For most people in America, keeping their pantries stocked is as easy as a quick trip to a grocery store. Barring any emergency, you can walk into a large grocery store and find everything you need and many things you don’t. With sophisticated transportation systems, electronic inventory control, and retail sourcing software in place, the store keeps up with the demands of the surrounding areas.
For early American settlers, the acquisition of supplies was not so easy. Most people would try to make or grow what they needed, but some things just could not be cultivated. General stores arose during the colonial period as a response to that need. Now all but extinct, the general store has a deep connection to early American history.
General stores started in areas outside main urban centers, for pioneers who needed goods and supplies. Many store owners started as itinerant peddlers, traveling from town to town with their good in a wagon or on their backs. Once these peddlers acquired enough goods, they would establish a permanent location for trading. They often chose areas that were ripe for settlement, thus ensuring the demand for good and a ready profit.
As the settlements grew around general stores, the store owners took on many different roles. It was common for the post office to be located inside the store, so the owner often acted as the local postmaster. Store owners also held a prominent position in the town, often acting as the town clerk, or even the undertaker.
The store itself became much more than a place to buy goods. It also served as the community hub and social center. Notices and news of the town could be found posted on the stores walls. Residents of the area came to the store to learn the latest news and gossip and to discuss the political events of the day.
Across the country, general stores developed a similar look. they were usually two story wooden buildings, often painted white. The front facade featured a number of tin advertising signs for products like tobacco, hardware, soft drinks, and more. Inside, the store was dimly lit. A large counter dominated one wall. This was where the store owner wrapped and calculated all the transactions. The shelves behind the counter might have medicines or products that needed to be measured and priced by weight.
This slice of American history is all but gone in most of the country. Instead, there are well-stocked mega-stores, often open at all hours of the day or night. Sophisticated tracking systems and retail sourcing software ensure that the store stocks everything the surrounding area needs. Our modern convenience grew from these humble beginnings.