The two large wooden boxes in front of the store were probably well used by the regulars, who whiled away their spare hours there. Some of the men in the picture with Rice were probably members of this group. The man sitting on the box with the slanted top demonstrates how this illustrious gang made use of almost any surface as a resting place.
Stores like Rice’s were often the social center of the community. Whether they were located at a country crossroads, or in a village, they were where people came for news as well as supplies. Often, the U.S. post office was located in the stores, and the owner was postmaster. Distributing the mail-order catalogues to customers when they came in to get their mail was probably a distasteful part of the postmaster position. But the general store owner had a big advantage over the mail order folks; catalogue houses operated on a cash basis and the local store offered credit, and took trade goods. Catalogue companies were not interested in taking a farmer’s excess turnips or a few dozen eggs to settle an account.
Pictures like this speak across the years, and they keep the memory of a uniquely American institution alive — the old general store.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.