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.
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.
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.