Gone but not forgotten, the old “Mom and Pop” stores. At one time they were THE thing of the area, scattered all over the Ozarks and offered up a little bit of everything.
Each were different in their own little way but the one thing they had in common was the atmosphere, true customer service with a smile!
You could find a wall lined with a few old .22 rifles and shotguns, pick up a box of 22 shells for a quarter.
Another corner dedicated to fishing bobbers, hooks and sinkers, some even had rods-n-reels and if you asked the lady behind the counter she’d want to know whether you preferred night crawlers or red wigglers.
If you needed catfish bait you could usually find it, as some was what we called “store bought” but oftentimes it was some concoction made up by one of the locals and they called it stink bait for a reason.
You could even buy your hunting and fishing license at most of these stores. An old soda machine sitting along the wall with a low, steady hum offering up some of the coldest pop you could find.
Of course, you could also pick up a few groceries while you were there.
A couple of these stores stand out in my memory. One was in Womack Missouri, had an old rusty gas pump out front and you could actually buy gas (if you dared).
But we could stop in and pick up nails of any size, the old fella would fix us up a sandwich, we’d grab a cold Pepsi, sit out on the porch and enjoy lunch before we continued on down to work on our old deer stands or headed to the local fishing hole.
Another was a little country store in French Village. If you blinked you would miss the town, but you could stop in to grab a fresh-made sandwich.
While it was being prepared you could browse over the small selection of guns and fishing gear, then grab a cold pop, a bag of chips and retreat to the porch to enjoy your fare with a beautiful view.
It was also the local Post Office for a town of maybe 30 people as a lot of these little shops were.
As kids of 8 or 9 we also had a little store run by a little old widow woman and she’d tell us kids she was ready for a mess of fish.
So, we’d go over to a local pond and catch a stringer of the biggest Black Perch and she’d buy them from us, even clean them herself and boy, were we walking in tall cotton.
It didn’t seem like you could drive through any rural area without coming up on one of these little stores. Most had an old bench or two out front for folks to enjoy a sandwich, and usually you’d have the regulars there swapping tales, and you could listen in on for entertainment.
Now, if you presented yourself just right and got on these fellas’ good side, they might just share where that honey hole was down by the willows, or how deep the crappie were at the moment, whether the white bass had started running yet or not, and maybe point you to a good patch of morels.
But they really had to take a liking to you to give up that secret information. And I imagine, on occasion, they’d send you on a wild goose chase then snicker as you drove away.
We had a couple of these places here in the small town where I grew up. One was named Korner Market where I bought my very first cane pole, bobbers and hooks and headed for the local pond.
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Another was Hare’s Store, which had a big pot belly stove right in the middle of the store. You could stand around that old thing on those cold winter days and learn a lesson or two if you perked up your ears.
Most of them had a musty smell to them and that scent lingers with me today. I’ll never forget, as I got a little older an old-timer asked me if I had ever fished for white bass, which I hadn’t at the time.
He said, “Son, when the flowers on a forsythia bush get as big as a mouse’s ear, the white bass will start running for their spawn and that’s the time to get them.”
Here in the Leadbelt we had a little store named Honbecks which is now long gone, but they fixed the best cold-cut sandwich you ever had.
In high school that was where I spent most of my lunch periods, along with a lot of other students. They had turkey calls and they didn’t mind if you picked them up and scratched out a few yelps on one.
Like a lot of the others, they had a mix of a little bit of everything along with a good atmosphere and a good conversation offered up.
Now a bare little gravel parking lot stands where that thriving business once was.
The majority of those little stores and shops are a thing of the past, just a memory in our mind and a part of history to pass on to the younger generations.
The big retail chains came in, opened up and the smaller shops just couldn’t compete.
And these days, if you don’t feel like driving to Bass Pro or similar, you just go online and order what you need.
Most of the old buildings were torn down to make way for more modern buildings. A few remain that time is trying to push down, turned into a Friday night auction house.
But, if you’re lucky while driving out an old winding road you will come up on one of these little places that still has an open sign in the window and if you do, please don’t drive on by.
Stop in, get a smile, soak up some of the last of an era and help a small business keep the lights on.
I know when I pass one I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, can’t wait to get inside and browse around while making conversation with whomever is behind the counter.
I always spend a little, always buy a cold soda, chat about the local area and 9 times out of 10 I’ll pick up a container of worms, just because I can.
When I pass places where one once stood and is no longer, it saddens me, but if I’ve learned any lesson over my life it’s that time goes on, changes take place and there’s no stopping it.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still hold those little shops dear to your heart.
(Roger Smith lives in Bonne Terre, Mo., and can be reached at email@example.com)