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Nathan Wills can tell you where every historical item in his shop came from.

There's a saddle from Nelly in Culloden and a set of work mule collars and haims from Quincy Dickinson's granddaughters who lived just outside of Charleston.

"They're all items from the community," Wills said, looking up. "I wanted it to be part of the community, kind of like a town hall, if you will."

Wills, who's had the company for 50 years, described his shop as a "typical farm and family store" mixed with a museum. Along the upper parameters of each wall, a series of continuous shelves supports myriad vintage farm supplies, tools and garb.

"This store is 120 feet long and 75 feet wide," Wills said. "The wood for the shelves is Putnam County poplar wood that I had cut to make the shelves."

Situated just off the Nitro exit, Town and Country Supply is hard to miss. To the left of the building stand two large statues of Paul Bunyon and his trusty ox, Babe.

"We handle some hardware items, but mostly animal health and farm supplies like feed, seed, fertilizer for farms and backyard gardens," Wills said. "One of our major points of our business is our LP gas, and a lot of people think LP gas is just for grilling out and camping. We have a tremendous amount of people who use it for cooking, water heating, auxiliary heating and for generators."

Wills started his business right after graduating from Nitro High School. In his tenure, he's noticed plenty of trends in sales.

"It used to be that people would come in the door and they needed feed for their animals and seed for their fields and things to repair [equipment] with," he said. "Now, people come in the doors and they want - they want grass for their lawn, food for their pets rather than livestock. It seems more leisure[-based] than work-related."

Wills, who is the vice president of the Nitro Historical Commission, began collecting heirlooms and vintage items for his first store's display about 30 years ago. It began with a humble butter churn from an 80-year-old customer.

"She came in the store a lot and she said, 'I would give that to you if you had a place where it wouldn't get broke so people could see it,'" Wills said. "I told her, 'if you bring it in, I'll make a shelf for it.'"

And so the collecting began.

"You know, it's like the movie, 'Field of Dreams,'" Wills said. "If you build it, they will come. After that, I had other people come in who had similar things, and they said they'd give it to me if I put it up on the shelf. When I built this store, I built the shelving specifically for that."

Being entrusted with the relics and often sentimentally priceless items isn't a responsibility Wills takes lightly. He swaps out the items every now and then to keep his collection rotating - and he's always accepting new historical pieces from members of the community.

In the last few years, Wills has welcomed a pair of feral cats, Yoda and Patches, who are now the store's official "guard cats."

Today, with so many online resources available, Wills emphasized the importance of "the Five Ps" when it comes to shopping local and supporting local economies.

"Purchase in your community, purchase in your city or town, purchase it in your county, purchase it in your state and purchase it in your country and we'll all be working," Wills said. "If you'll do those things in that order, we'll be OK. It's all made one dollar, one decision at a time."

Town and Country Farm Supply is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.


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