SAN ANTONIO, TX – Stepping inside Sand Hill Grocery is like stepping back in time for Shirley Degrasse. The convenience store, located along Loop 1604’s southeastern side near New Sulphur Springs Road, has been part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“I was probably about 6 or 7. My grandparents lived down the road and this would be our stop,” she said. "We would stop here, you know? Sodas and drinks and head over to grandma's house."
Now, Degrasse also brings her own children along on quick visits to the neighborhood business. Most often, they’re in search of a flavor of ice cream that their nearest supermarket chain doesn’t carry.
Loyal customers like her are, largely, how business keeps going, according to Elaine Gilbreath, the store’s owner since 1988.
"We don't sell as many groceries as we used to, you know? It used to be 20 miles to go to the supermarket," Gilbreath said. “My sales have dropped every year. It's getting real challenging. I mean, my margins have dropped, too."
Competition from corporate giants has created a bit of a struggle for this small business owner. Still, she realizes how much the store means to many in the community.
Before Gilbreath took over the reins as owner of Sand Hill Grocery, she managed the business for a friend. That friend ended up selling it to her nearly three decades ago, and she decided not to change a thing about it.
"It has its own personality,” Gilbreath said. “It's a store real strong on beer and tobacco."
She goes out of her way, though, to sell just about anything else her customers request. On a recent day earlier this month, the shelves were stocked with everything from typical convenience store snacks, such as soft drinks and chips, to shoe polish, fireplace logs and children’s toys.
And Gilbreath said the unusual is not limited to what is on her shelves. She also gets odd requests from customers.
"I've had people walk in and they'll hand me some obscure weird item and say, 'Hey, can I give you this and Harry will be by in an hour?," she said.
The thing keeps Degrasse coming back, though, isn’t exactly for sale. She said she appreciates the hometown hospitality that she finds here.
"You'll be getting gas and people stop and everybody starts talking to each other," Degrasse said.
Even with the availability of the internet, Gilbreath said her store remains a center of communication for people in the area. An entire wall outside the building is dedicated to advertisements from local business people. In addition, there’s a bulletin board just outside the front door where neighbors post announcements, business cards, and notices about lost or found pets.
It’s part of a long-standing tradition that makes up life along that part of Loop 1604.