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Shop offers cigars, hand-mixed soda and nostalgia

Posted on April 5, 2021

Local newsTop news
Chris Thompson is pictured Saturday at his handmade counter inside Tobacco Hall and Mini Mart, 124 N. Pine St. in downtown Spring Hope. Thompson offers cigars, homemade soda and candy apples, hard-to-find candies and nostalgia.

Lindell J. Kay | Enterprise

Chris Thompson is pictured Saturday at his handmade counter inside Tobacco Hall and Mini Mart, 124 N. Pine St. in downtown Spring Hope. Thompson offers cigars, homemade soda and candy apples, hard-to-find candies and nostalgia.

lkay@springhopeenterprise.com | 252-265-8117

SPRING HOPE -— Some older residents probably remember a time when specialty sodas were mixed and sold at the store counter. Well, those days are here again.

Southern Nash County native Chris Thompson has transformed the old shoe store at 124 N. Pine St. in downtown Spring Hope into a shop that trades in nostalgia along with cigars, Moon Pies, ice cream, Italian ice and Dream Soda — a handmade drink topped with whipped cream.

Tobacco Hall and Mini Mart offers a little bit of everything, especially rare items and hard-to-find candies like Chick-O-Sticks, a peanut butter candy manufactured by the Atkinson Candy Co. in Lufkin, Texas, since the 1950s, but now hard to find in many stores.

“I’ve had customers come in, see Chick-O-Sticks on the shelf and say, ‘Man, I haven’t had these in years,’” Thompson said.

Another specialty the store offers that isn’t everywhere: homemade gourmet candy apples with cookie and candy bar toppings.

Finding a niche is important for a mini-mart in a small town with four convenience stores within a few blocks of each other and surrounding Thompson’s location.

“I can’t sell gasoline like the other places, so I got to find something else to attract customers,” Thompson said. “That’s where the nostalgia factor comes in.”

Thompson developed his business acumen at N.C. Central University, where he majored in business management. While attending the Durham college, Thompson played football for the Eagles, something the Bailey farm kid started at Southern Nash High School.

“I would get up before 5 a.m., work on the farm and Coach (Pat) Miller would ride by in his pickup and I’d hop on the tailgate,” Thompson said. “I’d go to school, practice, then Coach would drop me off. Then I would do it all over again. It was hard, but I learned a real work ethic.”

Thompson played any position the team needed, but spent a lot of games as a linebacker. He graduated in 1994, but not before The Wilson Times profiled him on its sports page for his ability to play just about any position.

“I had a daughter at 18 and didn’t think I was going to college,” Thompson said. “But my mama said, ‘You’re going to college,’ and the family helped me. Going to Central was a wonderful experience.”

After college, Thompson returned to Southern Nash at head football coach Brian Foster’s request. For a time, Thompson helped coach the Firebirds and taught business management classes.

Thompson’s entrepreneurial spirit led him back to business, and that led him back to the family tobacco and cucumber farm.

“I knew I wanted to start a business, but I wasn’t sure what,” Thompson said. “Tobacco was a cash crop for us. I did the farming side growing up, I wanted to see what the other side was like. When I figured it out, my uncle who’s still in the business donated a lot of the decorations for the store. I want to capture the spirit I remember. I remember seeing the men work all day and then they would relax under a shade tree with a Pepsi with peanuts stuffed in the bottle and maybe a cigar.”

Thompson offers tobacco products from what he calls Boss Hogg slow-smoking cigars to recognized name brands.

“There’s a lot of new fruit flavors that pique people’s interest,” Thompson said. “I will order what people want.”

A customer asked for Natural American Spirit, a cigarette brand made an hour down the road in Oxford.

“I hadn’t heard of it, did some research and got them in,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of people in Spring Hope who travel to Nashville or Wake Forest to get what I got right here.”

The store also carries vape products.

A gifted wood craftsman, Thompson builds and sells wine racks, blanket ladders, noodle boards, welcome signs and more.

Thompson said he recently picked up playing chess and plans to set a couple of game tables outside the store on the sidewalk so folks can play the day away.

Tobacco Hall and Mini Mart is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays. 

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