At the feed store
Rapid City has been, for many years, a regional shopping center. When we lived in North Dakota, we would occasionally make the 300 mile round trip to Rapid City to purchase things that weren’t available in our small town. In those days, I enjoyed walking around the shopping mall, and going to Radio Shack and Target for items that you couldn’t get in our town. Sometimes we’d take in a movie, something that we couldn’t do at home. The world is changing, however, and these days people who live in small towns can buy whatever they want online and have it delivered to their homes. Big Box stores have begun to dominate retail shopping. Shopping malls are empty and looking for tenants. Rapid City is still a regional center, but many of the people who drive in to the city from the surrounding countryside have come for medical care.
Over the years as things changed, I learned to get most of the things we wanted and needed from the stores in Rapid City. I wasn’t a fan of the big box stores, but found myself shopping at Lowes and Menards for lumber and paint and sometimes for hardware. Their prices were lower than the hardware store. I used to joke that when Runnings moved to the old Sam’s Club warehouse that I only needed to go to two shops in Rapid City. Since Runnings sold clothes and food, I could get by with them and Harbor Freight. Of course that wasn’t true. The food selection at Runnings was pretty small, mostly snacks.
Our here the shopping patterns were different. The regional center is Seattle, a very large city with all kinds of offerings including shopping, dining, entertainment, sports and much more. The outlying communities developed regional specialties, including outlet malls, with discount prices on name brands. Mount Vernon focused mainly on small shops and main street businesses while just across the river Burlington sought to attract more chain and big name businesses.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered shopping and how people obtain goods. While local businesses are suffering from a lack of shoppers, online businesses are growing by leaps and bounds. We see the UPS, Amazon Prime, FedEx and USPS vans going up and down the streets and making their deliveries. Many local businesses offer curbside service. People order online or over the phone and drive by and pick up their purchases without going into the stores.
Still, I have discovered a few places to obtain the items we need. We have joined a local food coop that has a good grocery store in down town Mount Vernon. I’ve found two big box hardware, lumber and home improvement stores, Lowes and Home Depot. I refer to them as the blue store and the orange store. There is an Ace Hardware store near our house. And I’ve made one trip to Tractor Supply, a place that despite its name sells more clothing than parts for tractors. I went there to get a pair of waterproof boots for mucking about on our son’s farm and visiting the beach in the winter.
One of my favorite stores in the area, much like the Runnings Store in Rapid City, are called Country Stores. There is one near our home and I’ve found others in some of the other small towns in the area. The stores are retail outlets for farm cooperatives and sell everything from propane to hardware to clothing and toys. These kinds of stores remind me a bit of my father’s business. My father came to our home town to start a flying business and he became the airport manager and operated an airplane dealership and repair shop. He offered lessons and charter services and flew crop spraying. He did game counts for fish and game and contract work for the National Forest and Yellowstone National Park. He flew fire patrol and did anything else he could think of to make his business work. As his family grew and after a health scare, he decided to diversify and purchased a farm machinery dealership. Big Timber Farm Supply had a John Deere tractor franchise and sold Purina Chows in the feed warehouse. We sold tires and batteries and parts and supplies. About half of the business was repair and service work in the big shop behind the store.
Yesterday I ran across a picture of the front of the store as it was back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. You can see the signs for John Deere and Farmhand machinery. There is a General Tire sign as well and one for Purina Chows. If you look closely at the storefront, you can see that there are bicycles for sale in the showroom. I know from growing up around the business that there was a good display of toys another of knives and a huge stock of bolts, nuts and general hardware. We sold fencing supplies and farm chemicals and salt blocks and feed for any type of livestock. You could buy tools and shovels and rakes and gloves.
The modern general service farm stores remind me of that business. The one difference I notice is that all of those stores today sell a lot of clothing. We didn’t have anything except caps and gloves and the caps were generally given away, not sold.
I know that part of what touches my nostalgia about farm stores is the smell when you walk through the store. There is always a bit of dust from the feed sacks, which though more tightly sealed than the sacks in our warehouse decades ago, still occasionally develop a leak. The stores, like my father’s business, are kept clean, but there still is a distinct farm smell to the places.
Of course, I don’t need most of the things they sell in those stores. I have to think up an excuse to go to them. But occasionally I find some item of hardware or even a bit of clothing that I want and each trip is not just an opportunity to make a purchase, but also a trip down memory lane for me.