Sunday, January 16, 2011

General Store

Good Sunday Morning to you all, and welcome to General Store week. We will be looking at grocers from the past. We start with this picture of a general store, taken in 1914. I like how there is both a Model T, and a horse and buggy out front. One mode of transportation on its way out, and one on its way in. I note the chickens running around the store, and would be willing to bet that their fresh, free range eggs would be available for purchase in the store.

My gripes with modern grocery stores are very similar to my gripes with modern gas stations. The first gripe is the sameness. Visiting a grocery store is almost like visiting a hospital. Everything is so sterile and predictable. Each one is the same, and grocery shopping becomes a chore, not something you look forward to. Growing up, the grocery stores were individually owned by owner/proprietors. Each one reflected the individual tastes of the owner, and the local community. They were a place to not only buy groceries, but to also visit with folks and catch up on what was happening around town.

My biggest gripe is how chain stores have those huge idiotic signs hanging every 4 foot from the ceiling. The signs are a garish lime green, and scream at you "LOWER PRICES", "JUST LOWER PRICES", "ALWAYS LOWER PRICES", "LOOK HERE FOR LOWER PRICES". The signs make me nauseous, and I significantly resent the blatant attempt at subconscious manipulation. You know, they think that if they keep flashing those signs at me every three feet, I will become programmed that they actually have to best prices. I would much prefer a warmer and more subtle shopping experience where I did not feel like I was being shouted at. 


  1. I agree with you that the old fashioned, owner-run stores are so much better. When I was in high school and college, I worked retail (Kmart, Radio Shack, Walmart) through most of it and I remember having to hang up such signs. Customers reactions were generally very negative to it, but we were required to do it anyway by the corporate offices. These offices are run by businessmen who are so far out of touch with what is actually going on in the store that it's possible to have such signs in the first place. I doubt any owner-run store would ever put up such annoying signs.

  2. We just traveled through Leakey, TX & they still have one of those old-fashioned grocery stores. Two, in fact. They were both very unique. The wooden shelves all tilted backwards - I presume so the cans wouldn't fall off. But....I couldn't find what I wanted, the prices were so high I decided not to get several items and I felt an overwhelming urge to check all the expiration dates.

  3. I rented a house outside of Eldon, Mo about 14 years ago and about 1/4 mile down the road was a small old country store. The owner's name was John and he had to be close to 90 years old. They made the best deli sandwiches. I would often go in and find John yapping away on an old ham radio. That place was probably the only place within 200 miles that still sold sodas in the bottle, which is by the way, the best way to drink one. John use to sell gas and had a sign hanging up that reflected the price per gallon when he last sold it - .19 as I recall. John was a good man and I miss him.

  4. Beautiful pic... Gives a good feel of the times that were!!

  5. Mr. Curtman is correct, sodas taste better in glass rather than plastic bottles. Around here you can get them in glass but there is often a deposit charged so you will recycle them.

    We occasionally get cokes made and bottled in Mexico in glass and made with cane sugar like the old ones were before all the artificial sweetners were forced on us. These really taste like I remember them in the 50's and 60's

  6. When I lived in Montana, I knew of more than a few small town stores that would go into the bigger towns and buy their supplies at Wal-Mart. They would come home put their price stickers on and sell it.
    They could buy from Wal-Mart cheaper than they could buy from the supply companies, and they didn't have to buy a case of it like they would from their supplier. If it was a slow moving item they could just get 6 cans instead of a case, there fore keeping the stock fresh.
    I have gone into some of these home owned stores and bought a can of cat food that cost me .84 (when you are dumb enough to forget to bring cat food with you, you deserve to pay more) the same can sold for .34 at Wal-Mart. I'm all for helping out the little guy, but not at that rate.

    Still no idea what Handsome jack is up to?
    How come no domistic update today???

  7. I too was struck by the photo of both the horse and buggy on one side and the auto on the other side. That was the very first thing that i noticed when I opened you site.

    Keep up the good work PJM.

  8. Great stuff. I grew up living on the second floor of a general store and gas station combination. Wish I knew how to send you and 'old photograph' of it. I'll post it on my blog tomorrow ( )Chas

  9. I would love to go to a grocery and not have to dodge all the obstacles (er, 'product displays') that have been set up in the aisles.

    When I was 8 or 9 there was a small store like this, in what seemed to be a house, in a residential area (1920's era bungalows). Mom would have me go pick up odds and ends she needed.

    I still can remember the wonderful smells that filled the place, the wooden floor and the large candy display where I would get to pick out my reward.

  10. Great photo! Reminds me of the grocery store I went to as a kid. My Mom gave me a list. The owner and his wife did the rest. I was all old dark wood shelves up to the ceiling, wood plank floor and a huge pickle barrel in the corner.

    My wife and I recently went to Costco (the warehouse type chain store). Regarding the picture of the day, I found Costco less offensive than our local chain supermarket . Although both are a far cry from the store I went to as a kid the Costco didn't have any pretense of any kind. It's a warehouse. Conversely, the supermarket tries to be a re-invention of the mom & pop store and fails miserably.

    Back to the photo, I sure wouldn't mind riding a horse for local trips.


  11. John,
    I find Costco less offensive than most grocery stores. Costco and Sam's club tend to not have the huge garish, rediculous signs. They have wide aisles, are clean, and you can get in and out pretty easily.

  12. I love the old stores as well. I love that you never know what you will find there.
    Modern grocery stores are all afflicted with sameness. Same food. Everything the same. In the same place.

  13. We still have an old-fashioned, traditional, family-run hardware store in the city I live it. It's been there for 60 years, and I hope it remains.

    It has the old oiled-wood floors, bins of nails, and things you can't find anywhere else.

    This photo brings back memories of when I was a young child and we had a lot of small family owned stores and shops.

    Too bad we live in the "big box" era these days. I try to patronize local merchants as much as possible.

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  15. I completely agree with you on modern grocery stores! Come to think of it, most stores nowadays are like that. From furniture to dry goods to appliances. When did we go from handshakes and individuality to being just one more wallet they're trying to get in the store? I wish I could figure out a way to come up with the capital to open an old style mercantile here in town. A place where people could stop and visit a bit. And local artisans could sell/trade their wares. I think if we all get back to basics just a little, we'd be a lot better off!

  16. When I was much younger and a single mom I worked for the family owned grocer in our community. You are so right they have the flavor of the owner much like the gas stations and they know you and the family. I had a blast working in those stores in Sac Ca. In the sorroundsing communiotes. There are very few left but you can still find a few sprinkled around. But you really have to know the community or you end up shopping the chain stores which have no personalities at all.

  17. That's the problem I have with almost any store regardless of what's being sold. Here in Dundalk everything's the same and places are overrun by fastfood chains and restaurants and clothing stores that all sell the same clothing.

  18. My first memory of a old grocery store was the one my grandmother shopped at.She ran a tab there.She could call with a list for items during bad weather and the delivered.

  19. In my Aunt's small town they had a store with a bar attached to it. In the store the owner kept a mynah bird that would mimic us kids. We loved it.

    On another note, one of my favorite family owned stores shut down and a Korean operation bought it( there are a lot of Koreans in my area) I do not understand their marketing_when you walk into the store the first item you see is a full corner of toilets, different models of actual toilets. Then_ you can only turn to the left and there is the deli with good food and a seating area...I guess I am to visual...LOL

  20. Your similar gripe with the service stations and "markets" is right on. I still visit a neighborhood market that I've been to since childhood. Recently, the owner decided to "update" the store.

    "Balderdash", say all of us veteran customers. The placement of products was fine for well over 50 years now we can't find anything.

    Why can't we have neighborhood markets that are within walking distance?