Worms & Coffee: Saying Goodbye to an Institution
What makes you smile? A funny joke, an old-time movie, a good story with a happy ending? I never know what I will find to make me smile, but one thing that once brought a smile to my face was a sign at the Midway Trading Post in Bolivia: “Worms and Coffee.” The first time I saw it I stopped my car and grabbed my camera. “There must be a story behind this sign,” I said to myself, and with a smile on my face I clicked the shutter on my camera. The store was closed that day, so I headed home.
Months later I learned that this local icon was closing on July 30, 2016, as widening of Highway 211 was in the future and the state had made an offer to buy the property. On a hot summer’s day, I decided to go over and take in what was left. With my camera and note pad in hand, I drove off to see if I could learn about the sign that had once made me smile.
My afternoon was filled with listening to stories about customers, employees and the owners, Carole and Mike Richards. In 1993 Carole and Mike, high-school sweethearts originally from Nebraska, decided to make a major change. They had both worked in Chapel Hill, N.C., but during a time of layoffs they decided they wanted to write their own chapter for the life they wanted to live. And living at the coast was their choice. After meeting with a Realtor, they decided to purchase the Midway Trading Post, even though neither of them had any former retail experience.
“What is the story behind the funny sign?” I asked Carole. She told me they had many signs for the store known as Midway Trading Post, but one day Mike said, “We need something catchy, something fun. Why not Worms and Coffee?” It stuck. An artist, Carole got to work designing a logo of a worm with a ball cap and a big grin on the side of a steaming cup of coffee.
Loyal customers stopped by the store each morning, noon and night for their daily dose of beverages, snacks, and yes, coffee and worms. Jars of jams and jellies lined the shelves, pickled eggs were packed in Mason jars, and packages of boar and venison jerky took center stage at the cash register.
Carole and Mike were fixtures at the store. Mike, known as “Midway Mike,” was an avid golfer and enjoyed outdoor sports until one day in June of 2015 when he was suddenly taken ill. A short time after being diagnosed with leukemia, he passed away.
How do you survive when life throws you a curve ball? Do you give in or do you find strength to move on? “The store was my saving grace after Mike’s passing,” Carole said. I see the love in her eyes when she speaks of her high-school sweetheart of nearly 50 years. “And my art gives me strength to move on.”
Her abstract acrylic paintings are exhibited at the Franklin Square Gallery in Southport, where she is a member. Art feeds the soul and soothes the heart, the perfect medicine as Carole heals from the loss of her husband and now the closing of the store.
Mike once told Carole he would know he had made it when the Brunswick Beacon published his story on the front page of the paper above the fold for all to read. “Mike, you have made it,” Carole said, showing me the article in the July 28 Brunswick Beacon with the article Mike had been wishing to see. Too bad it was about the store closing.
On August 20, 2016, the auctioneer will pound his gavel to sell “anything that can be moved,” as Carole said. It will be a bittersweet ending to a life shared.
Before I left, I asked Carole if I could photograph what is left of this local icon to preserve the sights that were so much a part of Carole and Mike’s life. She allowed me to work my way through the store capturing small bits and pieces of their treasures. We ended up outside where Carole sat on blue wooden seats originally from a theater in Southport and I took my place on a blue garden bench.
We chatted some more, I grabbed a few more candid shots and then I remembered that I had brought something for Carole. “Be right back,” I said. I returned with a small bag of homemade Orange-Fig Shortbread. “It’s just something I do when I meet someone new, I bake cookies,” I said. “Then you must take home some of our own homemade jams, while we still have some,” said Carole. I followed her into the store and picked out a jar of fig preserves.
I will bake something special with this jar of preserves from Worms and Coffee and remember this day and how I learned all about that sign that brought a smile to my face. “Hope to see you again,” called out Carole, as I turned to leave. “Me, too,” I said back to her.