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Open Until The Last Dollar Went Home

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  
When I began writing Reflections in January, 2001, I said that I would feature individuals who were never mentioned except in an obituary. I would also from time to time refer back to previous columns and this week I’d like to do that.
In the 1920s a new concept was introduced in Water Valley, a co-op mercantile business.  The idea was that people would be allowed to invest in the operation and get discounted prices on merchandise rather than dividends.  
This was when mass marketing was in its infancy but they still realized the value of a catchy name. So the Peoples Wholesale Com-pany came into being.  Several prominent citizens such as Edwin Blackmur and Finus Cofer were some of the first share holders. and they opened for business on Main street, first as a grocery store. The concept caught on and they acquired the buildings on each side with dry goods on the north side and furniture and appliances on the south.   
In the grocery side, E. L.  McVey and Jasper Barron were co-managers. At the recommendation of Mr. Franklin who ran the Simmons store, they hired a young store manager from New Albany named Warren Ray, who ran the dry goods side until he went into military service in World War II.
They ran a truck to Memphis once or twice a week to pick up  merchandise for the dry goods and also for the appliance side where Joe Elliot was the manager for many years. Billy Bob Sanders was the driver and delivery man for the appliance operation until after the war, when Bill Humphreys,  with years of truck driving experience, took over that job.  
The grocery side was the busiest part of the operation with no self-service and clerks that served each customer when they came in.      
The clerk would take a large paper bag and walk along and as the customer selected an item he would put it in the bag and mark the price on the side. When they were completed with their purchases, he would add up the prices and the customer would pay the cashier.  The clerks were paid a flat salary and the hours were long especially when country people came in on Saturday when they would stay open until the last dollar had gone home.
I may fail to mention some of these clerks and if I do, write me about it.  I’m going to mention the ones I remember: James Kolb, Ed Ray Perkins,  Charles and James Goodwin, Jesse and Jimmy Ware, Al Miller, Josie Simpson, Billy Howard, Curtis Stacy, and Grover Moorehead.  
Security was a casual kind of thing and was usually handled by Dick Mc-Millan and Jack Haller.
The store was a long building with a pot bellied stove in the center which was supposed to heat both ends of the store but rarely did. On Saturday it was a gathering place for country people to see old friends and swap gossip. One of the best known people who was there every week was Elmer Higginbotham. His keen wit was always welcome and strange as it might seem he was a favorite of young people as well, as the old.
The meat department consisted of a large butcher block with slices of fat back and bacon. Another block held a large hoop of cheese and a slice could be weighed on a hanging scale—the same one they used for the fat back. They would sell a small slice of cheese and a hand full of crackers for a nickel or dime. They also sold a small can of sardines and would throw in some crackers and even a slice from an onion that was also on the block.  In the back they kept harness, farm implements, plow lines,  spools of wire and blocks of animal salt.
Everything changes and by the 1970s,  the dry goods and furniture were gone and the grocery department had been sold to Charles “Chicken” Hudson, who had been part of the organization since the 1940s. It became a self-serve super market with a meat and produce department. The old general store passed into history.   
Let me hear from you at my email address or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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