There was a time in this country when we didn’t have Walmart and Target, supermarkets, or internet shopping. If you lived in a town of any size you would have several stores that specialized in a certain kind of product, be it dry goods, a butcher shop, a hardware store, etc. But if you lived in a rural area you depended on the local general store.
Within its doors you could find everything from bolts of cloth to flour, medicines to farm implements, ammunition, and kitchenware. As a sign in many old time stores said, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” But more than that, the local general store was a community center, a place where neighbors gathered to exchange local news and gossip, pick up their mail, and if the children had been very good and were really lucky, they might get a piece of penny candy or two. We have visited old time general stores from coast to coast, and while each is unique, all share a sense of history of times past.
Recently we visited such a place, the Simmons-Wright General Store in Kewanee, Mississippi, east of Meridian and close to the Alabama state line. Opened in 1884 by partners William Simmons and Tom Wright, who came to the area from North Carolina, the store has been operated by the same family ever since.
Even now, locals talk about Bernice Simmons, who ran the store from the mid-1970s until she passed away in 1998 at the age of 96. Known as Aunt Bernice to one and all, she was not only a successful businesswoman but a much loved member of her community. People came to her for advice, for a loan when times were hard, or sometimes just a kind word or a bit of encouragement. Bernice was a woman of strong moral character, and she ran her business with two hard and fast rules – to never sell beer and to always be closed on Sunday. The store still adheres to those rules today.
As was the custom with country stores during the dark days of the Great Depression, many customers would run a tab to get what they needed at the store and pay it off when their crops came in. Sometimes they paid their bills by trading cotton, eggs, or whatever else they might be able to bring in.
These days, stepping through the door is like stepping back in time. Visitors come from around the world and are greeted by displays of merchandise that includes patent medicines, cough syrup, Palmolive soap, and other products, all in their original boxes and wrappers.
One wall has a collection of old soda bottles and glass jugs.
Can you imagine the stories that were told around this old stove as games of checkers were played and the problems of the world were solved?
While a lot of what you will see in the store is for display purposes only, to remind us of the good old days, you can still buy lunch, or a bottle of molasses or cane syrup.
There are even a few antiques for sale. Need a classy old rotary dial telephone?
A set of rather steep wooden stairs leads to the second floor, where you can look down on the main sales floor as you make your way around all four sides.
Here you will find a couple of baskets of cotton that farmers used to bring in to exchange for whatever they needed, plenty of old paperback books, and other miscellaneous items.
Back in the day many people didn’t own more than one pair of shoes, which was reserved for church, school, funerals, and other important events.
I remember getting a cold bottle of soda from a machine just like this, filled with ice to keep it ready for you to take off the cap. Citrus-flavored Sun Drop soda has been around since 1930, a favorite in the South.
The next time you’re in eastern Mississippi, stop by the Simmons-Wright General Store and immerse yourself in days gone by. While you’re there, pick up a bottle of syrup, maybe some hoop cheese which they cut on a 100 year old slicer, a fried bologna sandwich, and some conversation. It will be an experience you’ll never find at a big chain store anywhere in the world.
The Simmons-Wright General Store is located approximately 1/2 mile east of Exit 169 (Kewanee Exit) from Interstate 20/59. Parking for large vehicles is limited. Their hours are Monday – Friday, and most Saturdays. For more information, visit their website at this link, see their Facebook page, or call (601) 632-1884
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of my friend Suzie O’Connell’s Mountain Angel, the first book in her Northstar Angel’s series. It’s a contemporary Western romance about a woman who returns to her roots, desperate for the tranquility of the secluded valley and plagued by memories of her dead boyfriend and the advances of an obsessive former friend. When her over-protective uncle sends Patrick O’Neil “on vacation” to keep an eye on her she is annoyed, but finds herself irresistibly drawn to the haunted man with a kind smile and sad eyes. He may just be the best thing to ever happen to her…if she can convince him to stay.
To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books and audiobooks to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – The voices in my head talk about me like I’m not even there.