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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The importance of the company store in a mill town

Illustrating the importance of the company store to a mill town, Parker recalls that following a visit from some auditors, the store where she worked stopped extending credit to mill workers. The workers were upset; they relied on credit to buy their groceries, or on the store's goods for bartering. The arrival of cars allowed mill workers more options.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, what was the upshot of bringing in the auditors? What happened?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, as a result Mr. Smith retired. That's when Baxter Young was brought in as manager. He's the one that ran the cafè down there. And then that's when they remodeled the store and put in the self-service grocery, and did away with charging where groceries were concerned.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
You couldn't charge groceries any more?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
No. And that was an uproar too.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
What was the reaction to that?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
To the people?
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Yes.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, they didn't like it. See, they had never had anything like that around here. These supermarkets were just more or less starting.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
So the people really just expected the store to take care of them, fulfill all their needs?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Truly, they did to a big extent.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
And most of the people in Cooleemee would have bought virtually everything they needed right there at the store?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, you see, at that time they didn't have the opportunity (like going to Salisbury and that kind of thing) to buy. Then later, you know, when they were making better money and all and they could have cars and that kind of thing, well, you see, then that took a lot away from the store. But at one time the store was what they had to depend on, outside of calling [Mocksville?].
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, did the store buy vegetables and things like that from local people to resell?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Yes. Sometimes people would bring in eggs and that kind of thing and trade it, see.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
So you could barter with the store?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
That's right. And, like, J.C. Sell, we always had a big ad in the Cooleemee Journal. But Mr. Sell really, in turn, spent that money in the store.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
I see, OK. Did a lot of people barter?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, it would be people who had farms, I guess, mostly. But I don't guess it was anything for the people to come in with eggs and things like that. Then they'd give them a slip of paper, you know, and then they'd turn that in, and of course in turn that paper came back to our office—just like buying anything else.