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When Keith McBride's trucking job folded, a friend urged him to buy a frame shop in the town.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Keith McBride — in his wife’s words — reinvented himself after the freight companies he worked for merged or closed. He says the prayers of friends helped him find the strength to start fresh with a Rocky Mount business. His shop, Top Shelf Frames, also hosts an art gallery.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Corner samples hang on the wall at Top Shelf Frames. A local customer describes the owner’s framing work as impeccable.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
No warning preceded the first time bad news struck him like a hammer.
For about 13 years, Keith McBride of Franklin County had driven an 18-wheeler for Preston Trucking Co. out of the Maryland-based company’s terminal on Plantation Road in Roanoke.
He drove nearly every working day to Danville, where a major stop for deliveries and pickups had been Dan River Mills, one of the domestic manufacturers of textiles eventually knee-capped by cheap foreign imports. Stops had also included similarly beleaguered Southside manufacturers of furniture and apparel.
In late July 1999, Preston Trucking abruptly announced plans to close, ended the jobs of about 5,500 people companywide. The company cited lost revenues in 1998 tied to wrangling over a labor contract with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“The dispatcher called me one morning and told me not to come to work,” said McBride, a union member who had enjoyed good wages and benefits.
Thus began a prolonged odyssey of employment ups and downs that sorely tested the Franklin County native’s belief in himself.
“There were many times of depression and disappointment over the past 13 years,” McBride recently recalled. “After the ending of each job, I would go into a time of depression, questioning my ability to keep a job, and wondering, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ ”
Ultimately, in the words of his wife, Teresa, this son of a truck driver “has had to reinvent himself after losing jobs due to closings and mergers of freight companies.”
Today, McBride, 53, is a small business owner in Franklin County who credits his rebound to steadfast support from Teresa and to a deepening Christian faith.
During the late summer of 2011, friend Dwight Hayes , a professional portrait photographer, told McBride that the owner of a frame shop near Hayes’ studio just west of Rocky Mount on Virginia 40 wanted to retire and sell the business.
“I knew Keith was looking for work,” Hayes said. “I encouraged him. We threw ideas back and forth.”
Hayes said he believed McBride had the gifts and gumption necessary to run the small business.
“First of all, he’s a real humble guy, and you’ve got to be as humble as a hound dog when you run a small business,” he said. “You know, the customer is always right.”
Hayes said he knew also that McBride was honest and intelligent, and that both he and Teresa “had an artistic bent.”
During the years preceding this opportunity McBride’s job woes had continued.
For a time he drove a truck for a milk hauler. He said the job did not include benefits.
In 2004, he returned to driving a big rig, this time for Roadway Express , again out of Roanoke. But Yellow Corp. had previously acquired Roadway and as the two trucking giants merged, McBride, who had little seniority, once again found himself unemployed.
The ups and downs continued.
Throughout most of this time, Teresa had kept working at a bank in Roanoke. She was briefly unemployed in 2000 after a larger bank acquired her employer but soon found another banking job in Roanoke.
But in early 2011, an unexplained illness laid Teresa low and she ultimately lost that job, McBride said. She was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia, he said. During the spring of 2011, both he and Teresa were jobless, facing mortgage and car payments and all the other expenses of life.
“It was bad at that time,” McBride said. “I had really hit bottom.”
The couple has two daughters. Taylor is 17 years old and Sydney is 6. In October 2010, the family had begun searching for a church, ultimately finding a fit at Calvary Chapel in Roanoke.
“I think God led us there,” McBride said. “Suddenly, we had all these people praying for us and I had never encountered anything like that.”
Later, when Hayes suggested McBride consider buying and running the frame shop, prayer came into play again, McBride said.
“When Dwight first mentioned it, I wasn’t interested at all,” he said. “I thought, ‘I couldn’t do this.’ ”
But McBride said members of his prayer group and church members joined him and Teresa in prayer as they sought guidance about how to proceed.
Some friends thought buying a frame shop in the midst of a sluggish economy was folly. Finally, McBride met the shop’s owner, Tom Harrell of Roanoke, and visited the small store.
“Tom explained that he would train me and if I was interested he would work with me for a while so I could learn the business,” he said.
McBride had done some woodworking as a hobby in his late teens and early 20s and had those skills to bring to the work.
When Harrell quoted his asking price for the business, McBride said he was stunned by how low it was. Buying the business did not even require securing a loan.
McBride acquired the business in September 2011 and opened as Top Shelf Frames a month later.
“It was just unbelievable how it worked out,” he said. “That’s why I’m sure it was meant to be.”
That does not mean the road has been free of bumps and holes.
There have been days when nary a customer has phoned or stopped by. There have been days when McBride, long comfortable with being on the road as a trucker, has chafed at being stuck in one place.
The reinvented McBride had to learn to carefully budget and plan and market himself. He had to learn to trust his instincts when suggesting framing options.
Lorraine Roe of Franklin County is a photographer who has been a McBride customer.
“His work is impeccable,” Roe said. “I look closely and have done some framing myself. He is just spot-on.”
Jean Bernard , a painter of watercolors who lives in Callaway, said McBride has framed more than 20 paintings for her.
“I’ve always been pleased with his work,” Bernard said.
McBride said business “has really taken off during the last six months.”
Ferrum College has been a good customer, he said, and he has attracted work from artists around Smith Mountain Lake.
Top Shelf Frames’ small gallery features work by several local artists.
In separate interviews, Roe, Bernard and painter Carol Flieger all used the same word to describe McBride — “pleasant.”
Hayes had warned McBride he would occasionally encounter a cranky customer who would be beyond pleasing. That happened last winter, when a man stopped to pick up a framed painting.
“He took a quick glance, not even a significant look, and said, ‘This is not good work,’ ” McBride said. The man returned the next day to fetch the painting.
“It threw me, but it reminded me of what Dwight had said,” he said.
Today, McBride remains hopeful the business will succeed. If it does not, he said, he will trust that God has a plan.
“He’s in control.”
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