As the holidays approach, many of us will start shopping for gifts. Over the past two decades, as many small businesses in rural communities have closed their doors, many shoppers in rural Finger Lakes towns have automatically turned to malls in suburban Rochester or Syracuse, or have gone online to find the perfect items for loved ones. This then perpetuated the loss of small businesses. But, at one point, people living in the smaller communities of Yates County could do all their shopping within a short walk or drive of their homes.
When movement was more difficult, even small hamlets were somewhat self-sufficient. Yates County was teeming with commerce. Maps from the 1850s and 1860s show necessities such as carts, barrels, shoes, furniture, hats, and groceries could be purchased in places as small as Rock Stream and Italy Hill. . This does not include other businesses that provided services, such as the many mills, hotels, taverns, post offices and law firms scattered throughout the county.
But what about more fancy or special items for gifts, or hard-to-find ingredients for Christmas meals and candy? A glance through the Yates County newspaper ads from the county’s earliest days shows a surprising range of items for sale in local stores, including items that would be purchased as gifts and not just items. daily.
The first Christmas advertisement (and the first mention of Santa!) In the Yates County newspaper was for Kelsey’s Grocery and Fancy Store in Eddytown (now Lakemont) on December 8, 1846. In a long advertisement typical of the time, he immediately informs the reader that everything is more expensive in Dundee:
“I have a full assortment of groceries, sugar, teas, coffees… and the finest assortment of FANCY ITEMS AND TOYS ever brought to Yates County,” one reads impatiently. “I cannot list them, but I will just say that a visit to my store will be almost as interesting as a visit to a museum.” Kelsey then lashed out at the parents: “As the holidays draw near, anyone who wants to give gifts had better call and consider the assortment that ‘Santa Claus’ has to deliver.”
A quick peek through this issue of the Dundee Record offers the reader places to shop for dresses, shawls, fur hats, cranberries, lemons and raisins for his fruit cake, men’s coats. , dulcimers and other instruments, sheet music, books, ready-made furniture, “fancy” draperies, and accessories for women in cashmere, silk and velvet. While it is true that most Americans bought fewer gifts then than they do today, the listings for these advertisements would suit most modern buyers. And all of this was only available at Dundee and Penn Yan stores.
The Dickens effect
Throughout the 1840s and 50s, Yates County newspapers continued to sell candy and baked goods, toys, books, and clothing throughout the county for Christmas. This was the decade when most Americans started giving Christmas gifts instead of New Year’s gifts as they once did, and saw a slight increase in Christmas celebrations due to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” ( 1841). On December 17, 1851, The Record again urged readers to get their “holiday gifts,” stating: “the season is near when friends delight in giving each other fond memories, and the rising generation is coming. expect a visit from Old Nickname. The long established custom in such cases should not be forgotten or overlooked.
Aside from the surprising number of items available even in the smallest hamlets, the mix of products for sale in each store is confusing for the modern shopper, even accustomed to big box stores. An advertisement in the Penn Yan Democrat from December 21, 1852 featured an assortment of annuals alongside textbooks and musical instruments. In December 1855, a Mr. Frasier offered engraved plaques for weddings, that is, exactly $ 1.00 of sheet music. Shades, wallpaper and musical instruments were sold together at Denton’s in Penn Yan. Chances are, just like today, stores were hoping to sell additional things to customers while they were in the store, so we would go get some wallpaper and come out with a fiddle as well. Corcoran’s harness shop would sell you bikes, bathrobes, blankets, gloves, suitcases, and possibly harnesses. An 1875 advertisement by Penn Yan’s HC Morrison featuring both marble mantles and headstones during the holiday season was unlikely to have much success.
Community stores in Yates County flourished until the 20th century. On December 5, 1900, Lanning and Cramer’s of Penn Yan ran an authoritative advertisement, stating, “We will make it an item for you to start Christmas shopping right now, with no one hour delay.” The ad listed a range of toys, including various types of dolls, toy trains, magic lanterns, a “woolly dog that jumps and barks” and a “stubborn, very funny donkey”. The store also sold all kinds of sterling silver items, including toothbrushes, baby rattles and shoe horns. In 1919, the Quality Drug Store in Dundee was offering a dizzying variety of gifts including books, cigars and tobacco, sweetgrass baskets, fountain pens, perfume, candy, games, leather goods. , Kodak cameras and films, and even Wolverine-branded toy wash. Machines. In 1927, the Elco General Store in Rushville urged readers to “Be practical!” Buy him some clothes for Christmas.
Lown’s at Penn Yan offered Christmas shoppers options from 1889 until the mid-1990s, cfull with its unique pulley system which was installed in 1900. Bush’s Music Store and Radio House have sold Penn Yan instruments, phonographs, radios, sheet music and records for decades. And the Holliday Shop provided silverware, paintings, and glassware.
As people became more mobile and shopped elsewhere – and the population shrank – many small businesses have closed. It accelerated once online shopping became available and prevalent.
However, small businesses have recently increased and the main streets in some communities have shops, bakeries and cafes that will provide nice gifts and treats for the holidays. Antique shops and farm stalls line winding rural roads. Maybe now would be a good time to emulate the people of Yates County from the past and find that special gift here at home.
Noel is the executive director of the Yates County History Center.