It used to be said you could buy anything from a needle to a ship’s anchor in the old C. L. Wood general store in Kentville.
The ship’s anchor may be an exaggeration but the store did carry a wide variety of merchandise in its heyday. When it opened on Aberdeen Street about 85 years ago, Wood’s store (or the White Store as the owner advertised it) was the equivalent of today’s Walmart. This was in 1929 and Charles L. Wood ran what was then known as a general store; meaning simply that it stocked all the necessities of life, its inventory reflecting a time most people lived and worked on farms and life revolved around agriculture.
In effect, the White Store was a grocery, drug store, hardware store, a clothing store, a footwear store, a horse and buggy store and much more. For a time there were even hand-operated gas pumps in front of the store where automobiles could fill up and where you fill your kerosene jug.
It may be difficult for younger generations to picture this but when the store opened, hitching posts were still found in Kentville; and it wasn’t uncommon at the time to see horses tethered here and there alongside automobiles.
When Charles Lamert Wood moved to Kentville from Bridgetown in 1917 he opened his first Kentville store on the east side of Aberdeen Street, a grocery store he operated for 12 years. Late in 1928 he purchased a property across the street – a former garage and service station – that after being renovated and enlarged became a general store. Wood was born in East Halls Harbour in 1885. As a youth he ran a store on the family homestead, later opening one in Sheffield Mills where he was also the postmaster. A move to Bridgetown followed where Wood was postmaster until 1917 when he moved to Kentville.
The C. L. Wood store has the distinction of being one of the last stores of its kind in Kings County. The store’s closed in 1960, marking the end of an era, an era when a single store could feed, clothe and outfit entire communities and keep them warm and on the move as well. In a brief history of the store, C. L. Wood’s son Malcolm noted that he drew customers from near and far. “On weekends, cars, trucks and horses and wagon lined the backyard of the store and the street front,” Malcolm said. “On Saturday nights people flocked in from a large surrounding area; from Scots Bay to Harbourville on the Bay of Fundy and (from) the North Mountain and from Middleton to Grand Pre.
“There was little or no self-service. Customers brought a list of wanted articles and were waited on by a clerk. On weekends especially, the store had as many as 10 clerks on the grocery and candy counter and three at the meat counter. Besides regular grocery items people came in to buy meat, flour and feed, men’s work clothes, rubber boots, work boots, hardware, fuel, kerosene oil, nails, window glass, barbed wire, medicine for farm animals, many drug items and patent medicine. After (my father) purchased a farm on the edge of town he also sold baled hay and straw.”
Right up until the year it closed the C. L. Wood store maintained the atmosphere of an old-time country emporium. When you walked through the front door into a somewhat dingy interior – as I did many a time after I started to work at The Advertiser in 1955 – you were immediately hit by the smell of pickled pork and sauerkraut. There was sawdust on the floor in the meat section and partially butchered beef hanging on meat hooks. Once when I dropped into the store freshly snared rabbits were hanging on the wall near the meat counter. I went into the store to buy a “hobo sandwich,” sauerkraut wrapped in a slice of bologna, which Woods was famous for around the county. It sold for five cents at one time.
Within five years of my first visit the store closed down. Malcolm Wood said his father’s store was a victim of changing times, finding that after WWII he couldn’t compete with large grocery marts and other chain stores that moved into his trade area. Wood closed his store in 1960 and died the following year.