Chris Strickland began managing Steve’s Garden Market on May 2. The market will stay largely the same aside from a wall of local N.C. beers that is currently being added in the back of the store.

Steve’s Garden Market in Hillsborough has a new partner in charge and new local beers on the way, but the market’s doors will stay open and the store will still sell all the same meats and local goods as it has since the beginning.

Chris Strickland, a Rockingham native and Graham resident, is a new managing partner in the Steve’s Market family and he’ll be running the Hillsborough location moving forward.

“We came to an agreement about the market at about 10:30 at night on the Tuesday before the market would have closed its doors,” Strickland said. “I quit the job I had and started here that Wednesday morning after as a managing partner now with an option to buy later. We just didn’t want to close the doors.”

Strickland was asked to take the Hillsborough store’s reins by owners Justin and Meagan Long, who bought Steve’s Garden Market in Graham from the founders in 2017 and bought the Hillsborough market from Cannie Bacon Lloyd last year.

Strickland’s wife is Meagan Long’s first cousin, and when managing two stores proved to be a monumental task for the Longs, they realized that they might be able to keep the market in the family, and keep changes in the business to a minimum, with Strickland.

“Justin just couldn’t be in so many places at one time, so he put the store up for sale,” Strickland said. “Employees were starting to make sure they had other opportunities and leave the market the longer it stayed up for sale and we had to make a quick decision so we could keep it open.”

Strickland quit his job and began running the Hillsborough store on May 2. Most employees stayed with the market, with one trusted team member even returning to the store once the family gave him a call and let him know about their decision.

Now, Strickland has been running the market for two weeks. He’s focusing on learning the ins and outs of the butchery and local shop, as well as spending time with his customers.

“I wanted to give two weeks’ notice at my former job, but with our time frame that was impossible, so I kinda put my eggs in one basket here,” he said. “So far, I’ve been trying to talk to every customer, let them know that we’re staying open and give everybody a little ease that we’re going to be here.”

Not much has changed at the market. The famous pimiento cheese is still on the shelves, fresh meats are still available and local in-season goods — right now, baskets of Orange County strawberries — still abound.

Aside from a bit of rearranging, Strickland is bringing one change to the store. He’s working on a wall of local beers.

“We are only going to carry North Carolina brewery beers,” he said. “We think that would be a good niche in the market and we think it would be a bit different.” 

But the combination of good food and a hometown feel that has made Steve’s Garden Market a Hillsborough local favorite so quickly will stay the same. 

“There are just good vibes here,” Maria Estrada, an employee who’s been at the market since last year, said. “I feel this was a great choice for the store — they decided to stay open and people were really upset that the store could be sold or closed down. I think we’ll keep going and attract even more shoppers.”