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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pam's Snack Shack: Becoming her own boss

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy is routinely named the region's best writer by readers of The Roanoker magazine.

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If you want to see an example of old-fashioned capitalism at work, haul yourself over to the corner of Eighth Street and Hill Avenue in Vinton and take a look at Pam's Snack Shack.

It sits at the crest of a hill and is surrounded by homes and apartment buildings. It is positioned uphill from Alvaro's convenience store, between it and all of those dwellings.

The convenience store is better stocked. Pam's is closer to the residents, and she tries to price her things lower.

Pam Pond thus is able to cut off some customers, especially those who don't want to trudge back uphill, especially in this summer's heat.

Pam's shack is as unpretentious as a mobile concession trailer.

That's because it is a mobile concession trailer, properly licensed through the Department of Motor Vehicles and equipped with water, electricity and the requisite sinks.

Its offerings are spare: two beef hot dogs for a buck, snow cones, chips, drinks and the like.

But the items are neatly arranged in the clean, narrow space, and its owner is friendly, it seems, to one and all.

Pond, 34, was born in Lancaster, Pa., lived in Harrisburg and Queens, N.Y., then moved with her mother to Botetourt County.

And to Roanoke. And to Bedford County.

She reached her third year of high school, spent time in a Lynchburg girls' home and ran a little deli in a Roanoke convenience mart while holding down the store.

She also has worked for Hardee's and Wal-Mart, where she was a sales associate.

Eventually, she came to a crossroads.

"I guess you get tired of making money for everybody else," she said, "till the time when you want to make it on your own."

As evening brings cool, customers flock to Pam's Snack Shack. Pam Pond sells hot dogs and snacks from a trailer near her home in Vinton.

Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times

As evening brings cool, customers flock to Pam's Snack Shack. Pam Pond sells hot dogs and snacks from a trailer near her home in Vinton.

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An inheritance from her grandmother enabled her to remodel her house, next door to the Snack Shack, and buy her initial concessions trailer, which she opened in July 2006.

Last winter, she found a bigger trailer -- 8 feet by 14 feet -- at a lower price, so she bought it and spent the winter turning it into her replacement store.

Now she talks of finding an affordable, bigger trailer and eventually erecting a permanent building.

"I get up and I go," she said. "I like to learn new things, try new things. I like the people."

It was Monday during the lunch hour. The brutally hot sun beat on the roof that shaded the old Food Lion soda machine that stands outside the trailer on a concrete pad.

Pond sat on an upended plastic bucket beside two plastic chairs.

When the slight breeze paused, the air felt scorching. Still, it was not as hot as the air inside the trailer, which has neither heat nor air conditioning.

Perhaps a half-dozen customers came by, most on foot. The guy who drops off some of her drinks brought the wrong kind -- again.

Pond's Shack is open from 11 a.m. to 10 or 11 many nights and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. She often rises early and drives to Sam's, Wal-Mart or Kroger looking for deals on food items.

Sundays, she opens at about 2 p.m., after people have gone to church.

On the hot days, she shuts down from about 2 to 5 each afternoon.

She relies on her husband, drywall finisher Ricky Pond, to transport her daughter, Heidi Pond, 13, and stepson, William Dinkel, 14, to and from their schools, karate lessons and the like.

She would like to find a heater that would enable her to stay open during the winter.

There are many low-income people in the neighborhood, as a call from a friend demonstrated. The friend wanted to get together.

"Do you have the phone," Pond asked, "or does Buddy have it? Buddy's got it? Well, just call me any time."

Pond accepts food stamps. The revenue from them ranges from $200 to $300 per month, sometimes more.

Running her little business is not easy, she said. Keeping the rest of her life organized takes work.

"I like it," she said. "I have nothing to complain about."

Last year, Vinton officials ordered her and her husband to remove most of the dozen vehicles they had on their property.

An old Army jeep and Jeep pickup awaiting restoration still sit near the shack, and there are other vehicles as well.

She has little time for fun, though last week she closed the shack and took Heidi with her Girl Scout troop to Atlanta and Savannah, Ga. Day to day, such pleasures are few.

She makes a profit, but not a killing.

"I guess because when I grew up, I didn't have a lot, so I don't expect people to pay a lot."

Her days are long, but she is in charge.

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