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Penn’s Store, U.S. 243, Gravel Switch, circa 1883, said to be the oldest country store in America and run by the same family since 1850. The original 1843 building burned and was rebuilt in 1883. The store once served as the local post office and doctor’s office, as well as a source of food and clothing. Penn’s now sells T-shirts, herbs and craft items in addition to groceries and sandwiches. General stores existed alongside the road, serving coach riders and local residents well before the automobile age.  But as times changed, they adapted well; the improved roads and the opportunity to sell gasoline and auto accessories expanded business.  Motorists could stop at the general store for a Coca-Cola, a snack or a fill-up.

General Store, KY 461, Shopville vicinity (Pulaski County), early 20th century. This store illustrates another common store form, the overhanging front gable, which provides a covered porch. This type of building has the advantage of displaying gable signage more prominently. The Shopville store also illustrates the extent to which some stores became covered with signs, almost to the point where signs become siding. The typical general store has a gable front facing the road and a front porch much like a shotgun house.  Inside, goods are displayed on shelves lining the walls and in glass cases sitting on the counters, behind which stood the proprietor.  Most purchases were not self-serve, although the customer could help themselves to cold drinks from a cooler.  General stores frequently served as the local post office, pharmacy and bus stop.
Silver City Store, Butler County, dating to the late 19th or early 20th century. The Silver City Store has the same basic appearance as Penn’s Store and many other small general stores throughout the state, a gable front structure with a porch and a shed addition to one or more sides for storage. The automobile age brought the addition of gas pumps and parking spaces to the general store.  Signs also changed.  Companies offered pressed metal signs and window decals along with display cases as incentives to storeowners to advertise their products.  Many stores would display a large pressed metal sign advertising a cola or tobacco product above the porch, and several smaller signs on the door and walls.  The colorful graphics were intended to attract the attention of the passing motorist.   Some stores also added a larger, free-standing gasoline sign near their pumps.

By the late 1950s, shopping centers, supermarkets, malls and larger roadside stores all began to compete with the general store.   Many general stores went out of business in this period but some managed to survive by offering different stock, such as antiques and crafts, and by capitalizing on the historic quality of their establishments.

Bath County general store and gas station, U.S. 60, early 20th century.

Lee’s Market, KY 34 and 1856, Mitchellsburg, circa 1953. As late as the 1950s, general stores were still being built. Many, like Lee’s, used false fronts instead of gables, perhaps to allow more room for signage. Lee’s market mainly sells groceries and gasoline, and served as the local post office until construction of a new one across the street in the 1990s.


Last Updated 3/17/2008