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The Boots Pickett's Grocery at Greenwood

Hopkins County

by Robert G. Cowser
Robert G. Cowser

In 1935 J. W. (Boots) Pickett bought a store formerly owned by A. W. Knotts. The building was a frame structure with a metal roof. Iron bars were placed across the only window at the front of the store. The store had electrical power furnished by a co-operative corporation in Greenville. At some point after 1935 a room was constructed on the east side of the original building. That room was used to store sacks of feed for livestock and chickens. The sacks were made of cotton with a variety of patterns. Women sometimes accompanied their husbands who went to the store to buy feed so they could choose the particular pattern on the feed sacks. It took at least two to make a house dress.

There was a container of kerosene on the back porch of the building. Irish potatoes were available to be used in sealing the spigots after the customers had filled their cans with kerosene. The potato prevented the kerosene from spilling when the customer carried the can away.

Customers who did not have power bought kerosene for lighting their homes, and a few used it for heaters. Those residents who lived on the main road to Saltillo had electrical power furnished by the Greenville Co-Operative Corporation. Those who lived along the road north to Old Saltillo and those who lived south of Greenwood did not get power until 1947. Since the store had power, Pickett was able to sell ice cream cones, five cents per dip. Pints of vanilla or strawberry ice cream from Johnson's Ice Cream in Sulphur Springs were also available.

Four States Wholesale Grocers delivered many of the grocery items. The driver of the truck, who came two or three times a week, became a source of information for the men gathered at the store. The information ranged from the amount of damage a windstorm produced at another community in the county to the developments in a murder trial in Sulphur Springs. Pickett drove to Sulphur Springs at least once a week to collect the bags of feed his customers needed. It was common for two or three men to hitch a ride to Sulphur Springs when Pickett made these junkets. Most in the community did not own a car.

Six days a week and on Sunday mornings for a brief time Pickett's Grocery was open. At the back of the store was a wood-burning heater where men often gathered on winter mornings. In the summer they often sat under the portico at the front of the store, sitting on upended Coca-Cola crates or squatting Indian fashion on their haunches. Most of the men smoked, rolling their own cigarettes with thin tissue paper and Prince Albert tobacco. The red tobacco cans were a common item in the junk piles in ditches in the community. Some of the men chewed tobacco. Bull Durham was a favorite brand.

A few women came to the store, though they rarely sat down. It was customary for the men to buy the staples: flour, corn meal, sugar, and shortening, though most rendered their own lard from the hog each one slaughtered in the fall.

The candy case stood near the entrance to the store and provided such standard bars as Milky Way, the Three Musketeers, and Mounds. Each of these cost five cents; the small box of marshmallows sold for fifteen cents per box. Also available were peanut patties from a factory in Greenville. Across the aisle from the candy case was the refrigerated chest that held the bottles of Coca-Cola, R. C. Cola, Pepsi Cola, as well as Nehi orange soda and cream soda. Each bottle cost five cents. A punch board was avalilable on occasion. A customer could choose a name or a number, pay 10c and punch out a circle on the board. The winner did not learn of his good fortune until all of the circles on the board had been plurchased. The prize was either a dollar or a pound box of chocolates.

After a customer told the clerk the particular item he/she wanted, the clerk retrieved that item from the shelf behind him and placed it on the counter. Usually, the clerk used a pencil and pad to calculate the total amount of the goods. Homer Osteen was one of the first clerks Pickett hired. After Osteen moved to Saltillo, Pickett hired Homer Fuller, who worked in the store for at least fifteen years. Pickett's wife Adele occasionally helped customers. Most sales required cash, but credit was extended to some customers.

One could bring eggs to the store to exchange for merchandise. If under a special light the egg revealed a chick's embryo inside, it was rejected. It was not unusual for customers to take home a fourth or more of the eggs they had brought.

Two pumps at the front of the store provided gasoline; a clerk or Pickett himself pumped the gasoline. The price ranged from twelve or fourteen cents per gallon up to eighteen cents. It was unusual for a customer to buy more than a dollar's worth.

Pickett had mechanical skills. At some point in the early '40s he built a shop on a plot southeast of the grocery. There he repaired cars, trucks, and sometimes tractors. It was not unusual for him to return to the shop after the evening meal so that he could continue with a repair job. On most evenings the store was open for customers who could not come earlier. The shop was also used as a polling station on days of the Democratic primary and general elections. The few Republicans in the community did not hold a primary. Pickett was in charge of the elections.

Thanks to Boots Pickett and his helpers, Pickett's Grocery provided essential service to the community.

Robert G. Cowser
January 17, 2022

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