How things have changed

Published 4:42 pm Monday, December 1, 2008

Rather than dwell on the downside of the current economic picture, let me propose a stroll through the past –– a visit to J. G. Frost, local purveyor of dry goods, groceries, provisions, boots and shoes. Also, hardware and tinware. (Oh, and by the way, the year is 1881.)

Available in a one-stop-shop, ‘Walmart’ philosophy –– “Our Goods Give Satisfaction” –– are necessities such as a wash pan or awl and handle for a mere quarter or ‘oil and Kan’ (sic) which will set you back $1.45. A hatchet may be had for $1 and a drawing knife for $1.40.

Having guests and restocking the pantry? Coffee is going to run about a quarter per pound. (Compare that to Starbuck’s one-pound Breakfast Blend today at $9.95 or the $14.95 Kona Blend.) Your flour, sugar and salt are all $.50 or less. For snacks, peanuts ($.10 and certainly still in the shell) or $.15 worth of raisins may satisfy your guest before a can of sardines or oysters (at $.20 each) may be the designated meal entrée. The accompanying crackers are only a dime a box. Real meat, type unspecified, however, tops out at $1.45.

Should Pa’s wardrobe need perking up, you can figure shirt, pants, shoes and hat will tally at $4.25, but a pair of (what must be mighty fine) boots is $4.75. And don’t forget the 60 cent doll and a dimes worth of jacks for the kiddies. And, if Momma doesn’t mind, tobacco is available and your snuff habit can be assuaged for the amount of 10 cents! That cigar will be a nickel, please!

A few decades later, in preparation for your holiday shopping, you might have been wooed by a full-page elaborate newspaper advertisement of Holiday Bargains at Hays & Bowden Mercantile Co. located at 4095 Helena Road. (That’s the vacant space next door to today’s Big Mountain Coffee.)

Touting itself as the best–stocked store this side of Birmingham, Hays & Bowden greeted the ‘wee girlies’ (and their parents) with a selection of dolls of many sizes, including those ‘with naturally curly hair and real eyelashes’ priced from $.50 to $1.50. ‘Wee lads’ could revel in toy ships, teddy bears, money banks and iron trains, express wagons, masks and the always classic, picture storybook.

Believing no one should be left out of the pleasure of receiving a holiday present, they also offered cake plates, mason’s mugs, 13-piece chocolate sets, watches, and statuary of Mnne HaHa, Bethowen (sic) and Abraham Lincoln. Books for adults included “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” and “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow.”

Items are referenced in beautiful cursive scroll from a J. G. Frost ledger sheet. Both it and the Hays & Bowden advertisement are from the collection of historian Ken Penhale.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at