Merchandising has vastly changed since the early years. During the early 1930s and the 1940s, general stores not only carried groceries, hardware, clothing and shoes, they also sold gasoline which was dispensed from hand operated gas pumps located at the front of their premises. Merchants also bought raw furs, horse and cow hides, senca root and farm products. They even bought and sold lumber as well as fence-posts.
Most of the goods in the store were placed on high shelving, behind long counters. When a customer came to buy his merchandise, he usually brought a list of all his requirements, and the merchant filled his order, itemizing each article in a counter book. After he filled the order he gave the customer a copy of the bill showing the amount of the purchase. Many merchants provided monthly charge accounts to their more reliable customers. Some merchants even carried some farm accounts for a number of months, and usually collected after the farmer had threshed his crop. Some of these farm accounts were never paid off, and this created an additional hardship which the merchant had to contend with.
During the early years, farmers in the district supplied some of the store products. Since there was no creamery in our district prior to 1927, farmers made and sold dairy butter to the stores. Others sold eggs and fresh vegetables. Usually someone in the district who had a dairy herd supplied milk and cream to the stores in quart and pint glass bottles. Flour and other products were obtained from the flour mill in Vermilion.
Early merchants usually had a hand operated coffee grinder for grinding coffee beans, a cheese cutter for slicing pie-shaped chunks of cheese and a tobacco cutter for cutting the required amount of tobacco. These devices are no longer used and are now considered relics of the past. During the early years, you could buy coffee in quart jars and when emptied, they could be used -for canning purposes. The Quaker Oat Co., as well as other companies had giftware included with their products, items such as: cups and saucers, cream pitchers, salt and pepper shakers and porridge bowls. Candy companies packaged small candy in strong glass containers, shaped in the form of cars, animals, phones and radios, which later could be used as toys or keepsakes.
Many companies who sold lard, coffee, tea and peanut butter supplied their products in various sized tin pails. These pails were commonly used by school children as lunch pails. They also were handy for picking berries and storing different items used in kitchens.
Refrigeration was uncommon in early rural stores, and only fruit that was dehydrated, so if wouldn't spoil, was sold. It arrived in a wooden crate, which was then dumped into a wooden bin. The required amount of dehydrated food was then dug out with a metal scoop. In later years, when our railroad was built, fresh fruit became available but only during the fruit season. Fruit travellers would take the merchants' orders, then have it shipped to them in boxcar lots. Bananas were available only during the banana season. A large banana tree. loaded with bananas, arrived in a wooden crate packed with hay. The merchant would unpack this crate and suspend the banana tree from his ceiling. He would then cut out the amount you required, from this tree. The banana crates were packed in the tropical countries and it wasn't unusual to find a poisonous black widow spider among the bananas.
Merchants sold flour and other products in 100 and 50 pound bags. These products came in cotton bags and when emptied they could be used as dishcloths. Everything during the early days was packaged in brown paper and brown paper bags. Plastic bags and containers were not available at the time. Goods were shipped to stores in paper boxes which offered very little protection from rodents. The mice never had it so good.
In the early days you brought your own gallon jug if you required vinegar or coal oil for your lamp. It was dispensed from a 45 gallon oak barrel or steel drum.
The stores didn't carry the variety of goods that are known today. The merchant usually carried one or two brands of each item. Many products marketed today were unheard of at the time. This method of merchandising would never work today, because of the volume of customers. In those days, people travelled by horse and buggy and seldom would they go more than 15 miles to do their shopping. There were numerous country stores which depended on farm trade. Once the automobile arrived, people went farther from home to do their shopping and many of these small country stores eventually had to close down.
The early merchant did very little advertising, nor did he mail out circulars. Goods weren't placed on sale as they are today. The merchant operated in a quiet manner, supplying the people with their daily needs, and in most cases the customers were quite happy with the service they received.