I don't know when they actually came to town; it just seemed like they had been there a long, long time. Tom and Evelyn Arthur, with their only son Tommy, owned and operated the Independent Grocers Alliance...the IGA...store on Sycamore Street in North Lewisburg. In the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s, their store was one of a few which graced the eastern side of Sycamore, in the "downtown" section of the community.
Carl and Mary Keene, assisted by Mary's father Harry Brown, were the owners-operators of the pharmacy, or drug store, which sat at the intersection of Maple and Sycamore Streets. The western wall of their building was the location of the town's "Roll of Honor," which memorialized the veterans of World War II and Korea. Next, on the same side of the street, was the IGA store. This was followed by a failing clothing store which had been in operation a number of years, then the Red and White foodstore, operated by Burleigh Woodruff, Vada's restaurant, and Billy Curl's barbershop. A narrow alley separated these business establishments from the "residential" area yet further north on Sycamore Street.
In time, the drug store switched owners, and eventually ceased to provide the pharmacy, sundries, soda fountain and ice cream parlor for which it was well-known. "Jeweler Jack" DeLong bought the building, and moved in his jewelry store operation from a short distance across the street. It later changed hands again, and is, today, a real estate office.
The old clothing store closed as a business, and that portion of the block was purchased by Tom and Evelyn Arthur, who remodeled it and doubled the size of their grocery operation. More about them later.
Burleigh Woodruff also closed the Red and White grocery. The building was acquired by the local Masonic and Eastern Star organizations, extensively remodeled, and made into a lodge meeting hall. In addition to the many meeting which were to be held there over the years, the membership of the organizations periodically hosted dinners as fund-raisers, or provided meals following funeral services of its members. - As the years passed, and the century changed, with less interest in fraternal organizations, the building was sold and is today a church meeting house.
The restaurant also changed hands over the years until it was acquired by Claudine Vallery in the 1950s and renamed the Hiway 559 Coffee Shop. It eventually became the gathering place for the town's teenagers, with its juke box and pin ball machines in operation, hamburgers and fries, and fountain-service sodas the daily fare. - Claudine actually kept the business going for 35 years before it was sold to yet another proprietor. (I personally wolfed down my fair share of cheeseburgers, fries, and Cokes during those many years of operation).
Billy Curl barbered in the community for over 50 years. His wife Lydia styled ladies' hair. The front of the store was a haberdashery of the latest styles of clothing and hats for men and women. After Lydia and Billy's deaths, the old tonsorial parlor and beauty shop saw many different, and short-lived businesses. It sits vacant today.
The constant presence on the street was the IGA store. Tom and Evelyn Arthur were people-oriented tradespeople, who knew a good thing when they saw it. They had weekly sales of the foodstuffs which were stocked on their shelves, a large, prosperous meat department, and an equally prosperous vegetable market. They printed and distributed their own flyer, which listed the many great bargains to be had in the store. The large, plate-glass windows at the front of the store were literally plastered with posters touting the weekly sales. On Fridays and Saturdays, buyers actually flocked to the store to make their food purchases, to visit with friends and neighbors, and to say their weekly hellos to Tom and Evelyn.
One Halloween night in 1961, after the 9 p.m. nightly closing of the store, my friend - Mike Chamberlain - and I got it into our heads that those large, plate-glass windows at the front of Tom's store were perfect candidates for a "soaping." Back before such antics were determined to be unlawful, and before the culprits were determined to be juvenile delinquents, such actions were commonplace in our small community. Wild were the tales of other Halloween pranks - like the time a group of young people put the wagon on top of the Town Hall. Ours was a considerably less daring activity, and did not involve heights. Mike and I merely took the bars of soap which we had taken from our homes specifically for this purpose, and "soaped" the store's windows. The soap bars were used like writing instruments to make squiggles, lines, circles, and various other designs on the windows. There were narrow strokes, and wide strokes, and whole areas of the windows which were obliterated with the waxy stuff. We might even have written a few words - my memories are a little hazy some 50 years later. But, proud of our work, and the fact that we had not been caught in the process, Mike and I laughingly made our way to our homes.
That following Monday, after we had spent the day in school and other activities, Mike and I joined up once again for another late afternoon and early evening of our regular activities. I do not recall where we had been, but we rounded the corner at the intersection of Maple and Sycamore Streets, walked past the Roll of Honor on the drug store wall, and were just passing the IGA storefront, when Tom Arthur - dressed in his traditional dress trousers, long-sleeve white shirt open at the collar, white full-length apron, and the ever-present unlit cigarette between the yellow-stained fingers of one hand, and unstruck match in the other - greeted us with a "Hey, boys! I want to see you! Come in." Mike and I exchanged sudden glances, and entered the store with trepidation. Silent words passed between us: "He knows we did it!" We both nervously awaited the brow-beating which we knew was soon coming.
"Boys, how would you like a job?" were the words from Tom's mouth. Mike and I looked at one another, awaiting the punch line. "I'm serious" Tom said. "How would you like to go to work for me?"
Feeling very lucky that he was not going to kill us for the mess we made of his windows - the squiggles, and circles, and lines still were evident on them - we both took all of a few seconds to respond with a tentative "Yes."
We reported for work the next day, the newest members of the Arthur's IGA work force. Tom and Evelyn introduced us to our daily duties and responsibilities, told us what our work schedule would be, how much we would be paid (85 cents per hour!) and issued our crisp, white stockboy aprons. We shared our hellos with the others who worked in the store - Tommy, who was the butcher and supervised the meat department; Christine Quinton, who worked with Tommy in that department; Bob Impson, one of my many cousins, who was another stockboy; and Don Woodruff, an indispensible "jack-of-all-trades" who would be our immediate supervisor, and eventual friend.
The preliminaries out of the way, Tom then sent us off to perform our assigned tasks - Mike to assist with the restocking of products on the shelves, as well as bagging and carryout of customers' purchases. Me, to find the bucket and squeegee and other materials at the back of the store - and to use them to clean off those awful-looking windows which "someone" had soaped over the weekend.
Did Tom know who the culprits were who soaped his windows? To this day, some fifty years later, I am uncertain. All I do know is that for the next two years I was responsible for taking down the paper sales posters from those windows, and washing them inside and outside as part of my regular Tuesday duties.
More tales from "My Life In A Grocery Cart" to follow...