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SPOTLIGHT
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The general store -- gone but not forgotten

Published on -1/29/2014, 10:10 AM

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Years ago, every town had one. They served as a meeting place for friends and neighbors. You could catch up on local news and wet your whistle at the same time.

This long-gone establishment was the general store. It carried candy, soda, cigarettes, gas, hardware and a few clothing items such as gloves and hats. Some even were run by a "registered" pharmacist and carried medicine for what ailed you.

In the small northwest Kansas community where I grew up, Albert Dreese owned and operated the general store. Dreese would take your shopping list, grab a brown paper bag and grope through dimly lighted aisles and the maze of store items carefully selecting and filling your order.

When Dreese returned, he'd hand my mom the bag and me a sucker or balloon before bidding us goodbye and returning to his cronies and the pitch game at the small table in the center of the store.

Dreese never rang up your bill on a computer or cash register either. He figured everything in his head, wrote it down on a small note pad and made change out of the front pockets of his trousers.

While a card game was in progress, it was up to individual players to serve themselves a soda or beer and deposit the correct change on the counter top. No interruptions please -- the game was all-important. Peanuts to munch on while playing cards were weighed on a scale and poured into a small brown bag.

During the winter, no one stoked the pot-bellied stove except Dreese because a cherry red stove would melt all of his chocolate bars, or that's what he told all the youngsters who visited his store. Why, he even ran old Mr. Reinhart out of the store one day for tampering with his stove.

Another source of entertainment in the general store was a one-armed bandit -- yep, right in the little community of Seguin. Farmers around home didn't need to travel to Las Vegas to gamble. They farmed for a living and dropped by the back room of Dreese's store. The sheriff never knew about this one-armed bandit, or so I thought.

Every so often when I had a few coins burning a hole in my pockets, Davey Thummel and I would walk down to the store and plunk down a dime for a Coke and fill it with a nickel bag of Planters peanuts.

Dreese isn't around anymore. Neither is the store. His business and others like it couldn't compete with the giant supermarkets and box stores offering lower prices and modern conveniences all under one roof.

No, Dreese's store didn't have air conditioning for those hot, northwest Kansas summer days. It didn't have air pudding (elevator) music, coupons or anything you could want, or didn't need, to entice customers from Norton, Colby, Oakley and the rest of northwest Kansas.

All Dreese had to offer was himself, a smile and dedicated service to his friends and neighbors who dropped by his small general store.

Yes, Dreese is dead, and a part of history died with him. We don't have general stores anymore. His personal touch and sincere interest in his neighbors, friends and customers has been replaced by whirling blue lights, swarming shoppers and cars, screaming kids and aisles and miles of consumer items.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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