The end of an era

Longmire brothers retiring from Midway IGA

By Ralphine Major

It is a landmark in Gibbs Community. Coming from Knoxville on Tazewell Pike, the Midway IGA is located on the left soon after passing through the gap. For those coming by way of Harbison’s Crossroads where Tazewell Pike intersects Emory Road, the anchor tenant of Gibbs Center at 7345 Tazewell Pike is on the right across from the entrance to Clear Springs Baptist Church. I recall that the land where the store is located was once a hayfield before Joe and Dale Longmire purchased it in 1995. The Midway IGA, commonly referred to by locals as “the IGA,” was built in 1997. According to Joe, “it is the biggest independent grocery store this side of Nashville in Tennessee.”

Aside from the produce, frozen foods, and dairy products, the IGA is more than just a grocery store. The big, modern store is a gathering place in the rural community. Whenever I go there it is almost certain that I will see someone I know from the neighborhood or someone I knew from years ago at church or school. An expansion in 2004 provided customers with a much larger produce section and bakery. It also gave patrons the pleasant addition of a deli with several booths where they can sit and enjoy a meal. A meeting room for gatherings was also added near the deli/bakery. This “new” IGA provides a much-improved shopping experience from the “old” IGA that once occupied the corner at Harbison’s Crossroads where Home Federal now stands. The store was much smaller and had no bakery or deli. Yet, it served the area for many years.

I had never met the Longmire brothers until the store opened, but I knew of the Longmire name. When I started taking piano lessons from the late Jewel Harris Atkins in 1965, my mother and I would stop in at Longmire’s Grocery in Corryton after my lesson. The store was located near the railroad tracks and across the street from the depot that houses the Corryton Library today. Longmire’s was a huge store that carried everything! I was fascinated that the grocery store had a fabric department.

The Longmire brothers and their wives all graduated from Gibbs High School (Joe in 1964; Dale in 1968) just a short distance up the road from the store. My brother, Wayne, worked with Dale’s wife at the Department of Human Services in Knoxville. She was known as “Peggy” to her co-workers, but Dale told me she is called Ellen at home. Many from the high school may remember her maiden name as “Bates.” Joe’s wife, Becky, was the popular English teacher and librarian at Gibbs High. She also volunteered as the football trainer, mock trial judge, and sponsor of the scholar’s bowl. Becky even chaperoned students during the summers to Europe.

When the Longmire brothers first opened the IGA, I often saw their late parents, Claude and Ruby, stocking shelves very early in the day. Their sister, Leesa Beeler, still works at the store. The Longmires did not have to go far to find a manager in Kevin Graves. As a 16-year-old, Kevin started working at the store as a bag boy when he was a junior at Gibbs High School. He has now been there 24 years! Kevin also comes from an outstanding family. His late grandparents, Clay and Virginia Graves, were well known not only in the Gibbs Community but at the Tennessee Valley Fair where they were recognized for their work in the rabbitry. Kevin shared that three generations of his family including him, his grandparents, and his late father were members of the National Honor Society at Gibbs High School. His father, Danny, was in the graduating class behind me.

Wayne and I have had several book signings for our children’s picture books at the IGA and have never been charged a table fee. We take donations for the Corryton Food Pantry, a charity that is dear to the Longmire family. Numerous times upon entering the store, I have seen a grocery cart parked in the lobby for pantry donations. For ten years, the Longmires also donated bread to the Kingswood Academy in Grainger County. During our book signings, we met customers who came from West Knoxville to shop at the rural store. One lady drove from Asheville Highway area to the IGA because they provide the invaluable service of taking groceries to the customer’s car. Some customers even come from neighboring counties. Dale reminded me that if a customer cannot find a particular item, they will special order it. On at least two occasions over the years, the Longmires have ordered special items at my request. Joe shared that the store also began delivering groceries long before the pandemic.

When the IGA opened, I thought of it as just a grocery store in our community. I have learned since then that it is a special place. It is a place where The University of Tennessee football games can be heard throughout the store over the radio on Saturday afternoons, and hymns can be heard on Sunday mornings. It is a place where spectators line the parking lot to see the Gibbs Ruritan Club Christmas Parade of which the IGA is a proud sponsor and the place where some parade floats make their final stop. It is a place where the MEDIC Regional Blood Center bus can be seen periodically in the parking lot. It is a place where groups often set up in the parking lot to sell their goods, such as the Clapp’s Chapel United Methodist Church Christmas trees that I have seen there for several years during the Christmas season. It is a place that sells the best potato salad and slaw! Joe once told me the slaw is made from their mother’s recipe. It is a place with boxes at the entrance for collecting grocery receipts for Corryton Elementary and Gibbs Elementary Schools to help purchase computers. There seems to be no end to the worthwhile causes the Longmire brothers support in the community. The IGA is also a place where I usually pick up our copies of The Knoxville Focus each week!

“We really want to say, ‘thank you’ and show our utmost appreciation to our customers and staff,” Joe said. “Without either, nothing would have been possible. The community has been super.” As the Longmire brothers leave the business, it is truly the end of an era. They will certainly be missed. However, the brothers will still be around for a while as the store transitions to a new owner. Joe will still be active as president of the Nicholas Gibbs Historical Society and will still serve on the board of Northeast Knox Utility.

On Sunday, February 5, from 2 until 4 p.m., Rutherford Memorial United Methodist Church, where the Longmires have been life-long members, will host a reception for Joe and Dale. Thank you, Longmires!! Our communities have been blessed by your kindness and generosity. God bless you both in retirement as you begin a new and well-deserved chapter in your lives.

Words of Faith: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32 (KJV).