If you shop at the Eight O’Clock Superette, you know John Ashmore. And chances are, Johnny knows you, too.
“I’ve always tried to treat people the way I’d like to be treated,” he says. “That’s probably one reason I know so many people and so many people know me.”
In fact, if you spend any amount of time with him during working hours, whether he’s bagging groceries or helping someone out to their car, hardly a person can walk by without Johnny greeting them by name.
But more than that, Johnny knows his customers’ tastes. When one regular customer named Linda – who says she’s been shopping at the 8 O’Clock for “millions of years” — asks about the various breads at the checkout counter, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to make a recommendation. “The apple bread’s the one that’s good,” he says, and another loaf slides across the counter.
“Linda and I have known each other for years,” Johnny says.
“And I always tell him what I like and what I don’t like,” Linda adds.
It’s this sort of personal rapport that endears Johnny to friends and neighbors alike. A long time fixture of the Augusta Road area, Johnny himself admits that he knows a lot of people. “My friend Bill Kennedy jokingly says ‘We can’t go anywhere in Greenville that we don’t run into somebody that you know.’”
Kennedy doesn’t limit it to Greenville, though. “From Spartanburg to Anderson, 95% of the time we go anywhere, somebody recognizes Johnny,” he says.
Watching him work, witnessing his easy interactions with all sorts of people, you’d be hard pressed to guess that Johnny is legally blind.
Born into a family with deep Greenville roots, Johnny Ashmore grew up on McDaniel Avenue in the heart of the Augusta Road neighborhood he still calls home. His father and grandfather both served as Greenville County Supervisors. His maternal grandfather, Fred A. Fuller, owned an appliance store and, at one time, was the area’s Studebaker dealer. But when Johnny arrived in the world, he weighed only 2 1/2 pounds. A premature infant, Johnny spent several months in an incubator before going home. By that time, however, the damage had already been done. Too much oxygen in the incubator affected Johnny’s eyes, leaving him with extremely limited vision.
“I see colors real well,” he explains.” I can’t see detail a good way away. But in familiar areas, I do real well.”
And the Augusta Road area is intimately familiar to him. For the past 17 years, he’s lived in a condominium at Lewis Village and worked in area stores, first at what was known as the “baby” Bi-Lo, and, since it closed some 8 years ago, at the 8 O’Clock. He’s attended Augusta Road Baptist Church since childhood and recently purchased a house on Jones Avenue.
“I wanted a house that had a yard,” he says, “so I could have a garden and put up a greenhouse.”
Plants have been a long-time interest with Johnny, ever since he worked in a greenhouse while attending North Greenville College in the seventies. He then ran his own greenhouse in Mauldin for five years, until the incoming discount stores proved to be too much competition. After working at the Old South Farmer’s Market until it , too, closed, Johnny returned for good to Augusta Road.
“Everything is just so convenient,” he says of the area he loves so much. “I need to be somewhere where I could walk to work, I could walk to the bank, I could walk to the post office, I could walk to church.”
His new house puts him even closer to his job at the 8 O’Clock – and, more importantly, allows him to avoid having to cross busy Augusta Road every morning. “I actually got hit by a car one morning,” he says. “A car pulled out of one of the bank parking lots and knocked me down. I was bruised up a little bit, but I didn’t have to go to the hospital. Now I won’t have to do that anymore.”
One of his more interesting experiences with cars involved the day he actually drove one. His college roommate offered to let Johnny drive his Volkswagen beetle down narrow Crescent Avenue. “He worked the accelerator and I steered,” Johnny recalls. “And he would say ‘Turn to the left, turn to the right.’” Johnny’s blindness also hasn’t stopped him from playing softball. After loyally attending church games, Johnny was put on the roster one year as a sort of honor. But that turned tricky when the team found themselves one player shy of forfeiting a game. The umpire insisted that if Johnny was on the roster, he had to play, and so Johnny dutifully went up to bat, friends telling him when to swing.
He made it all the way to second base.
“He’s taught all of us here at the church so much about endurance, about having a good attitude toward life, taking each day as an adventure,” says Toni Pate, associate pastor of Augusta Road Baptist Church. She also admires Johnny’s knowledge of people, crediting him with helping her get her bearings when she first arrived at the church. “He’s got his own little circle of ministry,” she says.
Pate also reports that Johnny has a beautiful singing voice. “The first time I ever heard him sing a solo, I just wept,” she says.
Joyce Medlin, who’s known Johnny for as long as she can remember, describes him simply as a remarkable, giving person. “You’d never want a better friend than Johnny Ashmore,” she says.