From earliest days, the country store was a fixture of Alabama life. Often doubling as the community post office, it remained for generations the one place where just about everybody mingled: yeoman farmers, sharecroppers, the local gentry, teachers, preachers, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, the schemers, the scoundrels, and the saintly. If there was a second floor, it likely held a few rentable rooms and sometimes served as a meeting place for the Oddfellows or the Masonic brethren. With the coming of the automobile, the hand-cranked gas pumps out front announced an added role as the local filling station.
Through war and peace, years of lean and plenty, the country store hung on into the 1960s. Now, with half a century of waning rural life, big-box shopping malls, and a radically mobile society, the country store is going the way of regional accents and the typewriter. A few reinvent themselves, Cracker Barrel-like, as self-conscious evocations of a lost way of life. More are simply closed and abandoned as the implacability of changing times carries a venerable institution with it.
Robert Gamble, standing editor of the “Southern Architecture and Preservation” department of Alabama Heritage, is senior architectural historian for the Alabama Historical Commission.
This feature was previously published in Issue #111, Winter 2014.