For generations rural areas of the Valley were served by general stores; “general” in the sense that the stores stocked things families generally needed in the period when communication was difficult and travel usually restricted close to your own community.
At one time every community had a general store. This was the era when horses and oxen were necessary to eke out a living, when eight out of 10 people worked on farms and word of mouth was the way the news got around.
Typical of those old general stores was one that opened at the crossroads in White Rock well over a century ago. Exactly when it first opened for business is difficult to determine but it’s believed that Leslie Eagles had a store in White Rock before 1900. According to Bert Young in his book My White Rock, Eagles sold his store to John Cohoon, who then sold it to Ralph Anley Ells shortly after WW1 ended.
The R. A. Ells General Store served the community of White Rock for almost 70 years. Ells bought out the Cohoon store in 1919 and it was operated by him until his demise in 1976, and then by his son Anley until it closed in 1988.
Like most of the old general stores, Ells was a place where men would sit around the mandatory woodstove afternoons and evenings to discuss local news. Ells tells me people came expecting to find groceries, beef and pork (which for a time Ralph Ells peddled in a Model T Ford truck) clothing, footwear, dishes, dry goods, heating oil and over-the-counter cough syrups, liniments and rubs. The store contained the only post office in the area, an excuse for men to sit around and chat while waiting for the mail to be sorted. The store catered as well to the motoring public, offering Texaco gas from the pumps out front.
Anley Ells said the store “sold everything a farm family might need.” In many ways it was a miniature Wal-Mart of its time. Add 1930s, 40s or 50s décor along with the brown paper bulk packaging of many necessities and you have an idea of what the Ells store was like to shop in. If farm folks wanted overalls, work pants or rubber boots, for example, then this was the place to go. If people wanted molasses in a jug, or kerosene and stove oil, they brought their gallon containers in and had them filled. With a school just up the hill from the store, one of the display cases was always well stocked with penny candy.
For a while a second store serviced the White Rock community. Ora Scott’s store was located opposite Ells, on a corner of the crossroads. Opening in 1949, the store catered to a different clientele than Ells, offering some groceries but catering mainly to people looking for flour and feed, which was delivered countywide. According to Viola Pick, Ora Scott’s daughter, the store was in business until the late 1970s when it was converted to an auto repair shop. In 1991 the property was sold and became part of Longs mill.
The closing of these White Rock stores, especially the Ells store, likely was tied in with better transportation, better roads and the arrival of big box stores. “Our store was a victim of changing times,” Anley Ells says, which is likely true. The Ells store was one of the last of its kind in Kings County.