Nazareth's Home Mercantile Co.
The Texas Story Project.
The Home Mercantile, the oldest general store in Nazareth, Texas, served the community for 90 years in two different locations.
The first store was erected in 1905. After it was dismantled in 1928, Ed Kern and Conrad Schulte built a new Home Mercantile Co. store less than a half block away from the original site. This was the first brick and concrete building in Castro County.
At the Home Mercantile store– open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.– farm families purchased staples such as basic groceries, bulk flour, notions, threads, sewing materials, bulk cookies, candies, liquor, and oysters, a popular favorite in the heavily German community. Merchandise and food sold at the Home Mercantile were unusual for a rural Texas Panhandle town. Gingersnap cookies were measured out from big barrels. Cringing clerks scooped smelly oysters from gallon cans into paper cartons. There was also a bulk cookie counter about seven or eight feet long that was lined with little glass doors on both sides. Flour and sugar were sold in 100, 50, or 25 pound sacks and were stacked on a counter at the back of the store. Arsenic, mouse poison, and calcium cyanide were stored right across from the bulk flour. Cyanide was kept in quart jars labeled with a skull and crossbones. No one considered these items dangerous to have on an open shelf. Every other morning, a delivery of fresh vegetables and produce were delivered from Amarillo and dropped off at the front door. Eggs, cream, and milk were all locally produced and bought by the store to resell.
About a quarter of the back northwest portion of the store was taken up by a cold storage locker. People rented storage boxes for their meats because they had no big freezers at home. There was also a storage room where locals would hang their locally butchered beef for the eight to 10 day curing process. The store butchered, wrapped, and packaged the meat before placing it on quick chill plates at about 20 degrees below zero. That was the secret to keeping good meat- freezing it quickly.
The main suppliers of dry goods for the store were Amarillo Paper and Thomas Hardware. Bolts of materials, ribbons, and laces were displayed in glass showcases. Local resident Loretta Warren sold her Texas Star quilts and crocheted baby caps and sweaters in the store in order to pay for her funeral. Although the entire Castro County region around Nazareth was dry, when Precinct 4 voted to become wet in 1959, Home Mercantile sold liquor and beer in the back of the store until closing time. The side south door had a partition with a little gate separating the liquor store from the rest of the store. During the 1960s, Texas Tech University students would often come to buy their liquor at the Home Mercantile.
The store was always a gathering place for Nazareth. Community members sat on a long window ledge at the front of the store to talk and watch life go by. On Thursday nights, the store stayed open until 10 p.m. for poker games, with the poker players often buying sandwiches. Some of the most interesting evening social events were the boxing matches held in the middle of the store. No referee was appointed for these matches. In those days, anyone who wanted to box just showed up, with most of the contestants being young boys from the community looking for an outlet other than farming and school. The store also opened up on Sunday mornings after Mass so people could get the paper and anything else they needed.
From 1937 to 1980, Home Mercantile also housed Nazareth's post office. The store's owner, Rose Warren, was the town's longest-serving postmaster. Mail was delivered around 6:30 or 7 a.m., and if customer packages were not wrapped properly, Rose would rewrap them.
In 1980, the post office moved from the store to a new home on St. Joseph Street. In 1985, Rose Warren wrote a transaction on the back of a brown paper bag and sold Home Mercantile to Duane and Nan Davis who operated the store with a lunch counter selling hamburgers.
Nazareth's iconic Home Mercantile store closed its doors for the last time in 1995.
Christena Stephens is a writer and photographer who became an accidental historian.
Posted January 15, 2016
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