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Monday, June 18, 2018, 8:27 p.m.

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Food dreams

Former employee buys Bradford grocery store

By Tammy Keith

This article was published May 20, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

Scott and Leveta McCall bought Bill’s Food Store in Bradford in April and renamed it Bradford Hometown Food Center. Leveta worked at the grocery store for 28 years before becoming a nurse, which she gave up to run the business. Former owner Bill Burruss owned the grocery store for 53 1/2 years, which first started as City Market in another location in town.

Leveta McCall of Bradford went to pick up a few items at Bill’s Food Center one day in February, and she noticed the stock was sparse.

“I asked, ‘Why are the shelves so empty?’ One of the checkers told me they were going to close the doors at the end of the month,” McCall said.

A nurse and former longtime employee of the store, McCall said she immediately talked to her husband, Scott, also a nurse.

“I went home and said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” she said.

They did — they bought the store.

The couple took over April 29 from Bill Burruss, who had owned the store for 53-plus years, said his wife, Mary. The McCalls renamed it Bradford Hometown Food Center.

Leveta, 56, has given up nursing to make the grocery store her full-time job.

She was a nurse until May 9.

“I turned in my ID badge,” she said. She was a rehab nurse at the Unity Health Inpatient Rehab south campus in Searcy. She said Scott will continue working at St. Vincent Medical Center in Little Rock, but he’ll help at the store on his days off.

“My husband had done some research about it,” Leveta said. “If we lose our grocery store, our population goes down, our bank, our pharmacy — our town would kind of die, and we didn’t want that to happen.”

Leveta said she had been dreaming about the store.

“I had been praying for our town to grow. … I’d dream I was at the store. I said, ‘Maybe I need to ask Bill for a part-time job,’” she said, laughing.

She is familiar with every inch of the store. She worked at the grocery store for 28 years, from 1979, when she graduated from Bradford High School, until 2007.

“I did everything: I checked out; I could work in the meat department. Bill kept adding more and more stuff. I was opening the store. … I said, ‘I need a raise,’” Leveta said. She didn’t get one.

“If he had given me a quarter, I would still be there and wouldn’t have gone to nursing school,” she said.

Leveta became a licensed practical nurse by earning an associate degree at Arkansas State University-Newport; then in 2010, she became a registered nurse through the Arkansas Rural Network Education Consortium. In 2011, she started working on the cardiac floor at what was then White County Medical Center, now Unity Health. Six weeks later, she had a car wreck. She fractured her neck, broke her arm, which required two surgeries, and suffered a severe burn on her foot.

She was a patient at the inpatient-rehab center in Searcy, where she later worked, and was off work 14 months. McCall said she didn’t feel like the cardiac unit was a good fit. She filled an opening in the rehab unit, “and I loved it from day 1,” she said, so she remained there until earlier this month.

Bill’s Market was where she shopped, the only true grocery store in Bradford, she said.

“I always felt like I was coming home when I came in here,” Leveta said.

She and Scott were married in 2014. Her son, Joseph Whitener of Bradford, works at the grocery store with them.

“We have to open on Sundays, and the bank recommended us to be open on Sundays, too. We’re going to rotate between us and the workers being off on Sunday so they can go to church,” she said.

Leveta said it’s hard to believe the store is hers now.

“That’s why I told them at my nursing job, ‘If you told me two or three months ago I wouldn’t be nursing, I would have told you you’re crazy,’” she said.

One of the couple’s goals is to eventually include a pharmacy with the store, Leveta said.

Mary Burruss said her husband, 78, just decided it was time to retire. She worked alongside him all those years, and their two children did growing up, too. She said their youngest son, Wesley Burruss, was working for them when the store sold. They also have three grandchildren.

“We’re just trying to wind things up right now,” she said.

Bill Burruss declined to comment on the sale. He’s a man of few words, his wife said.

Mary said her husband bought an existing grocery store, City Market, in 1964 and built the current store on Arkansas 367 North in about 1971.

Her favorite part of the business was, “I guess the people,” she said. “Years ago, everybody knew everybody, but now people go and come.”

Asked what she thought of the McCalls buying the store, she said, “I think it’s fine.”

Mayor Ronnie Burress — who is Bill Burruss’ cousin, although their last names are spelled differently — said the businessman “has been an asset to this town all these years.”

And now the McCalls are carrying on the tradition.

“We have a lot of elderly folks who live here, so they depend on the store,” the mayor said. “If not, they would have to drive about 10 miles to get groceries, and some folks don’t have transportation. And the city gets sales tax off the store, which is big for a small town like Bradford. It would have really hurt our community if [the McCalls] had not stepped up, so we are very thankful for them.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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