Andy Jackson dispenses scoops of chocolate, vanilla and butter pecan ice cream along with stamps and mailing envelopes.
The sign outside the store on Cedar Creek Road sums up the business nicely: “U.S. Post Office Hand-Made Ice Cream.”
Of course, that makes no mention of the knickknacks that Jackson also sells.
Jackson, 57, has owned the store since 1984. When he took it over, it was a combination post office-grocery store.
The grocery store is long gone, driven out of business by the chain supermarkets that have popped up along growing Cedar Creek Road. But Jackson has found other ways to make ends meet.
“Some people, when they come in, especially if they’re from out of town, say, ‘I can’t believe this is a post office,'” said Jackson, manning his combo business on a recent Tuesday morning.
Today, Jackson sells homemade chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and butter pecan ice cream at the post office – by the scoop or the pint – from March through November. He also sells his product at community events around the area.
Jackson was living with his wife, Hyon, in his native Ohio when the opportunity to buy the business arose. The Army veteran had met his wife while serving in Korea.
The business, then called J&M Grocery, was owned by Hyon’s sister and her husband, Jackson said.
“I told my wife, I said, ‘No.’ I just didn’t feel comfortable picking up and moving,” said Jackson, a friendly man who calls his customers “buddy.” “My wife said, ‘Why don’t we try it?'”
After a visit to the area at Thanksgiving in 1983, the Jacksons moved to Fayetteville in 1984 to take over the business.
In addition to the store, Jackson found work as a corrections officer at Harnett Correctional Institution. He continues to work there part-time.
Jackson kept up the grocery store for a time. Eventually, competition from stores such as Carlie C’s and Food Lion dried up that side of the business.
An alternative presented itself when Jackson learned how to make ice cream.
Visiting an old-time tractor show in Sanford several years ago, Jackson saw a sign advertising homemade ice cream. Intrigued, he called the phone number on the sign and spoke to the ice-cream maker, Tommy Gross.
“He said, ‘Andy, if you don’t come up near Sanford, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about making homemade ice cream,'” Jackson said.
Jackson agreed not to infringe on Gross’ territory and set about learning how to make it.
His first few attempts were less than successful – actually, “lousy,” Jackson said – but he eventually mastered the technique.
On a recent morning, Jackson busied himself getting his shop ready before opening for the day. He excused himself to unlock the doors.
“It’s 9:02. I got them out there waiting on me. Son of a gun,” Jackson said.
The customers – many of whom Jackson knows by name – filed into the store to mail their letters, check their post office boxes or browse the knickknack table.
It was still a little early for ice cream.
Jackson greeted each one, inquiring about their goings-on since he saw them last.
“Buddy, are you 100 percent retired now?” Jackson asked one customer.
“Hey there, how are you?” he asked another. “Do you just need to mail this?”
Jim Owen said he’s been coming to the store for 15 years, both to mail letters and sample Jackson’s ice cream. Butter pecan is his favorite.
“It’s really good ice cream, and he’s really friendly and congenial,” Owen said. “He always had a good word for everybody. He’s kind of like a shining light for this area, and we need that.”
Bonnie Hebert was at the store for the first time. The Schenectady, New York, resident was visiting her son.
After mailing her letters, Hebert browsed the knickknack tables, where items such as screwdriver sets, Hello Kitty purses and Tupperware were for sale.
Hebert picked out a beach ball and paddle toy to give to her granddaughter.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “Come in here, get ice cream, get your stamps taken care of and look at cool stuff.”
George Murphy is another longtime customer. He said he’s been coming to the store since around the time Jackson took it over in 1984.
Murphy said he likes the store’s convenience.
“You go to the busy post office, they’ve got nine lines and two people working,” he said. “Here, I’m in and out in five minutes.”
After Jackson retires from his correctional officer’s job next year, he said he would like to expand the ice cream part of his business, perhaps adding picnic tables so people can enjoy the cold treats outdoors.
But even then, he’ll keep right on selling stamps and mailing packages.
“The good thing about this post office is I know just about everybody who comes in here,” Jackson said. “They appreciate me as much as we appreciate them.”