People sometimes think of stores such as Walmart and Zellers as relatively new in the retail world. However, many of our seniors can tell you stories of their parents and grandparents shopping in stores much like the Wal-Mart’s and Zellers of today. These old time stores sold everything – clothing, groceries, footwear, drugs, hardware, household supplies horse and buggy days equipment and so on
I was reminded of this when I received another letter from 87-year-old Jean Calkin of Black Rock. Ms. Calkin wrote last December about her early days in Canning (December 21 Kings County Advertiser). In the second letter Calkin expands on her earlier description of H. R. Ells General Stores, which as readers will see from what follows could have been an earlier version of Walmart combined with Sobeys.
“Huge stalks of bananas hung from the ceiling and on the counter were rolls of wrapping paper and a large cone of twine. Peanut butter, dates, salt pork and outer meats were weighed out in bulk. Molasses was in a large wooden keg and run off in customer’s gallon jugs. Kerosene and vinegar were dispensed in the same way.
“There were oil lamps and chimneys of various sizes, together with wicks and burners. One hundred pound bags of flour were in the back of the store. On the shelves were packages of loose black tea. There were fresh eggs, butter, and hard yeast cakes in boxes, tiny red cinnamon ‘berries.’ Available also were pilot biscuits and cheese in large round blocks.
“There were washboards, wash tubs and wash boilers, shaving mugs. Shaving brushes, straight razors and razor strops, gaiters, armbands, ladies’ stockings, buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, horse blanket pins and safety pins, hair nets, bobby pin and large bone hair pins. There were pen nibs, ink in bottles, fountain pins and dip pens.
“In the home remedy department the stock included Sweep Spirits of Nitre, Dodd’s Kidney Pills, Lydia Pinkham pills, Epsom Salts, Sloan’s and Minard’s liniments, castor oil and Castoria for children, Pinex cough syrup, mustard ointment and Peps cough drops.”
This is a condensed version of Calkin’s letter but readers can see that in the early days it was possible to make one stop and shop for anything needed for the household. Of interest also was Calkin’s mention of the some of money in use – “fifty-cent coins and tiny dollar bills about 5 inches by three inches.”
Calkin also refers to the “brick block in canning, a section of paved sidewalk on the west end of town where the bank and Xerxes store were located. “I also remember,” she writes, “whistle of the ‘Blueberry Special’ as it chugged its way on the tracks from Kingsport to Kentville at 8:00 a.m., Kentville to Kingsport at 12 p.m., Kingsport to Kentville at 1:00 p.m. and returning to Kingsport at 4 p.m.”