Appalachia Pap

The Rolling Store from Days Gone by


Rolling stores traveling stores in appalachia

Pap is the boy kneeling in front. The rest of the gang are his cousins:
Katie Mae, Billy, George, Duck, Johnny, and  Bobby McElrath 

These days most of us don’t even have to leave our houses to shop. All the needs and wants we have lie under our finger tips as long as we have an internet connection and an electronic way of paying.

If you decide to leave the comfort of your couch or computer desk there’s likely a wally world or something similar a short driving distance away.

Pap has always said money is one of the biggest differences between his childhood days and today’s modern world. When Pap was a boy cash wasn’t King-trade was. Its not that folks turned up their nose at hard cash, it’s just that they didn’t use it or see it as much as we do today.

Pap said in his early years only about 40 dollars a year went through his Daddy’s hands. Take a minute and think about that: how fast does 40 bucks go through our hands today? One trip out to eat with the family, half a monthly cell phone bill, or a tank of gas and its gone.

There were certainly trips to town for folks living in the out lying areas when Pap was a boy, but they were far and few between.

In a recent guest post, Eva Nell pointed out the solution to those in-between trips to town: the rolling store.

Pap said Bennett’s Rolling Store came through Brasstown about twice a week when he was a boy. The side roads, like the one we live on, were way too rough and rocky for the store truck to make it up, but most folks knew about what time they could expect the truck to be down on the main road.

The store took money and as Eva Nell mentioned you could use chickens for trade. According to Pap other items such as squirrels, hides, possums, ducks, rabbits, milk, butter, and I’m sure the list goes on, were traded on a regular basis as well. The store man might take your butter for trade and then sell it or trade it to someone on down the road.

Most families like Pap’s only needed to barter for things they couldn’t provide for themselves-like sugar, flour, salt, or coffee. But the store did have ‘tins’ of meat and other food items for folks who needed them.

The rolling stores also offered special orders. In other words if you needed something he didn’t have on the truck, you could generally place an order and in a few weeks he’d bring the item around to you.

Pap and a group of his buddies once had an especially productive squirrel hunting trip. One of them came up with the idea of trading the squirrels to the rolling store for candy.

None of the boys were used to having candy on a regular basis. Pap said he believed every boy but one, was foolish enough to eat their bounty of candy in one sitting-including him. Talk about a belly ache! Pap said after they foundered themselves, it was a good long time before they discussed trading squirrels for more candy.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2012.


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  • Reply
    June 10, 2020 at 8:58 am

    I do remember the Rolling Store! It was always such a great treat it came down our street on Arrowwood Road in the” Secret City”

  • Reply
    George Jones
    May 15, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    WOW: It’s been a long tine since I have seen that picture, wonderful memories.
    I (George) am the one in front of Katie and between Duck & Johnny. Bobby McElrath (Mary Sue Reese’ brother) is the one in the overalls in front of Billy. Thanks for the memories!

  • Reply
    May 15, 2016 at 8:53 am

    My mother grew up in Suger Grove, NC, she and a cousin walked to community store with some of their mothers eggs and traded for small dolls. I have my mothers and her story about how she got it always intrigued me as a child.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    May 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I remember the rolling store going by Granny’s house in Pulaski county Ky. Seems like it was an old school bus fitted out with divided shelves and stocked with almost any thing a rural family needed. We would get to Somerset no more than once a month and my uncle would take wheat or corn to the mill at Eubank to trade for corn meal and flour. There were also little one room stores run by some of the local farmers.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    May 14, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    That’s a handsome bunch. I bet they had a lot of fun together.
    I remember seeing a rolling store on an old western show long ago, maybe The Rifleman or something similar.
    In the country, we had a bread man and a milk man, and for a while, something was delivered that Mom had to put a sign in the window for. It was a big red “X” on a piece of white cardboard that was maybe about 10″ square. If the sign was in your front window, the guy would stop; if it wasn’t, he drove on by. I can’t remember what product(s) that was for though.
    When we lived in the city, we also had a rag man, a Watkins man, a Fuller brush man, and there was also one that filled up your bleach bottles, you had to keep the bottles. The rag man and the bleach man both drove a horse with a buckboard. And there was also the Welcome Lady who stopped by to drop off a basket of neat and useful promotional goodies from local stores and vendors when someone moved into a new house or when someone had a new baby. (Uhmmm…am I showing my age? LOL)
    Hope everyone’s having a great weekend.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Tipper, thanks for sharing your story… Like most here on BP&TA, each has its own way of bringing back memories of our own childhood… I, growing up in NE PA, Farm, Coal and Logging country, we had no rolling stores… but rather modern, so-to-speak, peddlers of the frozen food sort…Schwan’s as I recall…had a modified pickup truck with a huge freezer in lieu of bed portion of the truck. We also had the ice cream man…Mr. Tasty I think….can’t recall at the moment. Milk & butter, we purchased from the milk-man who delivered it from the town milk plant which closed in the late ’60’s or early 70’s. Til we moved to the country that is, then we went to the dairy down the road from us…. ….My Mam and Pap owned a small storefront with most the necessities and my Pap had the butcher shop in back with his smoke-house… He specialized in smoked sausage, kielbasa’s, bacon, scrapple, liver mush and head cheese… Minus the head cheese…everything was so Mmmmm mmmm good that it’ll make you wanna smack whoever was standing next to ya…!! My Mam minded the store front and on occasion when us kids got out of school would ration out our allowance in licorice whips, candy cigarettes and liquid-filled wax lips… What memories…! Dearly loved my Mam & Pop…and I sure do miss them…!
    PS …I do believe that possibly in the not-so-far-off-future that those doogaloo’s will be much more valuable than what is being circulated now as legal tender…
    just saying… “…makes you wanna just shake your head and stroll down the road mumbling to yourself…” izall…

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Although our location was different, I was one of the kids B. Ruth talked about going door to door selling blackberries. In a nearby holler a whole bunch of rich folks from Florida and up North lived. It seemed they knew each other, but it didn’t take us kids long to get to know them. They were just like us, friendly people, but with money and we sold gallons and gallons of different berries to them.
    We thought some talked a little funny, especially those from up North, but we got along very well. At Christmas time, we’d take polks of Misseltoe to ’em, us mountain boys were excellent shots and we knew where that stuff was.
    Later on in life I had a tool and die shop and worked for ESCOD
    Industries. They were from Rochester, N.Y. and loved to hear
    me talk. We had an excellent run for 13 years…Ken

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    May 13, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    OK TIPPER! That rolling store recollection shore brought out some wonderful memories from
    a whole bunch of folks! It is amazing how far we have come and how much we spend on shopping for FOOD! I think the NEW Kroger Store is going to bankrupt us. Each week the toll is twice what it use to be BEFORE we got the ‘NEW KROGER’ opened. Wish we till had the A&P
    Oh well?
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Tipper,I so enjoyed todays blog and comments,there stirring up old memory, as always thanks.God Bless.Jean

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 13, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    The rolling store derives from a much older tradition. My 4th-great uncle was James Patton of Asheville. He arrived from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia in 1783. After a year of illness, he was virtually penniless, the son of the widow of an Irish tennant farmer, but managed to borrow a mule and some trade goods. He traveled between Philadelphia and Asheville trading goods in every little town and up every holler between and was very successful at it. Eventually built a hotel in Asheville called the Eagle Hotel and later owned the hot springs in Hot Springs, NC and built a 350-room hotel there.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    When I get the opportunity for a quick break, I love to read all the follow-up comments from your Blind Pig readers. B. Ruth always has such interesting comments, and I am replying to her question–Did the Coal Camp have a “company store” and did your family use “scrip” to purchase items?
    I love the interaction with Blind Pig readers and always welcome any questions, as I enjoy sharing experiences in our Appalachia. In answer to B. Ruth’s question. Yes, we had two company stores in that little community as this goes back to the forties when the coal industry was indeed booming. One had a choice, however, to shop at the overpriced company stores, or drive to the nearest town once weekly. There one could shop at Piggly Wiggly or other chains of that time period.
    Dad was a hard working coal miner for approximately 10 years, and seemed to make a very comfortable living. However I had a thrifty Mom who was a recovering depression era child. This resulted in my being sent to those company stores only for bread or absolute necessities. Many times I recall earning a nickel or dime to go for neighbors, and absolutely loved looking around in the old company stores. They had dolls and just about anything a little girl could desire. It seems bizarre now with all the modern technology, but I recall dropping by homes on the way back and passing along messages of illness or news. Only the Mines had phones then. A Dreamsicle or Push-up would last about the length of time it took me to get back home.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Several years ago you pictured a Rolling Store over in the town of Hayesville, I think, and that was a great uncle driving that thing. I remember my parents talking about the Rolling Stores, but I don’t remember ever seeing one.
    Old Man Ferbee owned the Quarry at Nantahala and he owned a store nearby. He would lend people the items they needed and they paid him back in Doogaloo. That was his own money he created as payment. Folks couldn’t get hold of real money much in those days…Ken

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I’ve heard my Dad speak of these traveling stores. I remember the milk man coming by our house and delivering milk to the neighbors down the road, or the coffee and tea man coming by, Mom never bought from them because we ran to the grocery store once every couple weeks any way..

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    May 13, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve racked my brain for rolling stores and don’t remember seeing one.I saw people selling apples, peaches,etc. going from farm to farm.I saw raleigh salesmen with their flavorings,red liniment,and black salve.Anyone remember black salve?The one I Looked for the most was the ragman.Mom told me when I was raggedy and dirty that the ragman would get me.I never saw him either.I guess I got off subject,but this has brought back many memories. Eastern Ky. LG

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 13, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    and Cindy
    The Jewel Tea Company truck, the J R. Watkins-Herb&Spice truck and the Fuller Brush truck were driven by men who sold these products door to door, when I was a child… There were no women operating these trucks or selling products to housewives back then!
    Today women bring our packages, (UPS/FEDEX/USPS) as often as men, and whoever heard of men, in my day, selling door to door Avon or Mary Kay…….. times are a’ changing!
    You know what I miss and wish would happen today? The neighborhood child that would come to my door to sell “blackberries” like we did when we were kids! Those were the “barefoot” days!
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 13, 2016 at 11:38 am

    My grandparents always referred to the rolling store as the “peddler”!
    In your former post comments, I remembered all the various items that managed to be contained for sale in one space! My grandmother traded chickens and/or eggs toward a purchase!
    When I was in the sixth grade (1951), a rolling store came up by our house in the “Secret City”! He stopped one time! Dad said he really wasn’t supposed to come into the city and sell. Soon after that first couple of visits we didn’t see the truck again!
    I am curious? PinnacleCreek question? Did the Coal Camp have a “company store” and did your family use “scrip” to purchase items? If not, then I see the real importance of having a Rolling store come by your homes, as some coal camps were more isolated like our grandparents farms.
    Thanks Tipper,
    loved this rerun and comments.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Wow! You are right, Tipper. $40 sure doesn’t go very far today! ;

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Today’s rolling stores have UPS or FedX printed on their sides. It’s pretty far from my house to most major stores and it’s nice to have home delivery. I am very thankful for their services 🙂

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 13, 2016 at 9:52 am

    The rolling store was a big event in Choestoe. I can remember my parents buying spices, vanilla flavoring, and other items. And the first yo-yo I owned came from that rolling store. Visiting with the merchant was also a big part of the rolling store. He seemed to get to our house at mealtime, and my parents always invited “anyone” in to eat–rolling store man, postman, or any stranger who came through. We had “country fare,” but it was plentiful and well-cooked, because my mother was an excellent cook. I remember the name of one of the rolling store owncer: Mr. Kermit Jackson. He was married to a cousin on my mother’s side. Those were the days! The simplicity of our lives was broken by the monthly visit from this delightful visitor.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 9:36 am

    My favorite post, Tipper. I loved the Rolling Stores so much I wrote a story about the memory. I so wish my descendants might be able to read about those wonderful days gone by. I guess to a child it was the equivalent of an ice cream truck except Rolling Stores carried a big variety.
    As a young child I once had the great privilege of living in a Coal Camp. I suppose to my Mom it was a problem fighting coal dust and living in a little thrown together house with no insulation. My siblings and I thought it was paradise–still do. We could walk and ride up and down the road safely, throw makeshift bridges across the little creek, and play outside until dark with numerous other Coal Camp Kids. The highlight was the once weekly Rolling Store. The children would gather around excitedly squealing for soda pop or candy. A sweet little elderly lady donning a bonnet, Mrs. Mitchell, was always the first customer attended to. The Rolling Store driver would ever so patiently wait until the little lady pulled a few coins from her large apron. Only then would the driver turn his attention to the excited children and other various age customers.
    We moved away to much cleaner farm living with new adventures waiting. But those days gone by with all the exciting daily happenings in the Coal Camp were never forgotten. I recently made a visit there to take some pictures. There were still a few homes with fresh paint and some remodeling, as I am certain these were sold out when Weyeburn Coal Company closed. Mrs. Mitchell’s house was still standing, perhaps because it was a two story better built home.
    I have read stories about the sadness and poverty in Coal communities, but for the children who grew up there it was pure paradise. Fortunately, Facebook has several groups who share these beautiful memories. Thanks, Tipper, for another opportunity to read and share those priceless memories!

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    May 13, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I can remember ‘rolling stores’ coming to Peachtree. Grandma Davis and Mother would always purchase a few items, and we were lucky they bought a few pieces of stick candy.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I had not heard of “rolling stores” but we had a variety of traveling salesmen who came by on a regular basis.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    May 13, 2016 at 8:02 am

    My mom has spoken about rolling stores. I live near where all her family lived once upon a time and they came into this area. Gone are the good old days. Trains were very available starting in elkmont and working its way to knoxville with lumber, tannery products from walland. If we lived here a long time ago my husbands work used to run buses up here on the corner near our home. Gas saver! One car family! Unheard of today! People in Cades cove would go to knoxville with their produce and sell or trade for what their family needed, those days are over but glad we have people who have made sure this time in history and not forgotten!
    Carol R.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 13, 2016 at 7:46 am

    My grandmother never did drive and was a widow. So she kind of depended on the red rolling store. It was an old converted school bus. I don’t know how much of the county it covered but it is a large rural county with lots of gravel road and long distances between stores. Most of the country stores had closed and a 10-20 mile distance to a store was typical.
    I guess the days for a rolling store to work are long over because most people drive. I guess it was a transitional measure bridging the change from self-suffcient farmsteads to just living in the country and being dependent on commerce.
    But who knows, maybe there is still an opportunity of some kind there.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 13, 2016 at 6:50 am

    I remember my grandmother had the Jewel Tea man and someone who sold spices, flour and salt. They rarely went to town. It was a different life back then. It kind of makes me wonder what life will be like 50 or 75 years from now. Probably not so many stores as now with everything we need being delivered by Amazon!

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