TOP O' THE MORN: Local stores had stock in town

In Oak Harbor, before our friend the U.S. Navy arrived, there were a number of home-owned grocery stores. Maylor’s was the oldest, having been in business some 40 years, selling everything from postage stamps to hardware along with groceries and calico.

Joe Maylor lived in a dignified white house with a lawn that sloped down to the street and was surrounded by a wrought iron fence.

One night the genial grocer was returning home after a long day’s work, carrying the store’s cash in a bag. In the dark, someone struck Maylor on the head and snatched the money. No one ever discovered who robbed the grocer. Maylor wasn’t badly hurt except for knowing that a whole day’s receipts were missing.

It was the first such felony on record for the town of Oak Harbor.

Oak Harbor Producers’ Cooperative had four departments: Groceries; dry-goods and clothing; hardware; feed. Some co-op managers we remember were Mac McEachren, who also served as the town mayor, Geert Zylstra and Chris Ernst. Nice people.

The co-op was sold to Reke Zylstra and Arend Balster in the 1950s, and later became Pioneer Department Store (where Old Town mall is today). There was Andy’s Grocery next to Oak Harbor Tavern, Barney’s Groceries and later Ken Jensen’s on the waterside of West Pioneer, and Yorke Dyer’s Red and White Store.

Eggs, along with just about any other farm product, were traded for groceries in those Great Depression days of no money. One Coupeville resident whose parents kept a store told how a lady came each week with cottage cheese, for which there was little or no market. Not wanting to turn her down, his mother served the family cottage cheese every Friday night. That was supper. Cottage cheese. To this day he cannot look at cottage cheese.

We recall how we went to the grocery store with a list, and the clerk produced each item from shelves behind the counter and placed them in our bag, sparing us from the effort of selecting our own groceries and bagging them. In earlier days, deliveries were made to homes each afternnoon via horse and buggy.

In the days when a pound of butter cost 42 cents and a five-pound sack of flour cost 25 cents, great hullabaloo went on about the imminent invasion of American buying power called chain stores.

Chain stores were evil. It meant the end of the small grocer who looked out for the needs of the community, even offering credit to families he knew would never be able to pay.

One grocer, whose father started a grocery store in the 1890s, was outraged that a chain store might come into his community with better prices for better-looking food and force him out of business.

He believed that ultimately the standard of living of the average working man’s family would be lowered because of low wages paid to chain store employees.

Personal interest, personal service, personal delivery, around-the-corner convenience and credit were not to be sneezed at. Chain store profits were spent almost any place but in small towns, local grocer said.

But so it went. Chain stores moved in, and local grocers turned to selling other items, or closed shop. Such was the metamorphosis from tiny town to busy hub of commerce.

Today, in certain towns, one may place orders for groceries from the impersonal-personal computer. Our dream is that the computer will take the list, fill it, deliver the groceries and place each item where it belongs — on a shelf, in a cupboard, in an icebox — in our home.

Dorothy Neil has been writing and recording local history for more than 50 years. Her books and columns chronicle local life and times.

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