No pop bottle was safe when I was a kid growing up in
Huntington in the 1960s. Returnable cola
bottles were tangible to all local young boys and a very precious
commodity. People around the
neighborhood put their empty bottles on their back stoops at their own
peril. At two cents apiece, it was cold,
hard cash in our grubby little hands. If you could come up with three or five
bottles, you could cash them in for another pop and money left for penny candy;
three for a penny if you were frugal.
Marion “MJ” Elmore, along with his wife Estelle, owned and
operated Elmore’s Grocery on Huntington’s Main Street. MJ was a formidable
adversary to a youngster who was bartering for treats. He made us make sure all bottles were clean
of any dirt and debris and, if he accepted a bottle, we had to sort them into
the right cartons ourselves. But, after some wheeling and dealing, candy was
placed in a small brown paper bag and we’d emerge victorious with the spoils of
MJ and Estelle opened their first store in 1939. After moving the store up to five times in
the next several years, they settled in the middle of the south side of the
street where they would stay for close to forty years.
When you stepped up to the store, a large, square granite
stone sat near the screen door. It was
the cornerstone to the Huntington School.
MJ had purchased the property and had the building removed. The old cornerstone was there as an ignored
rock to those of us too young to remember to care. Walking into the narrow and long building
created an eye overload! Almost every
space was utilized for customers to purchase.
A center counter in a U-shape was the location of the old cash register
with button levers that announced the price as a white metal number jumped up
into the glassed box on the top of the register. It was thrilling to see. Small items including cigarettes, cigars and
matches were on the back of the counter and beneath for adults to
purchase. If MJ knew your parents, he’d
sell them to you, even though you were too young. Sometimes kids would take advantage of that.
On each side of the room stood high shelves holding
non-perishable boxes and cans of food for shoppers to choose from. I only remember there being one, maybe two,
grocery carts for shopping. A meat
counter was on the right: a long, heavy porcelain cold storage box with glass
front and back that displayed different meats and cheeses. A slicer would be used to cut some meats
before being weighed and packaged in white butcher paper and tied with string
that hung from a large roll above our heads.
Some meats and cheeses were cut by hand with a huge butcher knife. Half-moon, cheddar cheese with a bright red
wax rind was a delicacy to me and was known as ‘Rat Cheese”.
Two long shelves with about three-levels filled up the center
of the store. The packaged bread was
just across from the butcher table.
Candy bars and penny candies were on the other section of shelves,
easily watched by the owners to keep the young ones honest. The Coke box was in the rear. It was a box with long, stainless steel doors
that opened up on either side where customers made their choices. Our cleaned and sorted soft drink bottles
were neatly stacked in appropriate cases on the far side of it.
There was a rarely used double-back door that led to the
alleyway. A small kitchen was in the
back corner for the Elmore family to use while working. You really had to be sneaky to get that far
in the store!
MJ’s brother Joe and wife Eula moved home from California in
1970 and joined MJ in the business. By
1973, MJ and Estelle decided to retire and sold their half of the business to
Joe. Not much changed by the look of the
store but I remember how Joe would sell to customers on credit, writing the
money owed on a ticket book and having the customer sign the receipt. His copy stayed in the book and you got a
copy for yourself. When you paid the
bill owed, he’d rip out the tickets from the little receipt books, staple them
together and give them to you. There’s
no telling how many people in the area would have gone hungry had they not
allowed the people those credit sales.
Elmore’s Grocery was always busy. You never went in without passing old
gentlemen visiting on the sidewalk or people gathered in the store passing the
time of day. These were good old days, for sure.