Thursday, May 2, 2013

Russell's General Store Fifty Years Ago and Beyond

Fifty years ago, in its May 2, 1963 issue, the Walton Reporter published the following article about Russell's Store entitled "Cecil Russell Nears 45th Year In Bovina Center General Store:

    Cecil H. Russell can look around and admit that he’s pretty familiar with his surroundings.
    Mr. Russell is now in his 44th year of running one of the few genuine general stores in the area.  It is located in a neat white building in the community of Bovina Center.
    “I bought the business from Andrew Doig recalls Mr. Russell.
    On Jan. 1, 1919, he began operation of Russell’s Store.  The business had previously been operated by Tom Hastings, who operated a feed business as well as the general store, and before Andrew Doig owned it, his brother Milton was the proprietor.

Grocery Business Changed

    Business has changed through the years, says Mr. Russell who notes that he sells everything from groceries to nuts and bolts, hardware items and dry goods.
    “Sugar used to come in nothing but 100 pound and 25 pound bags, and we had to weight it up,” he reminisced.
    “At the time I started in business shredded wheat and corn flakes were about the only cold cereals.  Now I carry about 20 brands and still don’t have them all.  Corn flakes are still the best seller.”
    The only powdered soaps 44 years ago were Fels Naptha and Kirkman’s.  A third brand he still carries is Gold Dust Twins.
    “Coffee came in beans, and we had to grind it by hand,” said Mr. Russell.
    In those early days, lard came in one pound prints, but shortening, called compound then, came in a tub.  There was no Crisco or Spry in those days, he noted.

The Penny Candy

    “I think we’re about the only store where you see many penny candies.  Today they’re about half the size of what they used to be.  So are the nickel candy bars.”
    Candy is dispensed from an old time case that catches the eye of the many city boarders spending vacations on farms in the area.
    In front of the store stand modern gasoline pumps, but Mr. Russell recalls that when he first started selling gasoline, he had a one-gallon hand pump on the curb.
    “We used to sell an awful lot of yardage goods, but very few are sold now compared to those days,” remarked Mr. Russell.
    Time has wrought other changes.  There are no more than three or four families in the community now that were there when he started in business.
    “No salesman that called on me when I started in is on the road now, and quite a few of the firms from whom I did buy are out of business.”

The Salesman Cometh.

    Three of his salesmen would time their visits so they would simultaneously be in the area together.  Hardware, grocery and candy salesmen would come in on the train to Walton where they hired the late cigar munching George Pierson to take them on a tour to Andes, Bovina and Delhi.
    Mule drawn wagons brought gasoline to Bovina Center from Delhi, while groceries were hauled from Delhi by the teamsters who drew feed for the Hastings feed concern.
    “For a time I didn’t handle bread because I was told that it would get stale.  Then I started buying bread from the Hoos bakery in Delhi.  They brought in 50 loaves three times a week, and now I get about 100 a day,” stated Mr. Russell.
    Cookies came in six and seven pound boxes, and there were no cakes or pies brought in for sale by commercial bakeries as there are today.

An Old Custom

    “In the days when I first started in business all the milk was brought to the creamery with horses.  Everybody stopped at the store for groceries afterwards.  Nowadays they can run to the store in the middle of the day because they have cars.”
    The store retains many of the fixtures that were there the day Mr. Russell unlocked the door.  The check-out counter is of alternate strips of birds-eye maple and cherry, pegged and glued together.  The safe is an original fixture and the McCaskey record file is a remnant of the old days. 
    “When I first came in here, there was an old chunk stove that just burned wood.  I bought another one with grates for coal.”
    It sits there majestically, and Mr. Russell admits it is older than he.  City youngsters have taken dads by hand, pointed at the stove and asked, “What’s that?”

Born on Farm

    Born and raised on a farm, Mr. Russell farmed it until he bought the store.
    His wife and daughter, Miss Marjorie Russell help in the store, his daughter joining him 20 years ago when business increased to the point where he needed extra help.
    Like most small community businessmen, Mr. Russell has been active in Bovina Center.  He was an elder in the Reformed Presbyterian church for many years before it closed and is now an elder in the United Presbyterian church.  He has been fire commissioner for several years. 
    Asked if he planned to stay in business 50 years, his answer was, “I don’t know.  A man keeps working as long as he’s able.”

The article included the image below (click on the image to see a larger view):

The bag holder above Cecil still exists in the collections of the Bovina Historical Society


  1. I first visited Russell's in 1959 and I remember him. My family visited Suits-Us Farm each summer beginning in 1959 and we kids would catch a ride with a guest who had a car, or with one of the Rabeler's if they were going, and visit this store. I am so grateful to Bea for the excellent job she is doing in maintaining it for all our enjoyment as well as the delicious foods she fixes and sells now!

  2. Thanks for your comments. Could you contact me at and let me know who you are! Thanks.