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Weekly feature... by Mike Coburn


Hardware Stores: There’s an unwritten theory (until now) that sometime before our birth while still in the Heavenly realms, we soon-to-be people attended a basic training course called ‘boy’s school’ or ‘girls school,’ so that we are born with a skill-set and aptitude suitable for future life in our respective genders. An example is man’s propensity to gravitate toward sports and hardware, and such things, as opposed to the girl’s tendency to enjoy fabric, flowers and the security of having a ‘best friend.’ One gender talks to communicate important data often related to safety or success; while another talks about some strange thing called ‘feelings.’ I’m taken back to Henry Higgins’s song about ‘Why can’t a Woman be more like a Man?”

Now lest you think of me as a total loss or a throwback to some Neanderthal please understand that I am not trying to press the issue that such a school really exists or that Henry was somehow right. Indeed, I salute the differences between sexes. I have always been mystified and intrigued by the workings of intellect by both parties as each fence for strategic advantage. I have suspected for years that it isn’t who wins, because no one truly does, but two might. Those most successful are willing to concede to the other’s pleasure except in cases where true suffering may occur or the problem is totally unseen by the other. The real losers are those that give up, whether to completely concede one’s manhood or womanhood, or those that walk away from the struggle altogether, taking their losses. Winners know that true victory is found in team work.

All this posturing aside, my subject today will likely be boring to those having attended ‘girl’s school,’ for I have little else to say in this article that would be of any importance to most of you. Still, you are invited to read on if you wish. I believe in equal opportunity and applaud those able to cross lines and become true buddies. Understanding that men have a fascination for certain things may help you see his motivation or point of view. Now let’s all travel into a first experience or set of experiences that help define a portion of a man’s complex life.

To a man there is little better than having the right tool for the job. Working in a shop on a project, or trying to create a masterpiece of wood or steel requires careful planning and design. But anyone can see that using a pair of pliers to turn a screw is not efficient or healthy for the man’s disposition or the poor screw. It is only a little better to turn a bolt with the pliers, but use a ratchet with the proper socket and the mechanic is in heaven. Ergo, you have man’s dream of always have the best equipped shop-garage-whatever. We all want a ‘Tim the Tool Man Taylor’ kind of shop. We’ll save for another time the idea of keeping things in order so the tools can be found when needed, (we all could use an Al). This is a lesson desperately needed for children and certain uncaring adults (and you thought Sloppy Joe was a sandwich?).


So as we delve into this man’s world I will tell you of some early experiences of when I entered into the drama of discovering hardware stores. I recall that the floors were wooden and that they creaked a little with each step, even for us lightweights (of the time). They were grey-brownish, often patched and splintered, but the rough boards held up tons of shelving, glass-fronted cases, counters a mile long, and great lots of nail kegs, screws and fixtures. In the corners and recesses there were lots of boxes of things yet undiscovered and unnamed, some showing the skull and crossbones on the label that even I as a young fellow understood to be poison or dangerous. I saw plumbing fixtures and pipe made of iron and copper and brass (Not much plastic in those days). I saw spigots and plungers, and ells and couplings. My eyes grew ever wider as I saw fuses, wires, and duplex electrical outlets. (By this time I had already discovered shock the hard way.) There we chains, wire, cables, ropes and twines of every kind. There was fencing, traps, cages and left-handed goofliches. Against a wall was pegboard displays and shelving holding every kind of tool known to modern man. Some were painted red, or made of shinny stainless steel. Some had wooden handles reflecting a glossy coat of shellac. Some were hand tools, some were electrical, and some were from a special group known as pneumatic. These last ones had hose connections sticking out of one end. The compressors, both horizontal and vertical, crowned the display with signs speaking of mysterious terms like psi. So much to learn!


Then right there before me was the one thing that really took away my breath. The glass case was full of every kind of knife I had ever seen, and a few I hadn’t. Some were what I later came to know as a jackknife; some were Bowie knives; some stag-horned hunting knives; a pig-sticker or two were there as was the famous Swiss Armey Knife. I was immediately mesmerized into a whole new world. It was here that I learned my first financial lesson and purposed to open a savings account. I had to have money! I needed this stuff! As a nearly normal youth, my first bank looked much like a ceramic pig. Of course, it barely survived until my goal was reached and I could race to the store to choose my prize. After that I found that a lidded canning jar would do the trick so long as I hid it. Come to think of it, where did I put that thing?

During the time of my growing up there were a number of such wonderful places just ripe for exploring by man and boy alike. Occasionally, even a ‘tom-boy’ would be caught peeking. One such store was fairly near my home and just behind the old train depot. I think it was Home Supply Store, but that could be wrong. I believe there is a thrift store occupying the space now. The men inside were friendly and knew my family so I felt welcome every time I drifted in. It was a wonderful discovery when I found out that I could say ‘just looking.’ I would then be allowed to take the grownup posture and stand memorized like so many others in front of the counters with my hands in my pockets. Known as the ‘hardware store stare’ the owners fully understood and shared in my joy by allowing me many happy hours of browsing through the sometimes dusty boxes. Now anyone that has been to ‘boy’s school’ knows that a great many things race through a man’s mind while browsing. This is the fodder that matures into great visions and from that, evolves progress. Girls, never, ever awaken such a person from their trance; lest all of our futures suffer for it.

There was another hardware store downtown, just across Madison from the Methodist Church we attended. This was Moore’s Hardware and was a staple in town for many years. Bill Elkins reminded me that Don Fluty ran this during our high school years, and that later Bill Keeton bought into the store. Bill was my Sunday school teacher for years and had numerous ventures including a frozen locker business and a Ford dealership. I think the hardware store had a lower floor with stairs in the center that descended to the basement. I think that it may have also had a mezzanine, or a kind of half-second floor. There was so much stuff in there. I remember galvanized buckets and gardening tools, seeds, fencing sporting goods and all kinds of wonderful things. Everywhere were signs pointing out sales, seasonal specials, the virtues of products and those ever-important brand names. What a wonderful place of dreams!

As if that wasn’t enough, just past the courthouse and bandstand there was another one on lower Main Street, between Main Cross and Vinson. This store I knew as Wellman’s Hardware. A shadowy picture in my mind makes me think it had a large wooden awning that came out over the sidewalk. It had multi-framed glass windows all along a double, or even triple front. The store (or my memory of it) was a little dark but I also remember these people were friends of our family. They treated me special and teased me when I was small. I loved the attention. This is the one that R.C. Wells later purchased when he left teaching at LHS.

Thinking about it, there were even more such stores around if you count ‘general’ stores that often carried different kinds of hardware. Each had a kind of niche, I guess, but I frankly wondered how so many could survive in such a small town. I guess building and farming was a better industry than meets the eye.

When it was finally nearing time for me to graduate and consider whether to stay around Louisa or not, these stores were one of the things that I knew I would miss if I were to leave. I was right. I still do, but the world has changed. I suspect the big box stores are causing havoc and putting many small guys out of business. I hope not because the service levels and the friendliness would be missed. The men who ran them were the pillars of the community and their children were our friends.

Later in life I would work for a time in a big city at Sears, Roebuck and Company. While holding several positions with this firm, my favorite was in the hardware department. I came to learn about radial arm and bench saws, band saws, lathes, drill presses, and on and on. I now have a hobby of fixing up old houses and restoring them to a like new condition, and am always working on a long list of honey-do’s. I have a number of sons each loving to work with tools, having learned from helping dad. That’s a legacy worth leaving.

Well, if any ladies survived this little bit of writing, my first thought was to explain that you could think of hardware stores as something like a fabric store, only not as soft. But to give the ladies credit, I know many of them that can really swing a hammer and my hat is off to them, as always.

I enjoyed our little talk today and hope you did too. Write me and tell me about your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

The author is a member of the LHS Class of 1960. He is writing and compiling stories about life’s experiences in growing up in Louisa during the late forties, fifties and early sixties. He would look forward to hearing a few tales, worthy of inclusion in a potential forthcoming book. Excerpts may be published in future editions of the ‘Lazer.’ His email is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He’d love to hear from you.

Week 57: Who are you in Lawrence County?


 

Last weeks picture: Frank Webster, former principal at both the Louisa Elementary and Louisa High Schools.

Note: I can say with 95% surety that Mr. Webster was with the class of 1958 when they started the 1st Grade and when they graduated the 12th Grade…Liss

I can be contacted at the below addresses, and your comments are welcome in the space at the bottom of this page…

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Mike CoburnMike CoburnWeekly Feature      
...
by Michael Coburn

Grocery Stores:  When I started this article I thought back and tried to figure out how many grocery stores there were in Louisa during the time I grew up there. I contacted a number of friends for their memories and you’ll see those sprinkled throughout. Going back really far, I remember Bradley’s because that’s where my family bought most of their food. We, like many in Louisa, had an account, which in those days were critical for us. This enabled us to eat between and just before paydays, but I was pretty much dumb about this idea of credit except to say we had to ‘pay up’ from time to time. I know of times where that was a problem. Ed Bradley carried us and I hope we treated him right. We also went to Meade’s just hard next door. Both stores shared the big wooden awning that went out to the curb. My memory makes me think that at Bradley’s there were some wooden steps up past some baskets of potatoes, etc., before you got to the big door. Bill Elkins sent some pictures so I’ll past it in here for a visual. The counter was high (maybe to a kid) and wooden. It was on the left. Meade’s was brighter and I think not as high, or at least I see it that way in my mind. In those days you came in and gave your order or in some cases called in your list to the grocer and he or she would pick them for you, bring them to the counter and add them up, often writing numbers and adding them on the side of the paper bag. Then you paid for them or asked that they be added to your account. If you charged them they had a big wall of little books in slots. There was one for each account (family). They would track the sales for when you settled up later. They also made deliveries by dispatching a young man on a bicycle with big baskets, or sometimes in a panel truck.

 

Betty Hager Meade Cooke wrote me of her thoughts on grocery stores: “Rarely a day passed that someone in the family did not go to the grocery.  While we sometimes went to the big IGA, we usually frequented the grocery store behind us, close to the medical clinic. I cannot remember the name, a Mom and Pop store, very small. I think there is a pharmacy there now, but I don't remember if the original building is still there or if the pharmacy built a new building. The store was a definite forerunner of Wal-Mart because they had most everything. I remember that when it was decided I needed my first bra we went to the grocery store to buy it.”

 

“There were the big barrels of candy that had a huge selection for only one penny a piece. I spent many a long trip to the store carefully considering my candy options. We ran a "tab", and I guess at some time a bill came or the amount of the account was asked for and paid in full. I loved sampling the lunch meats. The thin slices were delicious. Then there were the pickled eggs and dill pickles in huge vats/jars that were delicious. I don't remember if you got to reach in and get your pickle or if someone fished it out for you. I don't remember any rubber gloves being used by anyone and yet we all survived.” (Editor’s note: The ones I saw had a pair of tongs hanging to the side for such use. Usually they had little small, white paper bags to hold the prize, once caught.)

“After breakfast Grandmother would assess what she needed for the day (heaven forbid any advance planning) and make a call to the store. Someone would go pick up the groceries. Now this meant that the clerk at the store made the selections and did the actual shopping. All we pick- up people did was to carry the sack home. Why did this change? It was a great system. Or, if no one was available to walk the one block and pick up the groceries then the store clerk would deliver them. He just came in the back door, left them on the table and, I guess, put away the items that needed to be refrigerated. I can't confirm that for sure, but again, why did this change???????????????”

“My favorite trip of the week was on Saturday night when Mom and I would walk to the store and select a carton of our favorite soft drinks and a huge bag of chips. Each was 25 cents. It was our Saturday night treat while we watched MY HIT PARADE. I couldn't wait to hear which song was #1.”

Betty continues, “I also remember ADAMS Grocery. Many of the students that could not afford the 20 cents for the school lunch would go there during the lunch break and buy a RC Cola and a Moon pie, which totaled 10 cents and was much tastier. They also had those wax things full of some sort of liquid in his penny candy selection and the wax lips were especially tasty.”

Joan Carol Bailey Koskoski also had some things to say about Adams grocery: “I lived about 4 or 5 blocks from Adams grocery. When my grandmother came to visit, she always sent me there to buy her some cinnamon balls. I loved those cinnamon balls too. They were coated in granulated sugar.  I remember going as young as 6 or before (by myself). She always gave me some money to go for her. Mr. Adams lived at the corner of Pocahontas and I lived on Pocahontas so I knew him quite well. I remember standing in the street talking to him in the evenings. I went to the store quite often for my Mother too. She always sent me for 2 or 3 items and I would say them to myself over and over again until I got to the store. I have a lot of good memories from the store. I can remember how it smelled and what it looked like even though it was so many years ago.”

Delbert Caudill sent me an excerpt from his book, Watermellon Hill that also spoke about Adams grocery: “For years, Adams Grocery in Louisa was our grocery store. It was located on Main St., across from the Cypress Inn. No longer there, it’s gone the way of almost all small, non-chain grocery stores. Supermarkets have a much greater selection than Adams could have possibly had, but not the same charm. You could buy groceries, chat about the weather or the latest news (gossip) around town, buy feed for the animals, seed for planting, and weigh yourself on the big scale in the back room, charge the groceries if you were a little short and in general, just make yourself at home and visit while you were there.”

“It was a small narrow store. As you walked in the front door, the candy case was first thing on your left, then a long counter with shelves to the ceiling behind it containing canned goods, boxes of oatmeal, cereal and other small grocery items. On the right were larger sacks of beans, rice, large cans of lard, hoes, garden plows and other big items. In the back room, were cracked corn for chicken feed, dairy feed for the horses and cows, middlings for the hogs, seed potatoes, seed corn, fertilizer, bug killers and most of what a farm would need. Sometimes Dad got feed from the “Big Mill”, but usually from Adams’.”

“You just helped yourself to what you needed and brought it to the counter. If you needed canned goods or anything else on the shelves behind the counter, the clerk had to get it for you. He had a long handled gadget with pinchers on the end of it. He would reach up on the shelf, clamp onto the item and set it down on the counter. If you wanted green beans, or any other vegetable, there wasn’t much of a selection. Usually there were only one or two brands of each thing. Cold cereal was Corn Flakes, Wheaties, Cheerios or Shredded Wheat. Hot cereal was Quaker Oats, Ralston, or Cream of Wheat.”

“The livestock feed and large sacks of flour and meal, served double duty as clothing! The sacks were made of cotton print material in a variety of patterns and Mom made most of my sister’s and her own dresses from it. She would sometimes make some shirts for the boys from the sacks too, but most of the patterns were for girls. Any scraps not used for clothing found their way into our quilts. Some smaller sacks did not have patterns on them, but were not wasted. They were used for dish towels.”

“Of course my favorite part of the store as a kid was the candy case! It was sold by the pound, or the stick, or the piece. There were cinnamon balls, candy corn, Necco wafers, Now & Laters, Horehound sticks, Peppermint, and a few others, but not a very large selection. I looked forward to going to the store because I might get some candy. I would usually get a small bag of something, but I had to choose, because I could only get one thing. That was a hard choice, so I would usually keep my nose stuck to the glass case trying to decide, while Mom and Dad were getting the groceries. Sometimes I would get maybe a nickel to buy what I wanted and would choose some different kinds of the penny candy, or some chewing gum. If I got a pack of gum, I made it last for a week. I would never have more than one stick per day and sometimes I would make a stick last for two days because there were only five sticks to a pack! Before meals, I saved my gum on the edge of my plate or some safe place and recovered it after I finished eating. I can’t imagine there was any flavor whatsoever left in it after the first few hours, much less two days, but I still chewed it.”

“Mr. Adams didn’t have a cash register, just a cash drawer to keep the money in. Much of his business was charge. A lot of the customers were poor and struggled from one payday to the next, or didn‘t have steady jobs, so they charged groceries and paid for them on payday. Some farmers had to charge until a crop came in, but whatever the reason; each customer had his or her own charge book. The charge sale was hand written in it and it was filed in a wooden box until next time. There may be some small stores in small towns today where you can still do that, but they are few and far between.”

“Mr. Adams later sold the store to Jack Payne, one of our neighbors on Watermelon Hill, but nothing changed about the store. Mr. Payne, years later, went out of business and the store was torn down to make way for other businesses, but I’m sure some older people in Louisa still remember it fondly.”

Betty, Joan and Dilbert each had some neat memories including some wonderful candy stories. Candy really was just becoming available around that time. It was a real special occasion if a kid got any. Part of this was undoubtedly because of the War, the earlier depression, and partly because of the logistics of getting it to the backwoods and hills of Kentucky. I imagine that advertising on TV also increased the demand. We were just learning about such splendid concoctions. I remember when Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came out. Boyer’s invented a Mallo Cup, which looked about the same as Reese’s but was marshmallow filled instead of the peanut butter and wasn’t as big a hit. I, too, remember the wax lips and little coke bottles made of wax that had syrup inside. I think everyone had “Moon Pies” and RC’s. Jaw breakers, gum, lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, Clark bars, Zagnut, M&M’s, and Hersey’s rounded out the selections. Sweets were on the grocers shelves behind the glassed in candy counter and in big jars sitting just out of reach of young hands. I suspect mom feared taking a youngster inside because of the fight that would surely erupt. But, if you won her over, yum!

I also remember Curtis Young had a store out on Clay and Pike or Perry, but I wasn’t in there unless I was with his young relative, Jimmy Young. It was a large store but he handled it alone as far as I can remember. That contrasted with Bradley’s that was well-staffed and always very busy, as was Meade’s I believe.

There was Andy’s grocery down on Lock Avenue where I dropped in to visit from time to time. Andy was a barrel of laughs and didn’t mind us kids hanging around. He loved to tell jokes and pull pranks. I would buy baseball cards from him and sometimes a nickel’s worth of bologna. He’d cut it for me because he had a meat display counter in the back and a big slicer.

It was in my high school days that the IGA opened. It was the first ‘super-market’ in our area and was big, bright and had lots of aisles to explore. When they opened they had a give-away contest for a palomino pony. They kept the horse out back next to an old defunct ice house. I used to go over and feed sugar cakes to the horse. I was so sorry when the drawing occurred and the new owner took him home. He was colored just like Trigger, but smaller and younger.

I remember the IGA was popular as anything new is, but we still typically went to Bradley’s. I reckon that was because we didn’t have an account at the IGA. Those folks actually wanted money! When we had some, we sometimes stopped in. It was just around the corner from my house between Keeton’s Ford and a big brick warehouse that sat adjacent to a side-track next to the main rail line. This old building used to be an ice-house but was later a feed store I think. I remember going into the long building and playing on the feed sacks. Farmer’s used to come in on Saturdays and buy feed, picking out the right fabric so mom could whip up some shirts or dresses. The sacks had flower print or plaid cloth and made double use for holding the all-important feed or flour.

As I think back every neighborhood had a store that was in easy walking distance. We, for example, often went without owning a car, but did just fine in the little town. I rode my bike, caught a ride with a friend or simply walked or hitch-hiked.

U.C. “Liss” Jones writes, “In the Bottom there were two stores for a while. One was run by the wife of Ross Compton in the early 40’s near the intersection of Blackberry Lane and 2nd Street. Then in the late 40’s George Adkins (Husband of Lulu Belle who ran a restaurant in Louisa by the same name) built a store on 1st Street. This was a General Store type place and was a Godsend to the folks in the bottom. There was no more having to run to town to pick up an item or two. I don’t remember that much about Compton’s but George Adkins store was a meeting place for the men and boys of the bottom. I remember the older men telling stories that held the younger boys in total captivity.”

Liss continues, “I remember, too, that Bill Crutchfield ran a store on Route 23 near the front entrance to the bottom. This was just past ‘Dead Man’s Curve.’ On the Louisa side of the curve at the entrance to the old water plant Charles Hall ran a store.”

I remember one in Little Italy. Seems there was another around Tin Can Alley (maybe the one Betty referred to) and several in Fort Gay. I would go to Fort Gay because they carried Vernor’s Ginger Ale, a favorite drink. Even though we didn’t drink the hard stuff I would joke that I was going to Fort Gay for Ale. Other people going after a more serious product would pass me coming and going.

I remember that just before I left for the Air Force that Charles Walker took over Bradley’s store. Ed Bradley had passed by then. Charles had been clerking there for a while and was doing really well, I understood. Even though he was way older than me, he was a neighbor and I’d seen him grow up ahead of me. I was proud of his success and saw him as a role model of sorts. I was sorry to hear the store was destroyed by the big fire. I’m sure it was a huge loss to Louisa, along with other fine business all around, as well as the depot. I remember a barber shop, a frozen food locker, apartments upstairs, Bradley’s, Meade’s and I think a shoe repair shop, maybe using common walls on that corner lot.

As radio and TV guided us with incessant commercials we became more and more brand conscience and stores had to adjust to carry the popular labels. Buying ‘store-bought’ stuff came more into vogue. The feed-sack shirts and dresses were gone. Homemade bread was passé and margarine replaced real butter. We turned our noses up a bit on what we are now learning was much better for us, after all. Snobbery pays off in dividends to the prideful. NOT! As I get older, I more and more want those foods and other products that had real quality, taste and nutrition. Yes, some real progress has been made by industry, but not every new thing labeled as progress is progressive.

Bottom line is that we saw plenty of the old county grocery stores and their friendly owners and the evolution of those stores into a more modern enterprise that have faceless owners. The fact is that chain stores moved in to swallow up the local merchant just as ‘warehouse’ stores have swallowed up the hardware stores, the appliance stores and department stores. While not good for the merchant, it is beneficial in many ways to the consumer, but it has come at a cost to the community. That cost can be seen on Madison, Main Cross and other streets across America. The services that Betty is missing, is missing in our society all around in nearly every industry. Windshields are not cleaned, batteries are not checked, and you will certainly pump your own gas. I doubt one could argue that reduced services are progressive or that it’s to a community’s advantage to have control taken over by people outside of the community. We used to know the merchant and his family and he spent his money right here in town and paid taxes, too. Considering decisions to move that way is a tough call often filled with regrets. Even tougher issues arise when we examine questions of taxes and the ability of the community government to provide services. While I’m not a raging left-wing environmentalist, I do recognize that the whole food chain suffers when even one segment is destroyed. That happens in commerce, too.

The author is a member of the LHS Class of 1960. He is writing and compiling stories about life’s experiences in growing up in Louisa during the late forties, fifties and early sixties. He would look forward to hearing a few tales, worthy of inclusion in a potential forthcoming book. Excerpts may be published in future editions of the ‘Lazer.’ His email is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He’d love to hear from you.

SOMEMRSEP