Friday, September 14, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Who's minding the store?


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a busy store.  One of my earliest blog posts was about the store owned by my great-grandfather Walter Davis.  Since I had been blogging for less than a month and only about a dozen people saw it the first time, it’s safe to assume that this “new and improved” version of that blog post will be “new” to the Sepia Saturday gang and other readers. 

I always knew that my great-grandfather Walter Beriah Sylvester Davis owned a grocery store at the corner of Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Shenandoah, Virginia.  Since summer visits to my cousins in Shenandoah always included a pilgrimage to “the store” like some religious shrine, it is no wonder that growing up I always thought it was THE store. The ONLY store.

Plus, I had studied some history.  It was the Depression.  Weren’t people poor and out of work? 

The Davis Store as it looked in the 1920s-30s


So I was surprised to read in Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People that in the early 1900s Shenandoah was experiencing an economic boom and businesses flourished.  There were several hotels, lots of restaurants, hat shops, clothing stores, bakeries, meat markets, bowling alley and skating rink, dance halls, an opera house, furniture stores, jewelers, a business school, bicycle shop, saloons, not to mention multiples of hardware stores and general stores. 


The Davis Store as it looked in the 1980s
from Shenandoah: A History
of Our Town and Its People
In the 1920s-30s, Davis Groceries was just one of many family-run stores with names like Propes, Sullivan, Emerson, Foltz, Booton, and Morris.  

No matter which store shoppers went to, they probably all looked much like the Davis store:  shelves with neatly displayed canned goods, sacks of grain, boxes of cigars, and a coke machine dotted around a central wood or coal burning stove.







That's my grandmother Lucille Rucker Davis behind the counter.



Judging by the receipts in Walter Davis’s accounts book, he carried many staple items like coffee (38¢), sugar (45¢), bread (24¢), peanut butter (25¢), butter (25¢), soap (08¢), salt (09¢), lard (40¢), soap powder (05¢), matches (02¢), oatmeal (10¢), and potatoes (40¢ ).  






But a shopper could also count on Mr. Davis for other items like thread (05¢), oil (18¢), chicken feed, and cigarettes (15¢).





This scale from the store must’ve been used for weighing fresh fruits and vegetables, and bulk items like coffee and sugar. 










Even though Shenandoah was a boom town, shopping for everyday items wasn’t easy for everyone. Among the memorabilia that my family preserved for 80 years is a small stack of receipts paper-clipped together.  Dated from 1924-28, the receipts are all from one family.  They bought on credit and paid down a little here and there with cash.  Occasionally the bill was paid by hauling goods. 


Some people left diamond rings at the store in exchange for goods.  Sadly, the owners never came back for them.  After my grandmother died, my mother had a ring made from the mismatched stones. 



When I wear this ring, I wonder whose worried hands reluctantly pawned a prized possession as barter for food at my great-grandfather's store. 


You might want to head over to Sepia Saturday to see what the other bloggers have in store.





©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

42 comments:

  1. This week's prompt was made for you! How fascinating to have such wonderful memorabilia and I share your wonder about the owners of the original jewels in that ring. Some sad stories which will never know I'm sure.

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    1. It is a neat little collection of stuff although I do wonder why the sales receipts were saved all these years by multiple generations.

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  2. I like this stove in the middle of the shop (2nd picture). Must have been one of the first "central" heatings. And is that a real boy in the foreground left? Or one of those advertising displays made of carton? He looks very real.
    I think it is significant that people owning diamond rings felt compelled to pawn them. Here they would call that "silent poverty". But it is very nice that you still have all these shop memorabilia. They tell a story to be remembered! Thank you.

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    1. Yes, that is a real boy. My mother told me his name years ago, but now I've forgotten it. I think his last name was Dunn.

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  3. That ring could spark many stories, I'm sure. :)

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    1. You're right. I wonder how many people those diamonds represent.

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  4. It's great to have such a personal touch to our shopping experience this week and to see items like the accounts book and scales. I have vague memories of us having a running bill at the local grocers during the war, paid of partly by rabbits caught by our dogs.

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    1. Rabbits - they were cooking rabbit on a show last night. Never eaten a rabbit. Good thing I'm not a shopkeeper.

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  5. What great pictures, especially with the stove in the middle of the shop. I love the ring and the great story that goes with it. I'm so glad you are sharing your family history with us.

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  6. Wow, Wendy. You have so much stuff from the store! How neat that you have the book about Shenandoah and that it features it too. That little boy in the 3rd picture looks spooky! It was nice of your Grandpa to make sure that those folks didn't go hungry. And the ring is beautiful, though it is kind of sad that folks had to let go of such treasures.

    Awesome post!

    Kathy M.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, it's sad families let those diamonds go. I do wonder why they never came back for them. I think that spooky boy was a cousin.

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  7. My family had a store, too - in Monterey, California. The photo in my blog post reminds me of your photo. http://who-knew-it.blogspot.com/2011/04/white-house.html

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    1. Yes, your store is a busy one too, chock-full of interesting stuff.

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  8. I love this post Wendy! And the vintage photos are just priceless! It's so cool that your family kept all these receipts, the scale and such from the store.

    So sad though about the history of the diamonds in the ring though. I wonder if some of those rings were wedding or engagement rings or even family heirlooms that those people had to trade for food.

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    1. I remember seeing some of the rings in my grandmother's drawer. A couple were set in yellow gold, but others were in those thin filigree Art Deco style mounts.

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  9. Wendy, read with great interest the memoirs of your family. Wonderful pictures too. Absolutely fascinating.

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  10. I wonder if the grandchildren of grocers are more likely to blog than those who did not have grocer grandparents.

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    1. It appears that you, Peter, and I might prove your hypothesis.

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  11. Oh my they must have been very hungry. That is a stunning ring! I never even thought about my grandfather's store (but it was also a gas station attached) until I read your post. But I only have one large photo of the outside and the grounds. You have so much wonderful detailed things, this is truly a treasure! Thanks for sharing this all with us.

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    1. I'd like to see your grandfather's store/gas station some time. Surely you'll be able to work it in sometime. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

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  12. Great photos, thanks, Wendy. My favorite is the store interior with the boy in the foreground. There's something about kids, stores, and boredom that make us smile. Thanks!

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    1. I wonder what that kid was doing and if that was his mother paying at the counter.

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  13. It is so great that you have so many treasures from the store! The receipts and ring have stories to tell beyond what the pictures tell us.

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    1. You are so right. I've searched census records for some of the names on the receipts just out of curiosity.

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  14. I love that ring, what a fascinating yet sad item to own. Good story as usual Wendy

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    1. I can't wear the ring without running the story through my head.

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  15. Great post!! Just love that scale. But the fact that some people traded their jewellery for food, basic necessities, sounds pretty desperate. Tough times, for many, too many... But your grandparents had a great store. Must have been a delight for kids to go there.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. I like that the scale has "feet." My mother's family apparently didn't suffer that much, but she had friends who came to school barefooted, so yeah, times must've been pretty rough indeed.

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  16. Oh, that post was well worth a re-run. There is something quite fascinating about dusty old receipts - it is almost the very fact that, unlike photographs and other keepsakes, they were intended as things of the moment, which almost gives them a lasting fascination.

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    1. I hadn't thought about the receipts in that way. You may be onto something.

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  17. I like the indoor photo of the store most. It seems the boy was hiding to avoid being photographed. Thank you for sharing this interesting story.

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    1. Good point -- the boy does seem shy, or at least wanting NOT to be in the picture.

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  18. Absolutely fascinating. Always interesting to find someone whose family left such a mark in a community and the history remains.

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    1. It is interesting to hear from non-family members what the store and the Davis family meant to them.

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  19. Think it's wonderful that your family has saved several special items related to your great-grandfather's store. I'd like to see the picture of the interior of the store enlarged - so many details to check out! Sad story about the jewelry, but think your mother had a great idea to have a special setting made with the diamonds. Nice post Wendy!

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    1. You'll have to come to my house - the picture is actually quite large and framed. It's on my den wall.

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  20. Great post. I love it that you have kept all those receipts and items from the store. They tell so many stories. The story about the ring is especially sad. Maybe they should have opened a pawn shop next door!
    Nancy

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    1. HA yeah, pawn shop would have been a good idea.

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  21. cool post girl! I wonder if the folks that now live in the store would let us in? We'll take only a memory ;-)

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