Tuesday, February 27, 2024

General Store

 Farming and ranching were full time jobs. Monday thru Saturday you'd work hard. Sunday, of course, the day of rest. However, one Saturday a month, families would pile into the wagon with some of their hard earned products and head to town to stock up on supplies. Small towns and villages dotted the American west. Families needed somewhere where they could barter or buy supplies to maintain their families. That place was the General Store or Mercantile.

      The General store was the heart of the community. It's where the well to do and the barely getting by met to mingle. Where young girls purchased supplies for their quilts and maybe caught the eye of the cowboy, farmer, miner, timber man, or rancher's son. A surviving store did not run by itself. The merchandise may have been shipped by rail but often these stores were in areas far from the rail depots. Horse and wagons loaded the goods and carried them to the stores.Getting the merchandise to the store was one part of the puzzle. The placement and arrangement of the goods was doubly important. 

Placing goods on the shelf or on tables was done to provide the customer with the ability to browse, to touch, to taste, to decide that they could not live without what was provided. Long shelves contained dry goods, ticking for pillows and mattresses, calico for quilts, simple tableware to samples of imported English fare. Mothers might pick up medical goods to treat family ailments. Ladies magazines that showed the latest gowns or a few store made dress fronts and skirts could be purchases.

For the men, saddles, bridles, spurs, chaps, hats, blankets could be gawked over. Perhaps a new pocket watch or some mustache wax might be purchased. Further back, the men would gather to share a glass of whiskey, purchase seed, tobacco, even barrels of dried and salted meat, even kerosene for lamps. As customers made their purchases, they would be bedazzled by the array of glass jars holding candy of all sorts guaranteed to satisfy any sweet tooth.

With cash a commodity all to itself, these stores existed on barter. Families would bring the fruits of their labors, skins, eggs, wheat, corn etc to the stories to barter for goods. While the proprietor added up the price of the goods vs the cost of the merchandise, families caught up on what was happening, shared newspapers that came in on the post, mailed letters at the Post office corner, looked for work, and perhaps looked for that mail order bride. All the details of their transactions were recorded by hand and kept in ledgers - no excel sheets here.

The grand thing was it worked. Today those simple stores have grown into the Kroger, the Winn Dixie, the Safeway's we see at every corner. 

  Until next time,



Julie Lence said...

Great blog, Nan. I love the mercantile.

GiniRifkin said...

Nicely done! So discriptive I felt I was right there looking at all the array of merchandise. Wish we could still barter.

Deborah said...

Loved it! I don't think I've ever written a western romance that didn't include a trip to town for supplies. My parents told me stories of how exciting it was for them to pile into the wagon and go to town. They always got a penny candy or an apple and that was treasure beyond compare!