By Linda Hamer Kennett
---- — As an Indiana farm kid in the ‘50s, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my dad.
He worked long hours in the fields and the opportunity for the two of us to have time together was rare. It is for this reason that my heart would fill with joy when I would hear him call out to Mom, “I’m going over to Zeigler’s for a while.” At the sound of these words I would race to our old blue farm truck, hop up into the passenger’s seat, and be waiting for him when he got there.
Ziegler’s was a general store in Kingston, Ind., just a couple of miles from our house. While going there might not seem like much of an outing to some, to me it was an adventure. Huge oak display counters held glass jars filled with candy; not one, but three gum ball machines, a big red Coke cooler filled with Cokes, Ne-hi Orange, and Choc-cola, and Dad’s favorite treat, the pickle barrel.
The trip was especially great if you went on the day that Mrs. Zeigler sorted the bananas, because she sold the extra ripe ones for a nickel a box. You could get air in your tires, pick up a bag of nails, grab a pound of fresh cut bologna for lunch, and restock you medicine cabinet all at Ziegler’s General Store. I assure you, Wal-Mart has nothing on this place.
The general store provided more than merchandise to many communities. They often housed the post office for rural areas. Those with a large storage room, would lend their space for wedding celebrations or wakes. Before telephones were a fixture in the home, the general store would have a phone used by the entire community, and many stores had a radio where locals would gather to hear broadcasts of political events or keep current on grain and livestock prices.
The general store was a boost to the economy in many rural areas by offering locals a place for people to sell their wares. Hand-crafted quilts, jams and jellies, and homemade breads, pies and cakes were often available, as were fresh eggs, produce and meat from surrounding farmers.
While the date of the first general store in America is uncertain, they were at their peak from 1850 to 1930, and some struggled on through the 1960s. Land grants, from the government, were available during the early years of their existence, making property available for little or no money to encourage the settlement of the West. Quite often, as was the case with the Kingston store, the owner’s home would be located on the same parcel of land. Not exactly the 24-7 stores of today, but if you went to Zeigler’s and George wasn’t behind the counter, you just went in, got yourself a cold drink and relaxed on the front porch in one of the old rocking chairs until he returned.
Many stores fell on hard times with the onset of the Depression and were forced to close. The passing of time, more stringent food and drug regulations, and the emergence of the “ super stores” of the mid-20th century, each contributed to the final demise of the general store.
Furnishings from the old general stores have become highly collectable. Mercantile counters, mail sorters, display cabinets, and gas pumps can fetch well into four figures. Old cash registers, cheese boxes, medicine bottles, barrels, grain scoops, scales, and apothecary jars have also found a market. Advertising enthusiasts watch for metal and paper signs and merchandise displays, which are rare in good condition.
Thanks to the efforts of some history conscious citizens and courageous investors, a number of the old general stores in Indiana have been restored and renovated. One of the best examples can be found in Story, Ind., where the entire town has been turned into a country inn/bed and breakfast. Founded by Dr. George Story in 1851, the main level of the old general store is now a restaurant and the second floor holds four bedrooms. The carriage house, the old mill, and three of the town’s original homes have also been restored and are offered year round as guest cottages.
Until next time,
Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached for question or comment at 317-429-7887 or firstname.lastname@example.org.