LINCOLN AND THE GENERAL STORES AT NEW SALEM
. . . General stores in
appearance were similar to each other. Their exterior resembled a one
or two level house with a door in the center and two windows on each
side with steps leading up to a porch. The shopkeeper and his family
usually lived on the second floor.
. . . Stores offered an enormous variety of articles, including
household items, hardware and farm equipment. Customers found household
staples such as coffee, tea, spices, molasses, grains, dairy products
and locally grown produce. Children delighted in the tempting jars of
candy and long licorice whips kept by the front counter.
. . . The store itself consisted
of a large room with a wide open area where a wood-burning stove and
chairs or stools bade welcome to customers and passerby alike.
. . . Merchandise was displayed on shelves behind
a great wooden counter where the shopkeeper could assist the customer
and hand items. The counter sometimes displayed goods to help customers
decide on what to purchase.
. . . In addition to providing
needed merchandise, the general store also provided services not
available elsewhere. These might include serving as a tavern, issuing
marriage licenses, offering a telephone, and, with the shopkeeper as the
local postmaster, serving as a post office.
. . . A pound of flour, a pound
of sugar, a bag of nails and a coffin. What else can I get for you
today, Mrs. Jones?” This shopping list might sound a bit strange, but
general stores carried a bit of everything and made living in pioneer
farming communities easier.
. . . The general store also was the place to go
for news and gossip. The friendly atmosphere of the general store made
people feel like part of one big family where everybody knew everybody
else in town.
. . . One of the most important
services the general store provided to its customers was a system of
credit which began in the 19th century. The credit system was developed
mainly because money was scarce in rural area. Because patrons of the
store were farmers and their families, the shopkeeper had to hope that
the year would yield a good crop so his customers could make payments.
. . the general store offered home delivery.
“For fifty cents your purchases were delivered right to your door.”
. . . Lincoln had a wonderful
time working at the store. He talked and joked for much of the time. He
often told very entertaining stories, but, unfortunately, they usually
kept the customers from buying anything. Most of the time, Lincoln read
or was wrapped up in politics. One historian wrote that, "sometimes,
intending purchasers found him [Lincoln] not in the store at all, and
had to call him from the wayside, where he was sprawling in the grass,
covering a wrapping paper with problems in mathematics." Another
historian concluded, "he had little aptitude for business; he was not a
1842 Abraham Lincoln moved from New Salem to Springfield to practice
his new-learned law. He would marry Mary Todd in 1844.
New Salem intersection-- Second
Lincoln-Berry Store back right
. . . Lincoln was always very
honest, just as legend says. He did not exaggerate the truth or make a
customer want to buy something unnecessary. He always made sure to tell
customers that they would regret the whiskey or tobacco that they were
thinking of buying. Lincoln told customers when the quality of a
particular product was not very good. If he ever made a mistake in money
or weight, he walked for miles to give the customer his correct change
or amount of something.