In the late 19th
and early 20th
centuries, the general store is central to business and life in many communities. Here, farmers and villagers purchase food and manufactured goods that are not otherwise available – hardware and tools, furnishings, textiles and clothing, medicines, groceries, jewelry and candy. Shelves and showcases teem with goods. The scents of spices, coffee, fruit and cheese mingle with the odour of kerosene and cod liver oil.
General storekeepers act as the middlemen between traveling salesmen or other urban wholesalers and customers. Sometimes shoppers haggle over the price of items to save a few cents. Many rural people buy on credit and keep an account open at the general store. At the end of the fall, farm families might purchase winter staples such as flour, peas, sugar and beans and agree to pay in the springtime with money raised from logging or the new crop of maple syrup. They might even pay the following summer or fall with vegetables from the garden or meat from slaughtered animals. Occasionally, farmers have to trade property or livestock to pay off their debts with the store.
The general store is also an important meeting place for the community. Men, women and children gather at the store to chat with each other and with the storekeeper. In summer, people sit outdoors on benches, while in the winter, men congregate around the wood stove, playing checkers, telling stories, or arguing about politics.