Thanks to a childhood watching western films and TV shows, a certain image comes to mind when I think of a store in the Old West. Invariably, it's a general store with false front, multi-paned glass windows, and a wooden sidewalk, like this one...
Dry Goods and Grocery Store, Lethbridge, Alberta, ca. 1886. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-922-3)
Whether it was called a general store or mercantile, they usually carried the same assortment of groceries, dry goods, hardware, clothing, and other necessities to sustain basic life, although almost anything could be ordered in by catalog. In a farm or ranching area, the local store might be the only social gathering spot for a good many miles.
|Jos A. Cormier General Store, Flour and Feed, La Salle, Man. undated. Credit: U of A Prairie Postcards PC000552|
In larger communities, there would be an assortment of tradesmen and women working and selling in their own buildings, such as tailors, dressmakers, milliners, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, bakers, cooks, and confectioners. A town would be blessed to have a medical clinic and drug store. As well, a book and stationary store helped increase education and often contributed to the creation of a library.
|George L. Fraser's confectionery store, Stephen Avenue, Calgary, Alberta, 1884. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-1931-1)|
Living quarters above or attached to the store was often found as it cut down on expenses. Usually the business would be a family affair where children worked alongside their parents when they weren't in school. It sounds harsh, but the children learned a trade, assumed responsibility, and were in much better physical shape than most of our kids are today.
George Sanderson's Blacksmith Shop, Edmonton, Alberta, 1883. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-2317-1)
Back then, a small population meant there wasn't enough mail to warrant a building dedicated as a post office in every community. The effective solution was to use a corner in the general store, although some post offices were located in private homes. Even today, I've been in two private homes here on the prairies where the front door opens to a post office with the living quarters beyond. I knocked the first time, since it was a private home, and they smiled/laughed at my hesitation.
Durick and Warren's Store and Post Office, Golden, British Columbia, 1883. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-1931-2)
In larger towns one large building might hold two stores with a party wall between them, like this I.G. Baker and Company store in Calgary. In the Old West years, I.G. Baker and Company also had stores in Fort Calgary and Fort Macleod, Alberta, and Fort Benton, Montana, with the size dependent on the population.
I.G. Baker and Company store, Stephen Avenue, Calgary, Alberta., 1888. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-1315-11)
|Geary's Drugstore, Innisfail, Alberta, ca. 1890s. Credit: Glenbow Archives (NA-1709-11)|
As mentioned earlier, the general store often contained a corner for a small post office, such as the one on the left side of this next image. Instead of opening your box with a key, the door would have a simple dial with either numbers, or letters. The post office box doors in this image below shows what could be two dials, or one dial to unlock, and one knob to open it.
Buckingham's General Store Interior, ca. 1898. Credit: Library of Congress/Paradise Valley Folklife Project Collection (AFC 1991/021)
S.O. Grimes General Store, Westminster, Md., between 1895 and 1910. Source: Library of Congress/Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection No. 043099
My hero's emporium looks like the store in the first image of this post. For a look at some of the items that can be found inside it, as well as the inspiration for my heroine and her typewriter, you can check my Pinterest board, Novella: Love in Store.
For more information on general stores, check our own Jennifer Uhlarik's post, Old-Fashioned Mercantiles. (Today's giveaway also contains a novella by Jennifer.)
Question: Have you ever stood outside a small business, or office, with living quarters inside, and not known whether you should walk right in, or knock first? I would love if you shared your experience.
Giveaway: I'm offering one print copy of The Secret Admirer Romance Collection which contains 9 historical novellas including my own Love in Store. If you want to be entered, mention it in the comment section of this post before midnight Sunday night, April 9th.
Anita Mae Draper writes her historical romances under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Her Christian faith is reflected in her stories of forgiveness and redemption as her characters struggle to find their way to that place we call home. Anita loves to correspond with her readers through any of the social media links found at
Readers can enrich their reading experience by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories at www.pinterest.com/anitamaedraper.