Mike Spillman lives in Virginia now, but his thoughts often go to his years in Decatur County. The following features some memories of those early years he recently shared.
It seemed like George Heimer’s store in Sandusky had always been there. The building was old and so was George. My father, born in 1883, remembered playing basketball on the second floor room in his 20s.
George moved with the times. In the early 1920s, he and Uncle Lon Spillman had an early Ford agency in the area. George and Lon built a large frame garage with double bay and loft for sales and service. There was no electricity in the area, and there was a two-hole outhouse behind the building. They went bankrupt in the Depression and my father bought the property to build our family home.
George failed at selling cars so he decided to fix them. He bought the big building that later became his store and turned it into a garage. He was good at that, but hard times meant business was bad. He began adding groceries and produce and business was pretty good for those days.
Many farmers in the area didn’t have cars or time to drive to Greensburg to buy a week’s groceries. Sandusky had 25 or 30 families to draw from and more families lived within a few miles of his store. Being located on State Highway #3 with a nearby grain elevator and railroad freight office helped, but the biggest draw was that George gave credit.
He had a wooden box with alphabetical dividers and each family had their own tally book with their name on the cover. George made a new page in the customer’s book for each shopping trip and a carbon copy was handed over at the time of purchase.
George surely had thousands of dollars of paper in those books. Most people paid when they could; some paid all and some paid none.
When someone asked him about the large bill that someone had built up he might say: “He has seven kids and he hasn’t worked much. Well, someone has to feed those kids. He’s not going to.”
George moved with the times. He built a huckster wagon from an old Model A school bus. It had shelves for canned goods, a Coke cooler for an ice box, and boxes for fruit and vegetables. He bought eggs from farm wives. His bus-wagon went down all the county roads once a week. Customers alerted their neighbors on party-lines that George was on his way.
When times began to improve in the late ‘30s, more people were able to go back to work so income and personal transportation improved.
George had a good in-house business. During winter, small holder farmers took some time off and gathered at Heimer’s store.
George’s store was the ideal gathering place. He’d placed wooden benches and straight chairs around the pot bellied stove. There were boxes of ashes for tobacco chewers to spit in, and lots of talk, lies and tales to be told. George paid for his coal and firewood with the chewing and smoking tobacco he sold; that, and the Cokes.
Come summertime things moved outside to the front porch where benches and two bread boxes were placed. People would set there and pop the tops on bottled drinks and toss them out where cars pulled off the street. The entire area was paved with flattened drink caps driven down into the blacktop.
There was space between the town street and the porch for several cars to park and I remember lounging on the hoods and fenders of cars with friends.
In the late 1930s, George added a couple of pool tables to his store. They had woven leather pockets and real mother-of-pearl set in the mahogany rails. When lady customers complained about having to look at the “devices of the devil” he hung canvas curtains to hide them.
The post-war years weren’t good to George. He and his store were getting old. The upper floor with leaky roof was deteriorating. Uncle Lon removed the second floor and added a new roof. He stayed open for a couple more years.
Former customers had more money and cars to take them away from Sandusky to spend it. People complained about cleanliness in the store.
He’s gone now, and so is Heimer’s store. There are places now that call themselves country stores, but try getting them to give you credit. Everything’s packaged in plastic and there’s no pickle barrel.
Those days were probably worse than I remember, but I miss them.