I always knew that my great-grandfather Walter B. Davis (husband to Mary Frances Jollett) owned a grocery store at the corner of Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Shenandoah, Virginia. Since many family stories were associated with some memory of “the store,” and 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.
Plus, I had studied some history. It was the Depression. Weren’t people poor and out of work?
|Davis Store as it looked in the 1920s-30s|
So imagine my surprise upon reading 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.
In the 1920s-30s, Davis Groceries was just one of many family-run stores with names like Propes, Sullivan, Emerson, Foltz, Booton, and Morris.
|Davis Store as it looks today|
(Image from Shenandoah: A History
of Our Town And Its People)
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, working behind the counter. My mother and her brother were probably in the upstairs apartment or playing with their dog Fritz and running through the neighborhood.
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.
|One sizeable diamond plus 4 chips |
taken from rings left at the Davis Grocery Store
When I wear this ring, I can see my mother’s hand, but I also imagine the worried hands that reluctantly pawned a prized possession as barter for food at my great-grandfather's store.