R.I. landmark stocks old memories but also rings in new sales
CHEPACHET, R.I. - If there's one thing a good general store ought to have, it's a candy counter. And Brown & Hopkins, one of the country's oldest continually operating general stores, which this year celebrates its 200th anniversary in the historic Glocester village of Chepachet, has a dandy.
It's old and oak, shiny with age and use, the front molding showing the wear of generations of children straining against it to peer through the glass at trays of used-to-be-penny candy (they run 5 to 50 cents these days) such as caramel creams and flying saucers. There's a long step-up box in front that local elderly folks remember hopping up on when they were young.
"It's a fun store to run," said owner Liz McIntyre, who bought the place five years ago and lives in nearby Foster. "The floor is like a skateboard park; it's got a lot of sway in it."
The ancient, original flooring slopes toward a room that had been a former cold storage area where rusted meat hooks still poke through a plaster ceiling lined with heavy old beams. The structure is older than the business, having been built in 1799. It started life as a hattery run by a Benjamin Cozzins. In 1809, Ira Evans bought the place and started a general store; the current name comes from James L. Brown and William W. Hopkins, who bought it in 1921.
Though typical country-store wares abound, a veritable retail history lesson exists on what McIntyre calls "the wall of honor" behind the cash register, seven shelves some 30 feet long of old-time items that are not for sale, including tins, bottles, and boxes of old-fashioned items like Dr. Naylor's Udder Balm, Dr. Hess Worm Powder, Sen Sen, red-and-white combination pencils, and Hudson bug spray.
And let's not forget the original can of Grand Island Golden State Asparagus - with the asparagus still sloshing around inside. No one knows exactly how old it is. And for sure, no one wants to open it.
In the middle of the store squats an old potbelly stove, "retired but still admired," the store's website says. Shelves hold aromatic products from the Warm Glow Candle Company and tasty items from Stonewall Kitchen. A huge seller here is the Vidalia onion relish, which provides the base for a delicious dip.
Upstairs are small, sun-splashed rooms of quilts, blankets, signs, kitchenware, wall hangings and paintings, stuffed animals, and decorative pillows. Also for sale are barn board tables, Windsor chairs, hand-braided rugs, runners and chair pads, lamps, and Moda fabrics.
At the front of the store is a ledger from 1900 bearing the names and prices of inventory, including a trio of horses named Jim, Prince, and Charlie, each of which fetched $100.
Which would buy an awful lot of penny candy, these days or then. An added bonus: If you make a purchase, they ring up candy sales on an antique bell-clanging register from National Cash Register Co. And you can't put a price on that kind of nostalgia.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.