New Feature “Looking Back” Reminisces of Days Gone by in Rhea County
Whatever became of the old-time grocery stores? The answer of course is obvious. It was replaced by the new and modern supermarkets. But once upon a time, down on the corner of Market Street and Florida Avenue, there stood one of those old-time grocery stores.
Sanitary Grocery, owned and operated by Myrtle Hutchins, opened in September of 1944. She brought with her a lot of grocery experience having worked at a couple of grocery stores and at Gibson’s restaurant, but the most important thing she brought was her love for people.
At one time during an interview Miss Myrtle, as she was known to all, stated that she never knew an eight hour workday. She began working at the age of 15. Miss Myrtle had the store open every morning at 7 am until 7 pm. The store was open Monday through Saturday. Miss Myrtle once stated, “It was hard work, but it was something she enjoyed”.
The environment in Myrtle’s store was very relaxed, so relaxed in fact that one could often find customers behind the counter serving themselves. Needless to say, but most proprietors of small-town grocery stores could not compete with the modern supermarkets of that era. But Myrtle was never one to feel threatened at all. As she proudly pointed out one day, “Why, it hasn’t affected my business a bit”. You see this is a neighborhood grocery store and she still had many of the same customers that she had when she first started business back in 1944.
Upon entering the Sanitary Grocery Store, it was almost like walking through a time machine. With no modern conveniences, such as air-conditioning, Myrtle’s store instead had screen doors and low hanging ceiling fans. There was no central heat either. During the winter, everyone centered around the old potbellied stove which sat in the middle of the floor.
Miss Myrtle operated for years and never had any of those snappy new computerized cash registers. Instead, she had an old antique cash register and scales that came along with the store when she bought it from the late Fulton Able in 1944.
The little store had been well preserved, you would often wonder what changes if any had ever taken place during the 34 years that Miss Myrtle operated her business there. Well, Miss Myrtle once stated “Yes, there have been some changes over the years. We, at one time, sold live chickens, they were kept in a coop outback”.
An often told story was that one day an inspector came to the store. He asked Miss Myrtle to see the license for the store. It was reported that she told him “We have every kind of license available on the wall but a marriage license”. She asked him if he wanted to help her get one of them too. According to Miss. Myrtle, the inspector never came back again.
Myrtle’s sister, Ogle Hutchins, often helped out at the store. It was not hard to see the charming affection and admiration the two sisters felt for one another.
Myrtle had seen a number of changes take place in Dayton over the years. “During my lifetime, Dayton has grown by leaps and bounds”, says Miss Myrtle. “Why there was a time when I knew everybody in this town and what they were doing.”
It was very obvious that Myrtle loved her job and loved what she was doing. If you are a part of the generation that remembers the small red brick store, then you have some treasured memories of this wonderful little place. For those of you that unfortunately are too young to remember this icon, it sat on the corner below Robinson Manufacturing Company where the fountain is today.
Students often described Miss Myrtle as a soft-spoken older lady who always had a smile on her face. We all remember that Myrtle specialized in penny candy. There were glass cases in a circle all around store. In these cases were every kind of candy you could possibly imagine. For a quarter, you could get 25 different kinds of candy. If candy wasn’t your thing, you could always opt for an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.
Students would make their way into Myrtle’s both before and after school. However, don’t be caught in the store during the day if you were cutting class! Because Miss Myrtle would oblige you by picking up the phone and calling the school and reporting you to the principal. Well perhaps not if it was the first time, but if the student made a habit of it, she would not hesitate to call and report them.
As students grew older and they entered high school, they graduated from Myrtle’s penny candy and RC Cola to the soda fountain all the away up town at Robinson’s Drugstore.
The store closed and Myrtle retired in November 1978. On the evening she closed the store for the last time, Dayton resident George Revels and Margie Bishop were her very last customers.
Sadly, Miss Myrtle Hutchins and another relative were killed in an automobile accident just two years after her retirement on a rain slicked road near Morgantown.
The little store has long been gone from the corner, but Myrtle’s smile and her little old-fashioned red brick store will always be in our memories.
If you have old documents, photos or historical stories relating to Rhea County or it’s citizens that you would like to share, please contact the Contributing Editor Below.