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Step Back in Time: History of Old-Fashioned General Stores

Step Back in Time: History of Old-Fashioned General Stores

Rural town life in the late 1700s and 1800s revolved around one place: the town general store. You’d hitch up your wagon and drive miles into town to barter your crops and purchase necessities. 

For many families, going to the general store was an exciting, all-day outing. Not only could adults find all kinds of items, from sugar to long underwear, but kids could look forward to the chance of coming home with some penny candy. 

Inside An Old-Fashioned General Store

Walking up to an old general store you would’ve seen a dusty porch and enticing items on display in the windows. Once you entered, you’d find a front counter with a cash register, scale and wrapping paper. 

General stores, or town country stores, were packed with products all year long. No matter the season, the floor to ceiling shelves of a country store were stuffed with goods. The floor would be littered with barrels, boxes and tables holding a wide array of items. 

Long counters with glass display cases would show off jewels, hardware and guns. Stacked on top of the counters would be teas, spices, hard candies, denim clothing, sewing needles and more. 

Pots, pans, lanterns and washboards would hang from hooks in the ceiling. No space within a general store was left empty.

General store items of the 1800s included anything the people of the town could need. You’d find everything from pickles to farm equipment inside an old-fashioned country store.

Operating A General Store

Families were given one-on-one service. They provided a list to the store owner or clerk, who would weigh, measure and collect their items. Then, the clerk would wrap their goods in paper and tie the package with string for the journey home. 

Farmers could purchase items on credit—sometimes up to a year in advance—until they harvested their crops and settled their accounts. Others could barter for goods or bring in eggs, meat and the like for credit in the future. 

All transactions were recorded by hand on the store’s ledger.  

The Town Hub

General stores in the 1800s were not just the place to buy groceries, clothing, tools and seed. They often served as a town center. Going to the general store was a chance to socialize with other families and catch up on the latest news. 

Many general stores featured a wood stove and empty nail kegs where customers would sit, tell stories and gossip. A bucket of ashes from the stove made the perfect spittoon for tobacco lovers. Some general stores kept checkerboards so customers could amuse themselves with a friendly game. 

Before institutions like banks and post offices were established in a town, the general store was also the place to send your letters or get a money order. The first town telephone likely made its appearance at the local country store. Political rallies and community meetings were often held at general stores, too.

Crane’s Country Store Follows Tradition 

Crane’s Country Store is a true old-fashioned general store. We were established in 1889 as the Harrison & Crane Store. In 1920, we moved to Williamsburg and are proud to be a part of the history of Callaway Country, Missouri. 

Like those oldtime country stores, we sell everything from boots and bullets to britches and bologna. Much of what we sell hasn’t changed from the type of merchandise you’d find at a general store in the 1800s. At Crane’s Country Store, you can buy sammies, camping gear, candy, pocket knives, new work boots and ice-cold refreshments all in one place. 

Our brick and mortar location still features a cozy wood stove, set of rocking chairs and the best front porch for afternoon conversation. Crane’s takes you back to a simpler way of life that placed community at the center of it all. 

We’re a place to gather and meet with friends. We’re also a place to buy a unique gift, find trendy, top-notch apparel or get the best gear for your next adventure—and pick up the items on your grocery list. 

As a piece of living history, we’re glad to follow the tradition of general stores of the past by stocking all of your necessities and being a place for us all to come together. 

Explore our collection of Wolverine, Carhartt and Filson products in-store or online

Visit our About page to learn more about Crane’s history. 

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