Sturdy oak rocking chairs beside a pot-bellied stove, shelves generously filled with the needs of farm families, and, more than anything else, Mrs. M.M. Shepherd herself, accounted for the popularity of Shepherd’s store.
Susan Frances Patton Shepherd had had no experience as a merchant, nor had her three daughters and a son left her time to spend in her husband’s store. But when he died in 1929, only a month after moving the business from the old Drake’s store on First Avenue East and Main Street to a site a block-and-a-half north, Mrs. Shepherd had no choice but to take charge, and for sixteen years she offered merchandise that satisfied a multitude of needs.
For women there were cotton prints, wool & silk, and shoes suitable for Sundays as well as those for everyday wear. For men she carried work clothes and semi-dress pants and jackets, and especially for farmers the ever-popular work shoe claiming to be “Stronger than the Law.” Often she fitted a child’s shoe measurements marked on a stick or to the outline of a foot drawn on a piece of cardboard.
Spools of mercerized cotton sewing thread were displayed on dispensers, and a glorious aroma from Kenny’s High Grade coffee, freshly ground with a particular green coffee bean and brewing on the pot-bellied stove pervaded the entire store. There were staples and canned meats, and cheese and soda crackers for people to stay their appetites on the long ride home. From Balfour Mills Mrs. Shepherd brought in sheeting forty inches wide, and for ten cents a yard she sold it to women who sewed a flat-felled seam between two widths and hemmed the sides, making their own sheets at very little cost.
During the years of the Great Depression there were times Mrs. Shepherd didn’t collect enough money in the course of a day to bother locking it in the cash register overnight, and certainly not in the store’s huge metal safe. Instead, she secreted it underneath a pile of merchandise. In many cases she was obliged to give credit, and bills were never sent, for she knew the people would pay when and in what manner they could.
One customer who came regularly on summer Saturdays brought two cups of shelled butter beans, which she had figured were worth fifty cents. Mrs. Shepherd gave her fifty cents worth of credit, and the family remembers eating butter beans at Sunday dinner for as long as the season lasted.
With another customer who felt the pinch of hard times, Mrs. Shepherd made a deal. The woman crocheted centerpieces and her son needed shoes. Mrs. Shepherd swapped the shoes for a centerpiece, and for the satisfaction of knowing the little boy was shod for another winter.
Shepherd’s store was a gathering place for men and women from the four corners of the county. Mrs. Shepherd’s unflagging cheerfulness prompted women to tell their husbands to go on and do what they had to do, “but I’m a-gonna set wi’ Miz Shepherd awhile.” As time permitted, Mrs. Shepherd joined in the conversation of the women rocking by the pot-bellied stove. On bitter-cold days, men came in from the street to warm themselves before going on. Once one of them dozed by the fire, and when he woke, Mrs. Shepherd asked, “What’s going on out in the world today?” “Waal,” the man drawled, “they’s people a-dyin’ who ain’t never died before.” And he left the news at that.
Excerpt from ‘Shepherd’s Store; a Legend in its Own Time,’ from “Remembering Henderson County: a legacy of lore,” by Louise Howe Bailey, The History Press, 2005
Louise Bailey (1915-2009) loved telling stories of the people and places of Henderson County, NC, and chronicled its history in weekly newspaper columns and nine books. After earning her biology degree at Winthrop College in South Carolina and later graduating from Columbia University in New York with a degree in library science, Bailey got to know the poet Carl Sandburg. She worked as an assistant to Sandburg, typing up the manuscript for his first and only novel, “Remembrance Rock”. But Henderson County residents got to know Bailey through her weekly column, which ran in the ‘Times-News’ for 42 years.