Linda Garten has been as familiar a sight to Gauley Bridge residents — and those just traveling through the tiny Upper Kanawha Valley municipality — as her employer's tri-color company logo or her Ford Escape, decked out to reveal her ardent following of the West Virginia University Mountaineers. Garten ended a 40-year career at GoMart on Friday, Nov. 29 after having served about 38 years as the store's manager and go-to source for answers to residents' questions and requests ranging from "Are we still under a boil water notice?" to "If you see my husband in there, remind him to bring home some milk."

GAULEY BRIDGE — Many local residents who begin their morning commute with a stop at the local GoMart have missed a familiar face last week.

Linda Garten, who managed the Gauley Bridge GoMart for about 38 years, has retired. She spent her last day as the store manager on Friday, Nov. 29. To the end, she greeted customers, many whom became friends over the years.

Garten, a Charlton Heights resident, began working at the store 40 years ago, which is over 95 percent of the establishment's estimated 42-year stay in its Rte. 39 location on the banks of the Gauley River. She admitted Friday was a bittersweet day. Whether it was catching up on customers' children or grandchildren or their jobs while doing her own job, or talking WVU football or other items of interest, Garten says she will miss seeing the customers who darkened the store's doors — some frequently and some maybe not as often.

"I'm going to miss everybody so bad," Garten said. "It's a special bond (between her and community members).

"I've seen their kids come up from diapers to school to college. I've been with their parents. We've been through a lot here. I've got a lot of people that will come in and just talk to me."

"This will always be a mom-and-pop store," she continued. "We've had our issues, what chain doesn't, or convenience store? We've had a few shoplifters, we've had drugs, but all in all, people respect me because the next day they're going to look at me and talk to me."

Even as she looked ahead to retirement last week, Garten said, "It's still hard not to worry about this place. Monday, I'll be going crazy because I'm not going to be here.

"It's been my life for 40 years. And I don't think I'd go back and change it. It's not about the job or the business; it's more about my clientele and my customers. They're wonderful, always have been."

The GoMart is located at the site of a former gas station owned by local businessman C.T. Wilson, now deceased. Garten said she can still recall Wilson at his station, and over the years she's thought of him when certain situations would arise at work. Wilson's business was torn down to make room for the GoMart. "I didn't start with the store, but I would say I came in here right after, within a year or two at the most. That's been a long time ago."

She recalls starting out as a part-time clerk for about two weeks. From there, she moved up to shift manager for a few months, then went into management. "Of course, I didn't think I was ready for either one of them," said Garten, a mother of three and grandmother of six.

Over the years, she's helped out when other GoMarts needed it, but "this is my home."

She says the store, which normally has a staff of six not counting the manager, has been productive for the company, but she's seen a drop in numbers over the last five years or so with cutbacks in the coal mines and other changes in the economy. "My employees have always been supportive, and my customers have always been supportive," Garten said. "I have no problems with my customers; I love all of 'em, and I'm going to miss them so bad."

Garten underwent open heart surgery in 2014, and she eased up somewhat on her work load — and some of the accompanying stress — since then, in addition to cutting down on her smoking. The general wear and tear of supervising the business and health problems prompted her to retire. She says she's been offered a part-time day shift if she wants it.

While she relished time spent with community members and their children and grandchildren in whose lives she was involved, Garten is now anxious to spend some more time with six grandchildren of her own as she settles into a retirement routine. "They'll actually wear me out a lot," she predicts with a laugh.

"This store has been first and foremost in my life, even more so than my kids," Garten concluded. "But this fed my kids.

"And I've met so many people, and I've raised a lot of kids here. I'm going to miss it. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself."

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