In the last few weeks we have seen how the modern supermarket went from the simple dry goods stores of the early 1800s to the grocery stores of the early 1900s.
If you shopped for groceries in Hartsville in 1920, for example, it would have been nothing like the modern supermarkets of today. Even though it would have been a vast improvement over a dry goods store of the previous century.
In 1920 a store like Freedle’s or Owen Brothers or I. T. Littleton’s would have had canned goods, loaf bread, breakfast cereals and even farm-fresh eggs. But as we saw last week, before the days of commercial refrigeration, fresh meats and some produce would have been absent from the store’s shelves.
Which brings us to another big difference in the groceries of 100 years ago and today — self-service!
And when we say ‘self-service’ we mean that there was no such thing!
A customer shopping at Owen Brothers’ grocery store would have handed a list of what they needed to the clerk. The clerk would have then filled their order while they stood around and “chewed the fat” (or did a little visiting or gossiping) with another customer.
Most stores, especially the rural country stores, had a large pot-bellied stove sitting prominently in the rear of the building with a few wooden chairs close by. You could sit down and swap tales with your neighbors while the clerk went up and down the shelves of the store, getting your order together.
The shelves with all the merchandise would have been behind the counters — out of reach of the patron.
The ability to pick up a basket and walk around the store picking out what you wanted would not be common until after 1916 when the first self-service grocery opened up in Memphis. The idea caught on fast and by the late 1920s and 1930s began to appear in even small towns like Hartsville.
Back in those days, most grocery stores were small and usually were what we call “Mom & Pop Stores.” That is, they were family owned and operated.
In the 1940s and 1950s they were common here in Trousdale County.
While we don’t have a complete list of those stores, we do have a fairly good list compiled from the archives of the Historical Society.
Here are a few, the Friendly Market, Broadway Market, Martin Brothers, C. J. & Lorene Gregory’s Grocery, Belcher’s Shop-Rite Market, Russell’s Super Market, Melvin’s Grocery, Roddy’s Cee Bee, Glen Stewart Grocery, Broadway Market, East End Grocery, Lester Parker’s Store, Carey and Son, Earp’s Grocery, Reese and Badgett, Merryman’s Grocery — and more!
At one time downtown Hartsville had a Kroger.
More recently we have had a Houchens and a Bill Martin’s Grocery. Martin’s store is all the more interesting because it was part of a chain of stores that at one time totaled 24 stores. And Bill Martin was originally from Hartsville!
What happened to all of the small family-run stores?
Progress has spelled the demise of many family-owned and managed businesses, from the corner grocery store to the local shoe store to the barbershop.
In the big cities, the stores with the most to offer and the biggest budgets for advertising began to take over and drive the little guy out of business. Also, while it may have been a good business for Mother and Daddy, the next generation may have seen greener pastures working for someone else. They didn’t want to be tied down to getting up early to meet the produce truck, working all day, and closing up late to take care of your friends and neighbors who shopped after they got off work.
There are exceptions. We will see in next week’s article how the Reese family has been and continues to be in the local grocery business. But most of the names you read in this week’s article are just memories of a simpler time.
Those were the days when a kid could stop in the small grocery store on their way home from school and get a candy bar or a soft drink for a nickel. Or maybe a piece of bubble gum for a penny and wasting a few minutes looking through the comic book display before deciding which one to spend 10 cents on!