Monday, October 20, 2014

Fancy Groceries

I am deep into a new project. Deep, 1920 deep. Way back. I didn't intend to get into this white rabbit hole, but digging myself down here sure has been fun. In my researching and interviewing I find all kinds of words that once meant one thing, but now another. Case in point: I came across a term I hadn't heard before, but assumed I knew, "fancy groceries."

If you are picturing walking the aisles of the new concept grocery store with the millions of gourmet selections artistically displayed, aromas strategically planned to entice, color themed shelving, deli/salad/olive bar section conveniently located near indoor picnic tables with wifi available, you know, fancy...

you would be wrong.

Back story:

As I was interviewing a man about my current baseball field project, he mentioned that he had a trunk full of old commercial calendars from stores here in town, one of which just might be an advertisement for the store owned by the men who built the baseball field. Would I like to see them?

Some questions aren't necessary.

There they were in pristine condition, calendars dating all the way back to the earliest one, 1907. The pictures on the calendars didn't match the establishment, the funeral homes, banks, flour mills, bargain centers, and the ones that held my attention, stores that sold fancy groceries. The beautiful girls on the top halves of the calendars gave no hint as to what these stores sold or what services these businesses offered. All they offered was eye candy that would be hung in the kitchen for a year, same cover picture, tear off each month, to be replaced by a different version the next year.

Since the calendar girls offered no insight, I turned to interviewing. No one I asked had ever heard the concept of "fancy groceries," although everyone guessed, incorrectly as it turns out.

So I turned to the internet, the source of all knowledge, sort of.

See this toy truck with its fancy groceries sign? I found it on a website for antiques.

 Or this one, an inside view of Wilson Fancy Groceries in Muncie, Indiana:

Even then I didn't grasp the last century concept of "fancy groceries," that, by the way, still is very much a legal term. It wasn't until I read a 2014 court case from Florida that I began to understand a simplified version of what it means, and here, is my non-legal interpretation, for what it's worth.

Some stores specialize. Butcheries sell meat. Bakeries sell baked goods. A greengrocer sells fruits and vegetables. A grocery store sells the staples, the basics a household needs for food products. A fancy grocery store sells all of the above but also sells laundry detergent and toothpaste and paper towels and other nonfood products.

The eleventh court of appeals affirmed that definition in March of 2014. One of the parties in that particular case was the Winn-Dixie, a store no longer found in western North Carolina. In the time period that I am researching, however, it was very much in business around here and called by its pre-merger name, Dixie Home. That, people remember. Not the fact that it was a fancy grocery, but the fact that on Saturday mornings, the day after pay day, after the children ran to the picture show and the fathers to the hardware store and the mothers to the Guarantee Store for clothes, the family would meet up at the Dixie Home and buy their weekly groceries.

Sometimes being fancy isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Catch of the day,



  1. Gretchen,
    I always love reading about what you dig up next, very interesting. Best of luck in this new endeavor. Will be interested in seeing what you find out.

  2. Thanks, Sara. I do have a good time digging up interesting facts, and going to interesting places, too. The Carolina Mountains are full of them.

  3. Great post, Gretchen. There are stories everywhere--and this one is fascinating!

    1. I bet you've dug up a few stories in your research, too, Carol. You're right. They are everywhere.