Slow Death of a Country Store

Old Mumford Firm to Close--When C.O. White (Prop.) Gets Good and Ready

Slow Death of a Country Store
Springfield (Mo.) Leader-Press
Thurs., Aug. 15, 1963
By Lucile Morris Upton
Leader and Press Staff Writer

Reprinted with permission.

--Leader and Press Staff Photo
Clarence Oliver White, known to a wide circle of friends as "C.O.,"
stands before the general store he has operated 56 years and from
which he is considering retirement.

      One of the last and best-known of the old-time general  stores of Greene County is to be closed. Maybe not immediately, but probably before the first of the year. Known as the C. O. White Mumford Store it is something of a community gathering place, a supply center for the neighborhood, and an historical landmark.  Its good-natured proprietor has a great circle of friends and include numerous business and professional men in Springfield as well as Mumford residents. They like to visit in his store and greatly enjoy the droll wit of the proprietor. It is a group of friends that has made White reluctant to give up his store. And he isn't pinning himself down to any certain date when he confirms the report he will retire.  "I promised my children 10 years ago I'd quit," he recalls with a smile, indicating he doesn't intend to make a rush joy of retirement.  


     Asked why he is considering giving up the store at this time he said, "I want to quit before I get old, for I might not want to come over here and take care of it then."  White now is 76 years of age. He lives in a white cottage with neat ruffled curtains at the windows, across the road from his store. This country thoroughfare once was known as the Old Rockbridge Road and was on the main traffic stream from Springfield to some Douglas County communities and points in between.  The Mumford Store is on East Catalpa Street Road, reached most easily by going past the city limits on East Grand Street Road to a blacktop road that turns into the extension of Catalpa. It is 5½ miles from Springfield's Public Square. The old frame store show the wear and tear of the years and is generously stocked with long-gone sales promoters. A broad porch extends across the front of the store and here for several generations summer shade has been sought by Springfield youngsters resting from a long bicycle ride or area residents stopping to "visit a spell."

     These leisurely moments are memories treasured by many persons who have passed Old Mumford Store. White was pleased a few days ago when Dr. Waller S. Sewell of Springfield, who formerly owned eight acres across the Jones Spring branch from the store, called and said he was coming out soon to sit on the porch. "He is one of the best friends I have, " said White, adding he hopes all his friends will enjoy sitting on the porch of his home when he no longer operates the store.   In winter the visitors huddle around an old pot-bellied half-century-old coal stove in the store. Even in summer the stove may serve as the center for a group that sits in a wicker settee discussing problems of the world.  
     White began operating the store Jan. 1, 1907, when Mumford had two general stores, a blacksmith shop, barber shop, boarding house and lodge hall. For 12 years he operated a post office in the store before it was put on a rural route from Springfield. In those days mining flourished near Pearson Creek and the James River and White sold the miners groceries, slickers and gum boots. Freighters and "movers" traveling the Rockbridge Road camped near Mumford.

     Now several luxury homes have been built in the Jones Spring-Mumford area and White predicts the time isn't  too far way when his store will be in the incorporated limits of Springfield. Already housing developments have stretched far into the picturesque countryside from the city.  
     White has lived alone since his mother died in 1952. His wife died in 1940. It was after his mother's death that he promised his children he would retire. They are a son, Carl White............, and two daughters, Mrs. Otis Tedrick..........., and Mrs. Loren Clark................
     Can he cook? "I'm a fair cook," he replies. "I wouldn't want to be a much better cook for I might gain a little more," he adds, alluding to the fact he is inclined to be a bit roly-poly.  In explaining why he hasn't retired, he smiled, "It was more trouble to quit than to stay." He still doesn't know how he will dispose of the store, he added. He will probably sell it, out piece by piece for awhile-which will please some antique collectors, including the man who wants to buy his old-fashioned show cases. What's left he likely will sell at auction, he thinks.


     The years have been pleasant in the store, White says. He has liked it because he likes people. He also likes handling a variety of merchandise. "I always thought that it would be kinda bad to sell just on line." he said. Time was when he sold everything from horse collars to corsets...He still has an antique corset about a yard long and braced with steel-like stays as rigid as a coat of armor. It is one customers buy before styles changed.
     In the old days, White recalls, he bought bread at 31/2 cents a load and sold it for 5 cents or six loaves for 25 cents. It was unwrapped and unsliced and came six loaves baked together. It was packed 60 loaves wrapped in newspapers in _slatted box. If a customer wanted only one loaf, the storekeeper broke it off and wrapped it up. Maybe not too sanitary, he admits, "but we all thrived on it."


     In those days longhorn cheese was 15 cents a pound and customers could eat  a slab with crackers in the store. Crackers were three pounds for 25 cents and came packed in a wooden box--not a barrel. when he had a sale he put the crackers in a paper sack...usually known as "poke" in the old days, and, he says, "Some call it that yet."
     In the early days of his store White bought eggs and chickens. He remembers paying as low as six cents a dozen for egg. He also bought butter, which he resold to a creamery which "cleaned it up and called it renovated butter--no different how old."
     Nowadays he buys no farm produce. Actually, nobody offers to sell it to him. He sells eggs in his store but gets them from a Springfield produce house because "nobody has chickens around here anymore."


     One of the big items he sells now is cold drinks. On these he has a characteristic comment. "They raised the price of pop," he said, "on account of sugar. Then they raised the pop the did not have and sugar."
     When his friends mention his long years at Mumford, White dryly replies, "Yes, I've ben wondering if I'd like it out here." And to an attempt to pin him down about the retirement date he is likely to reply, "I'll take my time about it--It's not a forced sale."
     It's not the store itself that he is so reluctant to give up, he indicates. It's the contact with people who go there--they many friends he has made over the years.


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