Customers pay tribute to Bill’s Barbecue as closing day looms

Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-14 21:28:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Bill's Barbecue, which has called Richmond home for more than 80 years, will shutter all of its locations.

Just like Circuit City, Thalheimers and Miller and Rhoads before it, Bill's Barbecue will disappear from the local landscape this weekend.

When it does it will end more than eight decades of culinary history in Richmond much to the dismay of its long time customers.

It is a chance to relive mouth-watering memories one last time and wash them down with a limeade.

"I’m sorry they’re closing but I was here trying to support Bill’s Barbecue," said Jonathan Penn, a customer who talked with CBS 6 News' Greg McQuade Friday. "To lose something that has been open so long in Richmond for it to close I think the whole community closes.”

Some customers, while lining up at Bill’s Barbecue for the nostalgia as much as the food, shared some tears and hugs Friday.

“Unfortunately, this will be my last Bill’s Barbecue order," said Doris Johnson. "Some of us came but maybe we didn’t come as much as we should have.”

At its height Bill's Barbecue boasted 13 locations. Five restaurants were closed in April to try to save the company, which began in Norfolk in 1930. The final three locations in Richmond will close on Sunday at 3 p.m. 

Increased competition, a dwindling customer base and rising costs forced Bill’s Barbecue president Rhoda Elliott to make the most difficult decision of her life.

“As much as you don’t want to see us go, one million times more we don’t want to go,” Elliott said. “It is heartbreaking. Like I said, we don’t quit.”

Hundreds of customers have been streaming through Bill's doors the last few days. Even old employees have stopped by to lend a helping hand behind the counter one last time.

Dr. David Urban with VCU’s School of Business laments the loss of Bill’s. When it closes Urban said Richmond’s identity will take another hit.

“We’re losing a lot of that local color and replacing them with things that everyone has. What has made Richmond, Richmond is places like Bill’s Barbecue,” said Urban. 

Eighty-six-year-old Adeline Stewart worked at Bill’s off and on for nearly 50 years. She was sitting on the other side of the counter on this day watching customers come and go. She sat silently soaking in what little time was left of Bill’s.

In addition to missing the smiles of friendly customers, Stewart said she’ll miss one other thing just as much -- their legendary desserts. 

“I just couldn’t get enough of that chocolate pie,” said Stewart.

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