In the 40’s Daddy opened his store STARKS AND SON, with my brother Bobby, fresh out of Hender-son, going in as his partner. Mama became his first clerk, though other ladies were added later.
It was a true “general store” and we carried everything. Later Daddy added appliances and then delved into the furniture business. The store I knew best was situated at the end of the acre on which our home set at the other end–convenient for Mama and Daddy to go back and forth. On the right of the store was groceries of all kind and a large fresh meat case. In the center there were frozen food items that came along later, ice cream, etc. We also had a walk-in freezer at the back we called the “cold room.” On the right, were dry goods, even occasional clothing, tools and farm needs and in the back where the loading dock was located was livestock feed and even coal oil for those who were still without electricity.
Daddy or Bobby made two trips to Little Rock each week–Mondays and Fridays– to replenish stock not provided by vendors who came to the area. We also sold over-the -counter medicine: Syrup of Pepsin, Bayer Aspirin, 4 -WAY Cold medicine, Miles’ Nervine, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, and the new ‘miracle’ drug, Hadacol. Daddy had to stop selling Dr. Tiechnor’s Antiseptic, though. Our town was “dry” and a few tended to ‘over-medicate’ on weekends when they couldn’t get to the local bootleg-ger. It was about 40 proof.
Often, we would see young kids crawling beneath the store to retrieve change that had been dropped down through the hardwoods around the cash register. Daddy didn’t chase them away be-cause, more often than not, they would re-spend it for penny and nickle candies. Favorites were Car-amel Corn, O’Daddy’s, Double-Bubble Gum, Candy Cigarettes (no political correctness back then) and tiny cartons of soda pop. Kids chewed and swallowed the tallow after drinking the juice inside. Any wonder why we have so many colon problems in today’s society?
He also sold “grab bags” for a nickle – contents unknown until opened. These held candy and a prize – usually a whistle, a tiny funny book or other small toys. The “Big prizes” sometime appeared–a red streamer on a string or a ball and paddle or a ring with a glass stone. Guess all of these were made in China.
Daddy prided himself on his meat case which held the finest and freshest cuts of meat. A cousin was his butcher and used only beef he had raised on his farm. Daddy had to build a pig pen across the road from our acre to raise pork. Mama insisted she would not smell a pig sty!
Daddy only made two trips per week–Tuesday and Friday–to the Fordyce bank. Other nights, he merely emptied all cash in the register except checks into a paper sack and brought it home to be stored in our linen closet until morning. One night he was very tired. After emptying the register, he went to the back with a sack for “chops” to take to his hogs. You can guess what happened next. When he got home and found the hog food, all three of us headed back to the hog pen with flash lights. We gathered up as many bills as we could, but I guess you could say that the hogs “lived high on us” that night!
Left-over meat was never sold, so often the choicest and most expensive cuts remained at the end of the day. The following morning at breakfast, we often had rib-eyes and T-bones with our eggs. Ma-ma’s chest freezer was also well-stocked.
I had jobs around the store as I grew older. No carts then, so I carried goods to the counter to be checked out and later carried to the customer’s car. I marked cans with a grease pencil and stocked the shelves. Credit was given to farmers and workers who could not pay at the time of purchase. I still have some of Daddy’s old ledgers and found he had less than $100 owed him at the time of his death. He ran this business for 30 years before selling it to my brother.
A regular customer was Walter Matthews who drove to the store on his tractor. After placing a can of Prince Albert tobacco on the counter, he’d order three pounds of bacon each week—thick sliced. Once my brother moved the slicer near the ½ inch mark, Walter nodded “Okay.” Guess the fat and home-rolled cigarettes didn’t set him back much since he died peacefully in his sleep at age 105.
Daddy was an innovator. We owned the first RCA television in town in 1954 when Daddy ventured into the appliance business. Yet, he finally found his real niche in the furniture business. He would write customers a letter of introduction to the largest furniture wholesale house in Little Rock at that time, Fones Brothers. The customer then was allowed to make his selections and these were drop-shipped to his home. The customer paid Daddy’s cost plus 10%. After getting word-to-word recom-mendations, he covered a 3 state area.
Moving forward to the day my husband and I returned from our honeymoon to our new home in El Dorado. We stopped at Piggly Wiggly to stock the new kitchen. What was THIS??
A dozen eggs cost 29 cents? Ballard biscuits were a dime a can? Hamburger was 39 cents a pound? I made my decision right on the spot. Despite the fact this “super market” gave S&H Stamps, we’d be making frequent trips back home to my Daddy’s store. All I had to do was pick out what I wanted be-cause it was “free.”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village and responds to all comments at email@example.com.