For the past month, people like Johnny Cladd have been bringing their sacks of pecans Monday through Saturday to James "Buddy" and Linda Earnest at their little specially shop at the corner of Crawford and Porro streets in Quincy.
Thousands of pounds of the delicious nuts have crossed the scales on the buying dock at Earnest Pecans, located at the rear of the store, since the season officially opened in late September.
"This has been a good year. I've been here three or four times with sacks of pecans," said 43-year-old Johnny Cladd, who has been gathering and selling pecans since he was 5 years old.
He doesn't own pecan trees but said people in the community who do allow him to pick up the nuts once they have fallen to the ground. He said he doesn't abuse the privilege but the kindness of people allows him to make a little extra money. He netted a little more than $60 from the three bags he sold this week.
Cladd hoped that all of his pecans were No. 1 but was happy when one bag passed the test as a No. 1 quality nut. The No. 1 pecan or the "moneymaker" pecan is the most sought after nut because it pays the highest amount of money.
The Earnests depend on loyal customers like Cladd who have been bringing their pecans in to sell for over a half century. But Earnest Pecans wasn't always the "pecan store," as many locals refer to it now.
The store was operated, prior to 1950, as a neighborhood market where meats and other staples were sold. The old scales remain in the store.
"My husband's parents, Tom and Lille Mae Earnest, ran the store for years and sold just about everything. The larger supermarkets came in and ran most of the small stores out of business. Mr. Earnest would buy pecans on a limited basis but people really started bringing them in and he eventually closed the store and just did the pecans. That went on for years," Linda Earnest said.
The pecan business took over and for almost 20 years the building was used to store the pecan overflow. Linda said in 1998 internationally known artist Dean Mitchell opened a show at the Gadsden Art Center. One of the prominent paintings was one called "Earnest Pecans." Familiar with the history of the store, the staff of the Gadsden Arts Center invited the Earnests to opening night of Art in Gadsden.
"When I saw that painting I told my husband we had to restore the building. It was important that our four girls and our grandchildren know their family history," Linda said.
Restoring the building was going to cost the Earnests thousands. Money, Linda felt, her husband was going to be reluctant to commit to spending.
"The store was in horrible shape. There were big holes in the floor, rotting or rotten boards on the walls and a sagging frame," she said.
That's when the idea to open the store as a retail speciality shop entered her mind. And she had the perfect company for the venture. The Earnests were already selling their pecans exclusively to the J.W. Renfroe Pecan Company in Pensacola. The company buys millions of pounds of pecans, mainly from Georgia producers.
"I knew that they had a kitchen in Pensacola where they did a hugh retail business that included specialty gifts and gift packaging. I called them and presented my idea to sell their products in our shop and they agreed," she said.
Visiting the shop has become an annual destination for many people in the area. They can purchase shelled and unshelled pecans and a variety of candied nuts, cheese straws and other delicacies.
"I come here every year to buy the same thing. I have a friend in Daytona Beach who likes the paper shell pecans. She doesn't want them shelled; she likes to shell them herself. So every year I send her 3 pounds and she tells me that she's never gotten a bad one," said Albert Bethune.
Susan Williams, who lives in Tallahassee, said she makes a special trip to Quincy to buy the mouth-watering candies made from each year's crop of pecans.
Linda said no one can go wrong buying pecans from them. While their local products are shipped to Selma, Texas for processing, the shelled pecans that stock their shelves are from Georgia.
"These pecans are premium. You can't find this quality of nut in any supermarket. These are as fresh as if a squirrel just cracked them,"she said.
The shop itself has also become a destination for visitors. Linda said she'll often look over and see a customer with his or her eyes closed and wearing a smile.
"I know what they're thinking even before they tell me. They're remembering coming to the store with their grandparents and they're thinking about how the they felt. We also have a lot of people who live here and tell us they can't let their guests go home until they've been to the store," Linda said.
Although she doesn't have a guest book in the store, Linda said she has greeted visitors from almost every state in the nation.
But it's the locals like Bernikia Moore of Havana who love the store.
"I heard some women in my office talking about the 'pecan store' about 3 years ago. I buy candy and nuts for myself as also as gifts," she said.
Linda said people see the gift potential in nuts and that niche of the market is growing. Pecans have a long shelf life, they're versatile, they can be used in recipes or eaten raw and they're good for you, she said. She also gives customers a brochure with recipes on cooking with pecans.
During pecan season, which can last from September through January, the Earnests spend long days at the shop. They are there Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and most days, she said, it doesn't seem like work.
"We just have us a good, good time," she said.
If you want to know more about Earnest Pecans or inquire about products, call 850-627-6252.
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