A sign on the front door of the Corner Kitchen reads, “Enter at your own risk.”
Owner Caroline Beckner has been brewing coffee and frying eggs since just before 5 a.m. Usually she finishes the cleaning and prepares for the next day’s rush, but it’s Tuesday, time for her weekly hair appointment at Barbara’s Beauty Shop. She slides a closed sign above the warning on the door and heads down Garden City Boulevard. As she leans her head back into the sink for Shaw Campbell to wash, talk turns to ghosts.
“So, I’ve got something to talk to you about,” Shaw says as she rinses suds from Caroline’s hair, “What’s with all this stuff about a ghost up on Yellow Mountain?” For 28 years, Caroline has run the Corner Kitchen, a breakfast and lunch stop for police officers, retirees, construction workers and “beer drinkers,” so of course she has.
Besides, rumors float up and down the boulevard of this small community faster than any apparition.
Split by “the boulevard,” Garden City is just a small portion of the 24014 zip code. If you live here, you might get your mail at a mansion in South Roanoke, or an old farmhouse in Roanoke or Franklin counties, but in Garden City, it’ll be a not-too-pretentious brick ranch or split-level where you’ll get to know your neighbors.
“Everyone knows everyone up here,” says Shaw, who grew up in Garden City, eating at the boulevard icon Mac’s Soda Shop when her legs couldn’t touch the floor at the lunch counter, back when Caroline was still waitressing there.
“It’s kind of like the country, but it’s the city,” Caroline adds, “and the people are good.”
Things have changed over the years. There may be a lot of spirits from times past walking the boulevard these days. Mac’s has been gone since the ’80s, and in recent years Huffman’s Garage, another landmark, closed down too.
“A lot of the older people have passed on,” Shaw says. Years ago both women could have named the residents of nearly every home in the community, but many of those folks are gone and their homes rented or sold to young families.
The Johns family is one of the recent arrivals to the boulevard. On summer evenings, their four boys tussle in the yard before dad teaches a lesson in football blocking. Children pass on bicycles in the carefree way city dwellers not born in recent decades can recall. Down the street, the sound of choir practice carries through stained glass windows of Garden City Baptist Church as young couples lean against cars making the most of one of the last nights filled with cricket songs.
It’s home to Caroline and Shaw. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Ghosts and all.
– Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
ZIP Codes: A photographic journey through Southwest Virginia Explore the whole series here, at roanoke.com
24014 by the numbers
- Average household income: $76,779
- Population: 16,267
- Households: 7,431
- Average age: 42
- Average travel time to work in minutes: 22
2009 estimates by Nielsen Claritas