Stepping back in time in a century-old general store.
The village’s four corners held a familiar feel. Maybe we’d travelled this way to visit the farm. Those childhood visits to the farm I thought were my parent’s friends. I learned my years later, they were family on dad’s side. My parents were never big on explaining family relationships.
The general store stood on the southwest corner of a three-way stop. The south approach didn’t have a stop then. After enough accidents, eventually, a fourth stop sign appeared. Moving clockwise: there were the Townhall, a private home housing a bank brand and a butcher shop.
The white general store housed both store and living space above and behind. Above the green and white panelled metal awning hung a weathered sign, "The Newman Company". It covered the wide sidewalk across the width of the store. The entrance in the middle of the store was double doors, not more than four feet in width. The wear on the right-hand threshold told of thousands of feet treading there since 1891.
Stepping Into A Time Capsule
Stepping through the doors was like passing across a portal into the early 1900s. Hearing a voice to the right, I moved toward it, past a curved glass display sitting on a wide wooden counter. In the case were trays of chocolate bars and bowls of penny candy.
The counter was a thick wooden slab that looked like it had been cut from a single tree. It had once been painted. The antique red could be seen on parts of the counter. Other parts were worn to bare wood. Years of customer’s orders scrubbing the paint off.
I followed the voice beyond a wooden post in the center of the counter. Leaning on a wooden case behind the counter was a young fellow with a baby faced smile lighting up his face. Davey ran the story. He was the grandson of Mr. Newman, the store’s founder. I’d learn the smile rarely disappeared
Mother engaged with her usual inane questions, trying to sound like a business person. I wandered off to explore this time capsule. Near Davey was a triangular, multi-level wire bag rack. Each level held smaller bags. I’d never seen one anywhere.
Exploring the Store
I looked at the cash registered I’d noticed earlier. It was a manual push-button type like in the old movies. Orders tallied on an adding machine and the total punched into the register.
Groceries were the primary product in the store, stocked closest to the register. Behind the register was a large selection of cigarettes. Toward the back of the store were freezers and coolers. The ice cream freezer and the milk cooler looked modern.
The Coke cooler was much older. I lifted the lid, looking down on the rows of pop bottles lined up. Water was required for cooling. The cooler chilled the water, which chilled the pop.
An open roll-top desk and a broken-down office chair stood in the back corner. Beside the desk, a wooden cupboard with a small foot square window. I’d learn later, it was the original phone booth in the village. The booth had housed the village's first phone.
My eyes roamed above the door into the living quarters. A six-foot by three frame held an old Coca Cola ad right out of the 1940s. A slim, healthy smiling young lady drinking a bottle of coke.
The pseudo business conversation continued between serving customers coming and going. Davey would banter with them as they picked up odds and ends, pop, chips, cigarettes. Business was reasonably steady. I continued exploring.
Behind the coolers was a wall of almost entirely small drawers. They ranged from about eight inches wide down near the floor up to three inches wide at my eye level. Some were tagged, some weren’t. I explored tags, pulled open some drawers. I was in the hardware department. The drawers were for horse tack, nuts, washers, bolts, screws and more I’d soon be learning about.
In the next corner was the paint department. Shelves stocked with cans of base paint waiting to be mixed according to directions. Portions measured out of the colour mixer before the can is secured in the shaker on the floor and mixed.
My store exploration was drawing to a close. The clothing, dry goods and gift departments the remaining aisle and the south wall.
There was another of those magnificent thick wooden slab counters on this side of the store.
On this counter were two curved glass display cases. One case had a jagged hole. It appeared old judging from the layers of dust on the gift items inside the case. I was guessing the gifts had been homeless for a very long time.
Discovering the Spats
I scanned the dry goods on the south wall. Boxes of crochet cotton, bolts of cloth, a spool cabinet for rolls of thread, and an assortment of towels. Shoe boxes took up the top shelves, very old ones. The lettering on the thin edge of one box caught my eye — SPATS. I had no idea what they were. Clearly, they had something to do with shoes.
Raising my voice, I called across the empty store, rudely interrupting the conversation.
“Davey, are those real spats up there? What are they?”
He laughed as he headed toward me with his odd run-walk that took him everywhere. Hurrying behind the counter, he took a flying leap, turning as he landed, the box in his hands.
“You bet they are spats! Brand new. I tell you, if Newman Company doesn’t have it, you don’t need it!”
He opened the box, presenting them with a flourish. His big smile radiating. Clearly, he’d done this performance more than once. I smiled.
“What are spats?”
Mother having caught up stole Davey’s thunder. She explained at length how men used them to protect their shoes in bad weather. My grandfather had worn them, but they weren’t something dad had worn.
Davey’s smile faded a tad, there was more to his performance. He diplomatically let mother have her say. I let her as well. She was an unmovable force on a roll… until she took a breath. My timing was perfect.
How the Display Case Glass Broke
“So Davey, what happened to the display case?”
“OH, an oil lamp fell on it. Keep meaning to get it fixed.”
“So the glass is pretty fragile? Or did the oil lamp hit at the right angle?” I was gazing at the oil lamps hanging from the rod suspended above the counter. They didn’t look heavy. Davey followed my gaze.
“Oh no, not those lamps. The boys were having a card game after hours. They were down by the paint department when one of the big old oil lamps gave way and came down. Lucky they were here. The place would have burned down.”
“Oh was the power out and they had them lit?”
Davey frowned momentarily.”No, the oil lamps were how they lit the store back then.”
“How long ago did this happen?”
“Oh, I think it was sometime in the 1930s. The store didn’t get electricity until sometime during the war.”
I studied the jagged hole and mulled over what I’d just learned.
Wonder what else they hadn’t got around to fixing in say, the last thirty or fourty years?
This was going to be an adventure.
Shadowspub is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of subjects as she pursues her passion for learning. She also writes on other platforms.
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