ELK CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – In the Oklahoma before statehood, before the first shopping carts (invented by an Oklahoma City grocer), historian Charles Wren might have been a stockboy or even a young owner of a general store instead of a museum curator.
“In rural Oklahoma, the general store was the only store in town,” Charles states.
He was the guy who really did inventory and stock the shelves at the new Route 66 General Store Museum with thousands of items just as they might have looked in the heyday of the rural dry goods outlet.
“A general store merchant,” he continues, “was a guy who had a bunch of stuff and who needed a building to set it all up to sell to everyone.”
Some of the products on the shelves are still around.
We found old containers of Quaker Oats, Clabber Girl Baking Powder, and even Grape Nuts cereal.
But the Sleepy Eye Flour, the Crystal White Cleanser, and Kickapoo Oil for aches and pains are all products from a bygone era.
Explaining how the old general store system worked, Wren points out, “You’d tell the clerk what you want like shortening. He’d grab it for you then wrap it up in paper and string. They didn’t have paper bags yet.”
We first found the same antique containers at the old Flying W Guest Ranch 15 years ago.
Don Whinery found them in a closed down mercantile in Eastern Oklahoma.
“Some of the items, we didn’t know what they were,” he told us in 2007. “We had to go find out.”
All this was eventually donated to the Route 66 Museum complex in Elk City where it waited for a new building and a historian like Wren who could figure out how to set it all up.
He points to a cream separator and admits, “I didn’t know what a cream separator was until I asked someone and they told me.”
In Elk City, F.E. Herring ran one of several general stores. He also opened several others in surrounding towns.
Herring was successful enough to fund a campaign for governor just after statehood. His memory and this style of retail business may be gone.
You can’t purchase any of the items in this store, but you can look if you want and remember the one-stop shops of Oklahoma yesteryear.
For more information on the new general store exhibit or any of the other attractions at the Route 66 Museum Complex go to visitelkcity.com.
Great State is sponsored by Oklahoma Proton Center