Tucked in rural hamlets and along country roads, the American general store was a central part of daily life long before the arrival of the automobile. Farmers and locals gathered to load up on dry goods and share news with neighbors.
Today, people wander the worn wood floors in search of timeless souvenirs.
Some of these Americana institutions have turned into post offices and museums listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while others entice patrons by adding bakeries, delis, and live music.
Texas’s Gruene General Store lures visitors with its Norman Rockwell-style soda fountain, five-cent coffee, and penny candy. Good Hart in northern Michigan ships homemade pot pies, complete with a heart-shaped vent cut out in the middle. M. Crow & Co. in Lostine, Oregon, features handcrafted items—from cutting boards to “marshmallow and weenie sticks”—and an experimental brewery.
But local jams and rock candy aside, the best part of general stores may be the sense of community they create.
“People sit and talk to each other, kids play outside, and the morning coffee hour solves the world’s problems,” says Good Hart owner Carolyn Sutherland. “We like to think we’re the original social network.”
This piece, written by Susan O’Keefe (on Twitter @sokeefetrav), appeared in the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.
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