Caledonia, MO

Some general stores in the Midwest are still operating and the oldest one in the U.S. was open for over 200 years

CJ Coombs

Back in the day, so to speak, general stores in small-town and rural America were the main resources for needs. People didn’t just go there for canned goods or fertilizer. They also went there for things like candy and ice cream, and local gossip.

The products carried in a general store are as the name suggests — general merchandise. What’s in stock is pretty routine, so if it’s your local go-to store, you come to expect what you want there is generally there unless it’s out of stock.

A general store isn’t to be confused with a convenience store like Quik-Trip. It’s actually the main store for residents in a rural community. A general store sold needed items like bread and milk, but you might also find the hardware you have been needing.

Missouri general store dates back to 1909

Located at 219 S. State Highway 21 in Caledonia, Missouri is Old Village Mercantile that's been around since 1909 and still operates.

If you have a sweet tooth, you'll likely be particularly delighted to find a massive selection of candy - more than 600 types - from which to choose. (Source.)
Old Village Mercantile, Caledonia, Missouri.Photo byOld Village Mercantile/Facebook.

In this store, the hope is to send you back to your childhood when times were more simple. Here, you'll find a ton of old-fashioned candy options (like Necco candy wafers), homemade ice cream, Amish-made fudge, and even an antique gallery.

Kansas general store from the 1920s

Another old general store is the Old Riverton Store located at 7109 SE Highway 66, in Riverton, Kansas. This store began after World War I with Leo Williams and his wife Lora. In 1923, their first store was damaged by a tornado, so another store opened in 1925.

Like most businesses in the area, the Williams’ Store catered primarily to local customers but also played an important role for travelers on Route 66. Business prospered after it was featured as an official stop on a Route 66 map series in the 1930s and 40s. (Source.)

In 1973, the store was sold to Joe and Isabell Eisler. A nephew runs it now and it includes a general store, deli, and even a Route 66 souvenir shop. In 2003, this one-story red brick building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Route Magazine's online article, Carrying on Tradition, by Cecil Stehelin, you can read the whole story behind this store.
Old Riverton Store, Riverton, Kansas.Photo byOld Riverton Store/Facebook.

Iowa general store from the mid to late 1800s

Located in one of the Amana villages known as Middle Amana, Iowa is the Amana General Store located at 4423 220th Trail, Amana, Iowa 52203. The Amana Coffee & Tea Company is housed on the lower level.

Today, the Amana General Store continues to serve as a gathering spot for visitors and locals alike, offering unique local items as well as special products from the U.S. and around the world. (Source.)

Nebraska general store est. 1993

Mr. Dukes Mercantile wasn't built 100 years ago, but it was established about 30 years ago and appears to celebrate the behavior of an old general store in a modern sense. It's located at 119 E 6th Street, York, Nebraska 68467. This store also supports local businesses and creators.
Mr Dukes Mercantile, York, Nebraska.Photo byMr. Dukes Mercantile/Facebook.

Some general stores carry a broad selection of items like the store in Nebraska. It used to be that merchants would stack their items tall and sometimes because of the lack of space. When a general store was the only go-to place to get their staple items or other need, the stores carried large selections of supplies.

Where is the oldest general store?

Supposedly, according to Rhode Island officials, it was Gray's General Store located at 4 Main Street in Adamsville, Rhode Island. (Adamsville is a historic village in Little Compton, Rhode Island.)

This store was founded in 1788. The same family owned and operated the store since 1879. In 2012, Grayton Waite, who was a sixth-generation family member taking care of the store, died and the store temporarily closed. His son was a seventh-generation owner of the store, which reopened on July 1, 2013.

In 2015, it was reported that Gray's was closing because the young family owner who inherited the store wanted to study journalism in college, not run a store. The store building now appears to need work and isn't listed as being on the market according to a few popular real estate sites.

Customers of local general stores repeatedly view the outstanding neighborly service as one of the main reasons for frequenting the stores. The owners, employees and customers of general stores become an extended family, an aspect that is often lost in large retail stores. (Source.)

General stores created history and memories

General stores started their decline once automobiles were on the market and were afforded. Before then, farmers relied on general stores. Farmers would bring their products and barter with the store merchant who would turn around and try to resell them. Unlike today, customers could negotiate their prices. Sometimes, too, people bought their goods on store credit.

Typically, the general store dealers established themselves in remote areas in the 18th and 19th centuries where a community could go to and shop for their needs. When the only method of travel was a horse and buggy, traveling for miles and miles was inconvenient and in some cases, limited.

A general store was a place where a community could go to build trust and relationships. It was a place where children could safely run to so they could get their favorite piece of candy for a penny.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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