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PHOTO: The Half Way Market will be closing for the final time at 4 p.m. Saturday, and will have something akin to a going-away party Friday evening with its catfish and frog legs supper. / Photos by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

It was well past 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon before the griddle in the Half Way Market began to get a little more silent.

It had been sizzling nonstop since Paul King opened the place for breakfast at 4:30 that morning, and would soon get going again for the supper crowd.

That’s generally a typical day for the Half Way Market, which has been owned and operated by King and his wife, Kellye King, since they started running the place out Carters Creek Pike in 2007.

But Thursday, and the days and days that preceded it over the past few weeks, were anything but typical. The Half Way Market’s last day to be opened is Saturday, meaning the cheeseburgers, fried bologna sandwiches, catfish, frog legs, cole slaw and other delicacies that drew the crowds will be no more. The Kings turn to a new chapter when they shut the door for the final time Saturday at 4 p.m.

“If Saturday is anything like today, we’ll be worn out for sure,” Kellye King said Thursday during a quick break from running things. “We always take Sunday off, but we’ll definitely take this Sunday off.”

The culprit that led to the closing was a lease squabble between the Kings and the owner of the property, Ann Martin, whose daughter, Lisa Perry, manages it.

“It’s been a struggle since day one just getting a consistent lease,” King said. “She (Perry) wanted to double the rent, which we could have balanced if she’d just given us a little more time. She responds and sends an eviction notice. She wanted an extensive lease on it that we just couldn’t agree on.”

The building dates to 1906, and Perry said her mother lived in the back of the store when she was 9 years old.

“It’s our home place,” she said. “It’s not commercial property, as though we’re trying to make money off of it. This is our property, where my great-great grandmother lived.

“The major issue with it is the store is about 110 years old and it needs a lot of work done to it,” Perry added. … “We gave them a lease and they decided not to sign it, and they had more than six months to do so.”

Since it was announced earlier this month that the Half Way Market would indeed be closing, longtime regulars were standing alongside newcomers to put in their orders for breakfast, lunch or supper, sometimes dining in when a seat could be found or taking plates home to share with family. Situated in a triangle where Carters Creek Pike and Southall Road intersect, the Half Way has been all-the-way friendly.

“When I heard it was going to close, I thought it would be devastating for everybody in the community,” said Bubba McMillen, who lives nearby and went to the place for breakfast and lunch every day. “There was a lot of fellowship, and I will miss all of that.”

Jimmy Gentry, World War II veteran, teacher, coach and lifelong Williamson Countian, said he has been coming to the Half Way “for as long as it’s been here.”

“I hate to see it close,” he said. “I will miss it. It’s been a great meeting place for people, and it’s sad that it’s going to be gone.”

First-timers were also part of the crowd on Thursday. Greg Black and Brettlynn Easley, who live in the Polk Place subdivision, said a neighbor had been encouraging them for years to visit the place.

“We had to try it out,” Black said. “We’ve been hearing they have the best burgers around.”

Greg Ellis, who works for a local landscaping company, was also waiting for his first Half Way Market cheeseburger.

“My boss wanted to stop here,” he said. “I heard their cheeseburgers were the best in town, and I had to see for myself.”

The Half Way Market will have its final Friday special of catfish and frog legs beginning at 3 p.m. and lasting until the food runs out, Kellye King said. It’s apt to be one big going-away party.

“The love, the friendships, the amazing support we’ve had over the last month here is mind-boggling,” she said. “We can’t be bitter. Thank goodness we have all this love and support in the final days.”