rural groceries, closed the business in the early part of 2009. Peter and Brenda were shown the property a few months later and immediately saw its potential. After an extensive clean up and refurbishing of the premises, they opened for business in June.

                                                                                                                                                                   The community’s response to the new ownership was immediate. In addition to standard grocery items, the market has a deli featuring quarter pound hamburgers, sandwiches, homemade soups, and fresh baked breads and pastries. Custom blended coffee—both brewed and ground—is also available, a particularly attractive draw for the village residents.

“We’ve experienced business growth each month we’ve been opened. We are now generating up to 200 transactions a day,” states McMurray. Realizing the potential for sit-down eating, the store opened a small dining area and a patio for warm weather dining out.

Dining Area

Dining Area

Supporting Virginia food producers is high on McMurray’s agenda. The store features a host of products, including chutney, cheese, roasted coffees, honey, jellies, elderberry drinks, syrups and wines. “Virginia food products are of the highest quality and we are proud to showcase them in our store,” his says. A particularly tasty example of such support is his Wednesday evening wine tastings featuring Virginia wines, plus California and international bottlings.

The community’s embrace of the market’s unique weekly dinners has been particularly gratifying for the McMurrays. The couple knew they did not have the capability to open a full-time restaurant in addition to operating the market. Yet, they wanted to offer their customers a dining out experience. The answer was weekly dinners with a one-menu entrée. “We feature one dish every Thursday such as crab cakes, chili or lasagna and price it from ten to fifteen dollars a plate. A glass of wine runs around five dollars,” he says.



The community response was startling. The first dinner hosted 16 diners. It then jumped to 25, then 40, and then 70. One Thursday in early October saw 92 guests enjoying the crab cake special. If it weren’t for the warm weather and the patio’s availability, the market would have been pressed to handle the crush of diners.

The dinner concept became such a local favorite the dining area was expanded. It is expected dinners will soon be offered two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays. For those interested in a unique dining out excursion, the kitchen opens at 5 PM each Thursday. And while reservations are not accepted, no one has yet been turned away nor had to wait for a seat.

Beyond the sale of food and drink, one of the more important benefits of the market’s rebirth is the installation of functioning gas pumps. The nearest gas station is over five miles away but the previous owner had ceased selling gas due to the expense of replacing the antiquated pumps. McMurray knew the restoration of fuel service would be most welcomed by both residents and visitors. And indeed, it has.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             landscapeOne of the more telling aspects of rebuilding a retail business in a village setting was the decision on how to handle tips. “In the beginning, some customers would leave change on the counter as they purchased their food orders. To neaten things up, I set out a bowl for the tips. But, both Brenda and I were not comfortable with the tip jar concept. Brenda suggested we donate the money to the Orlean Fire Department. It was a great idea. We are now averaging $300 to $500 a month in contributions for the department,” McMurray states proudly.

And whom might the store’s clientele include? “I love our customer mix. We have local farmers, city commuters, estate owners, tradesmen, touring motorcyclists, bicyclists, and visitors enjoying a ride in the country. It’s gratifying to see so many different folks supporting our business,” McMurray states.

All of this begs the question; does the rural grocery store have to be a victim of twenty-first century progress? Or, might its future lie in recognizing what a community wants and then serving those needs.

If you’d like to cast a vote for the future of yesterday, stop by the Orlean Store and grab that gallon of milk, sandwich, cup of coffee or a bottle of wine. Peter and Brenda are waiting to say hello.


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