It takes more than homes to make a community, small businesses have been woven through the fabric of Beavercreek for decades, like The Riffles Carry-Out.
Riffles on the Beavercreek Heritage Trail!
Unfortunately, the days of the corner grocer have passed. A couple remain locally, like Johnnie's Carry Out and Hall's Corner Market, but the full-service and family atmosphere primarily lives on in our memories. Beavercreek had many come and go including the original Lofino's, Stewart Grocery and Smith Grocery in Zimmerman. The longest local survivor was 'The Riffles', located at 3866 Indian Ripple Road.
Inside, you'd find the carry-out staples... beer, baseball cards, lottery tickets, balsa wood gliders, milk, cereal, pork & beans, ramen, and an excess of Zippo lighter fluid. But for kids, it was all about the penny candy! You could fill those little brown paper bags with a ton of choices for only a quarter. If you had a dollar, you'd almost need a friend to help carry your sweet haul! Kids would walk to Riffles from all areas, gathering pop bottles out of the ditches along the way; they'd then trade their bottle refunds for candy.
It was also an obligatory stop on your way to the Belmont Drive-In, prior to a fishing trip or for that perfectly trimmed steak. Lunch hour saw workers from Brown's Cherry Hill Nursery, Queen City Drywall, Becker Roofing, Furrow, SRL and every local construction site line up past the bread rack for their turn at the counter.
Riffles was more than the sum of its inventory - it was the 60's, 70's, 80's or 90's - whichever you chose. The faces rarely changed - at the end of their run Joe Jr. manned the register with Mama Hamlin, Janice, quietly nearby. In the back, Mike worked the meat counter - grinding burger and crafting deli sandwiches. A Riffles samich made for a nearly perfect lunch - tough to beat Kahn's lunch meat (sliced to order), fresh crisp lettuce, and ripe tomatoes on today's bread wrapped in butcher paper!
Joe Sr. completed the experience. With his worn out slippers, unnaturally colored and coiffed hair, signature shuffle and sharp tongue, there was never doubt as to who was in charge. A simple, salt-of-the-earth character, Joe was larger than life in his corner store domain. It was rare to find a topic upon which he wasn't fully versed and highly opinionated. But beware - Joe made sure that even the beer bottles at Riffles leaned to the right!
The Riffles meat counter was truly The Beavercreek Buzz when Mark Zuckerberg was still in diapers! Happenings from Beavercreek to Washington D.C. were on the newsfeed and politics was always on the menu, as was Joe's delicious homemade ham salad. Everyone was equal there. On one occasion I recall a tall, slender elderly man in a worn-thin dress shirt and bow tie quietly waiting his turn at the sandwich counter behind a construction crew. Once they were all served, he placed his daily order, exchanged a few polite pleasantries with Joe and was on his way. Joe turned and asked if I knew the man, I didn't. He replied that it was local entrepreneur and philanthropist Fritz Russ, and that maybe he'd introduce me someday. He didn't.
Mike was the man in the back. Joe and Janice's pre-maturely gray second eldest child became the primary butcher, deli counter worker, sandwich crafter, sole-operator of the Foreman Grill and most importantly - antagonizer of his father! Often he'd get him so worked up that Joe would make you a sandwich completely different from what you'd ordered, then just tell you to eat it! Mike loved NASCAR and his Chevy Camaro. He lived his life fast and passed away too young in January of 2009. His perpetual smile and easy demeanor were integral to the Riffles culture.
The Riffles was originally built and operated by Marlin and Beatrice Reid along with son, David, who transferred from Otterbein College to the University of Dayton in 1960 to help with the construction. The name Riffles was chosen due to the shallow nature of the nearby Beaver Creek and Little Miami River. True to their German heritage, they performed most of the labor themselves, with the exception of the block work. The original two-room building saw Mrs. Reid work the register and Mr. Reid in the back room.
Mr. Reid, as he was called, was a quiet gentleman with a quick, dry wit. He didn't say a lot, and got quickly to the point. Nearly every day he wore a quilted jacket due to his frequent trips into the cooler. The Reid's drove a massive mid-1960's landcruiser that was often so overloaded with merchandise that the tailpipe would nearly drag the pavement!
When David married Marilyn Neuman, an apartment was built above the carry-out and Marlin and Beatrice moved upstairs so that their son and his new bride could live in their Belmont home. Later additions included the three office spaces to the west end of the building. In 1969 a second cold room was added, with the nine-month-pregnant Marilyn monitoring to cement chute pouring the floor. She went into labor the next day!
The Reid's brought in a butcher, as there were no vendors of fresh meat nearby. They established a reputation for great beef products, a tradition that continued through the life of the store. There was always a hustle and bustle of activity, whether it was locals returning pop bottles for the refund or the neighborhood men stopping in for the conversation of the day, similar to the Liar's Table across town. There were even some locals who would ride their horses to the store, tie them up, and stop in to do their shopping!
In the early 1970's, Janice Hamlin found herself with free time as Jeff, the youngest of her five children, had started kindergarten. A frequent customer at Riffle's, the Reid's offered her a part-time position at the store. Joe had been in the printing business and a volunteer fireman (ever hear that the vending machine in front of the station on Indian Ripple was stocked with Blatz?) since discharging from the Army. Long hours kept him from his family more than his conscience could bear. On July 1, 1976 Joe recognized that he could work similar hours while being surrounded by family and the Hamlin's purchased the business from the Reid's.
Owning a market wasn't without its challenges. Staffing the 14 hour per day, 362 day per year schedule was tough and often fell upon the Hamlin kids to fill the gaps. Opportunistic thieves shattered the front door twice, filled a trash can with cartons of cigarettes and made their escape. There was even a well publicized armed robbery! At the time of the hold up, it was typical that two of the Hamlin boys, Steve and Joe Jr., held down the closing shift. It's believed the perp scouted the place and chose a night when Joe Sr. was closing. The robber showed a fake gun and demanded cash from the register, Joe headed for the pistol hidden under the cash box in the office. After an altercation, the robber fled in his car but was detained in traffic on Indian Ripple in front of the current BP Station. Police spotted the cash in his car and followed him to his home, where he was arrested. Surprisingly, he only served about 30 days for armed robbery.
Joe Jr. looks back on the Riffle's years with great fondness. What was then just a job, now feels like a chapter in Beavercreek's history. The dynamic of customers becoming friends was never lost on the Hamlin's. During the blizzard of 1977, new faces would huff through the door, anxiously in search of kitchen staples. Joe recognized that his regulars would need the same things and stashed items away in the back room, he'd refer the customer to other stores - taking care of his patrons first. Under the gruff exterior was a warm heart. As the years passed, it became evident that Joe was as dependent upon the interaction as he was the income. Joe Jr.'s best memories are of the regular customers, watching the local kids grow up year after year, and when former customers would make a point to stop in - just to say, "Hi". He'd love to re-open Riffles someday, but recognizes that duplicating the location would lack the people and experiences that made it what it was. Times have changed.
As the end drew near, the atmosphere became more somber. The lines at the sandwich counter had moved to the new Cassano's restaurant across the road, Super Subby's up the street and The Greene on the other side of 675. Propane customers opted for the exchange option rather than filling their tanks. The children of long time customers grew up and moved away, resulting in smaller purchases from those the business depended upon. The 'instant gratification' of restaurant drive through windows and 'one stop shopping' of Speedway drew in customers and got them on their way quicker. Riffles was dying. In 2002, Janice wanted to close up shop but Joe refused, holding out for the best. I recall a conversation where Joe was lamenting raising prices, knowing it was a double-edged sword. As he leaned against the cooler he wiped away tears, knowing that the end was near and inevitable. In September of 2004 Riffles closed without fanfare, but for those of us who were regulars - a void was created that'll never be filled.
Joe hated change and his willing to evolve was limited. Could changes have been made to extend the Riffles run? Perhaps. But to Joe, changing was the same as closing. The Hamlin's were approached about purchasing the business, but negotiations never came to fruition.
Janice passed away in January of 2014 following a lengthy illness. Joe, who had gone straight from high school, to the Army, to Janice, now lives at Crestview Manor. There were those who saw him as grumpy and gruff and thought he hated people. Nothing was further from the truth, he craved the interaction and comaraderie of his customers and friends. When asked his secret to Riffle's success, "Give them what they want" was the reply. Now the hair has gone white as he's in his 80's, but he again has an audience - and he's happy... but he'd probably argue that just for the pleasure of it. At the end of our visit I offered up a "Have a good day". Familiarly, but very unexpectedly he turned to me and said, "Every day's a good day", and smiled.
Joel 'Joe' Hamlin, Sr. passed away at Crestview Nursing Home on August 19, 2015, completing his circle back to Janice. The hundreds of 'Reads' of this article and additional hundreds of comments on social media indicate the impact that the Hamlin family has had on Beavercreek. Joe was the best kind of one-of-a-kind and will never be forgotten in the community that he gave to -- which in turn, gave back to him. Rest in peace.
Marilyn Reid fondly remembers the Riffles and the personality that the store maintained through both her family's tenure as well as that of the Hamlin's. She maintains her law practice in the building and has retained the Riffles sign at the east driveway as a tribute to both Marlin & Beatrice as well as Joe & Janice. During the time the Hamlin's operated the carry-out, the Reid's never raised the rent a penny. Their relationship was more family than landlord/tenant and maintained the rent to not only support the business, but the Hamlin's as well.
It's ironic that there seems to be a dynamic shift back to full-service experiences. Many of the societal trends that led to the demise of The Riffle's have gone full circle and people again yearn for something different and better... like a sliced-to-order turkey sandwich, fresh crisp lettuce, and ripe tomatoes on today's bread wrapped in butcher paper.
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