History Of The General Store And Trading Post

How The General Store Started

The concept of the general store can be traced back to the original trading posts. These stores were located on trade routes in the early 19th century. Besides trading and the bartering of goods and supplies, trading posts were also places for people to meet to exchange local and worldly news in a time when newspapers did not exist. Trading posts were very common in the early settlements of the United States for the fur trade.

For many communities, they were the main, and sometimes only place in town to find everyday goods. In these small communities, general stores also served as social spaces. People gathered to socialize, get the town gossip, or receive mail and important information from the nearest city.

Trading Post


The village shop is a retailer located in a small town or a rural area. The store carries a broad selection of merchandise in a relatively small space. People come into town to purchase all their essential household goods. 

The general store was way more than just a retail outlet. They served to support the local community and for socialization.

Today you will see many of the trading post stores in many summer camps and RV parks. They provide a place to buy snacks, essential items, and souvenirs.

The Downfall Of the General Store

The general store was dominated and pushed out by the competition of a more modernized version of itself, the convenience store. The modern convenience store offers convenience over identity and little opportunity for socializing. These stores support the hectic lifestyle in today's society. 

 Abandoned General Store

Due to the growth of the suburbs and the growth of big box stores and online retailers, there are far fewer general stores in operation than there once were. During the first half of the 20th century, general stores started to slowly disappear. From the 1960s through the 1990s, many small, specialized retailers were phased out by big box wholesale retailers. 

These types of stores were large enough to carry the best-selling goods, such as sporting goods, hardware, or toys. Today even more are being phased out because of the large online retailers selling mass-produced imports and poorly made products.

Abandoned General Store

The Products And Services Offered In The General Store

When visitors entered the store, they were met with dim lights, long counters, rounded glass showcases, shelves, drawers, and a wide variety of bins. Items such as buggy whips, horse harnesses, lanterns, pails, ropes, and more hung from the ceiling. Produce, nuts, beans, and nails were stored in bins, usually on the floor or against a wall.

Shelves contained food, fabric, sewing necessities, household items, soaps, medicines, spices, crockery, dishes, cartridges, and small farming equipment. Generally, there were no side windows, contributing to the dark interior. Normally there was a post office tucked into the rear of the store. Some of the general stores would be the local pharmacy. 

The front porch of a general store

The countertops would include stacks of overalls, denim and khaki pants, candy jars, tobacco, and many other products. In the front of the store, you would find the cash register, a coffee mill, scales for weighing groceries and nails, and a seed display. All the countertops would be filled with general merchandise, leaving only enough room for purchasing and bagging the items.

Between the shelves and all the items sitting on and below the counters, visitors would find a pot bellied stove surrounded by chairs, a coal bucket, and a even checkerboard. The stores encouraged their customers to stay and the children a place to try out the newest toys. In the middle passageways, barrels could be found that would contain pickles, crackers, potatoes, meat, candles, and candy.

Pot bellied stove

For rural families, the Saturday weekly trip to the General Store was a social setting. The children would sit in the back of the wagon, along with chickens, milk, eggs, and produce to be traded. Mom would pack a basket lunch and feed for the horses and make an entire day out of it.

Store bought items were luxuries for most farm families as money was scarce. They would rarely be purchased except for their survival needs and for special Christmas gifts. When the customers entered the store, they were met with the familiar aroma found in many country stores, a blend of ripe cheese, pickles, kerosene, produce, feed, cured meats, leather, and tobacco smoke.

Everyone looked around, perhaps picking out something they hoped for as a gift. The children pressed against the candy displays with eager smiles, featuring peppermint sticks, licorice, jellybeans, horehound, rock candy, lemon drops, and maybe some chocolate.

How The Porch Was Used To Communicate And Socialize

During warm weather, the porch also served as the social center. Men would gather on rocking chairs or the steps to talk about the weather, politics, sports, the price of crops, and more.  Life was not rushed and there was always time for their neighbors. 

General Store with Chairs

The country stores provided more than just a provider of everyday goods, services, and the post office. These stores served as the community social center, banks, community message boards, and a local forum. One might find every type of notice on the wall. These might include local events, elections, and auctions. 

The Harvest Array General Store

Harvest Array General Store

Welcome to Harvest Array. The old-fashioned general store where we offer the same variety of goods for your home but in a modern setting. 

Take a journey back into yesteryear and visit our unique general store and enjoy a slower pace in the quiet surroundings of your home.