The Little Country Stores of Brown County Indiana

Little Country Stores

               At one time in years long gone there were literally small Mom and Pop stores in nearly every little burg that contained a half dozen or so homesteads.  But Brown County lost much of that nostalgia ten or more years ago when most shoppers enjoyed the advantage of going to the larger big box stores or those nice ones in the strip malls of nearby cities.  Today there are only a handful of those old types of stores still left.

               The storekeepers/owners were usually the only employees, sometimes, perhaps helped by one or more of their own children.  You could find almost everything you wanted, but you might be required to pay a few pennies more for an item than you would have had you gone to a larger city to purchase something.

                But the convenience of being able to run into a Mom and Pop and be waited on by someone who knew you personally and most likely knew every one of your children too, or could have guessed ahead of time what it was you wanted, is sorely missed in today’s fast-paced world.

Crouch's Feed and Bait

               One store near my home was run by a man and wife who had started out selling hay and other animal feeds in a tiny shed across from their home.  They did so well selling hay and such from this shed that they then built a regular store across the road on property they owned then did a landslide business for as long as it was open.  Others did not fare as well.

               This store not only carried grocery items, the owner served simple hot sandwiches or hot soups or chili cooked daily to those needing to eat.  It carried plumbing supplies to keep you from having to drive the 15 miles to the city to buy a tiny item that may have cost $.25 cents, it carried animal feed and tons of other things every homeowner needed.

               The Mom of this operation had picnic tables both inside and outside the store where you could sit and talk to others, like yourself, who just needed an item or two or saw someone they had been wanting to kibitz with and sat and talked a spell.

               To help the hunters who came there to check-in their deer or turkey kills, she took care of that as well as took pictures of the hunters with their prize kills and sent the pictures to the local newspaper and put a copy of the picture on her large bulletin boards inside the store which after a few years contained hundreds of pictures. Some of these hunters came from 50 miles away just to check their deer kills at this little store.

                 To entice the younger crowd to come inside, there were pool tables where they could hone their skills. One small feller would come swaggering inside with his personally purchased cue stick after supper to play for a while.  He was the only one to bring in his prize cue stick he had ordered, and was so proud of, to tempt the older boys into playing against him.  With his small size it was easy for him to play dumb and beat the tar out of the bigger guys.  His reward was the bigger guys had to pay the quarter for him to play the next game, then he would just swagger back out of the store and go home.

               That store is no longer open.  Neither are the stores in other areas of the county.  Many have become classy restaurants while others were either just shuttered and the buildings removed. For whatever and how it happened, all the little grocery stores, which we locals call Mom and Pops, are now a thing of the past.

               An elderly man I interviewed for the local newspaper was very tiny.  He related the story to me about a pair of shoes he had been trying to break in so the leather might soften up.  Returning inside his home he brought out the still shiny shoes he had told me about.  He had kept them polished and shined and sitting on his fireplace mantel.  Bought many years ago at another nearby store so I then had to ask him how many years he had been trying to soften that leather and he replied, “50 years.”  Another story he told me was that when he was called to be inducted into the Army, he went there and this is what they told him.  “Go back home and grow a little, we don’t have uniforms that small.”  By this time I was intrigued by what he was telling me.  I asked him how big he had been at that time and he told me he had weighed 86 pounds, so he went back home but still in his 80s he still weighed the same and was just about my own five foot height.

                This is the type of conversation that makes life in Brown County so wonderful.  You could almost name everyone you saw and a lot of these conversations took place in one of these small community Mom and Pop stores.

               But about 10 years ago, something changed.  I’m not sure what it was that stripped this type of store of its aura. Maybe the big box stores or the strip mall stores caused it, I do not know. I do know that between State Road 46 East to State Road 135 South, all the way down through 3 more entire townships in Brown and Jackson County, and beyond State Road 50 for a good ways, there was not one of the Mom and Pops left.  You could drive about 35 miles and not be able to purchase a loaf of bread or a stick of gum. 

               A new Dollar General Store opened along State Road 135 in Freetown, which lies south of Van Buren Township in Brown County.  My husband went inside to purchase a couple of items we needed and to look over the new store right after its opening.  He came out with a handful of items.  At that point I urged him to go back inside and tell them they might consider offering bread and milk and such.   When he went back inside to tell them my idea, the clerk took his arm and walked him to a part of the store which showed him not only those items but a fairly large section containing frozen and fresh foods.  What a blessing that was to so many. It cuts off about 20 miles driving each way for us to go to a grocery store in Jackson County.

               There was a general store in Story Indiana where my husband’s family, and we ourselves lived for 20 years after our marriage, and from where that pair of shoes for the elderly man had been purchased.  It has been turned into a gourmet restaurant, wine tasting venue. They eventually bought the entire little town except for one home and turned it into an exclusive Bed and Breakfast.

               Other little grocery stores have been maintained in the northern part of Brown County.  Some are still regular little eateries or groceries.  At least one in a town that doesn’t even have a sign to designate its name, began life in an old delipidated but renovated farmhouse and serves wonderful fresh entrees and salads and sandwiches.  Gatesville store was torn down and a new one built across the road and Is a popular place to grab a bite to eat. Gnaw Bone has space for gas, groceries and fast food cooked on the premises.  (Don’t you love some of our town names?  I do.)

               The loss of these Mom and Pops are a sore loss to this county.  Now not every place you walk into, even though you may have lived in Brown County all your life, there probably won’t be a soul inside who can call you by your own name.

               Farewell old friends.


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