A store that's stood the test of time
Crane's Country Store in Williamsburg, Mo., has been selling everything from farming supplies to groceries since 1926.
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A few years ago, David Crane decided to post a few signs alongside Interstate 70, which passes less than a mile from the store. They began attracting curious travelers lured by the promise of that dollar sandwich and perhaps the expectation of a tourist attraction.Skip to next paragraph
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Few were prepared for what they encountered inside the creaking front door. In seconds, new visitors realize they've entered a time warp.
"At some point a new customer will look up and their mouth will drop open, mesmerized by what is hanging from the original tin ceiling," Crane says, laughing. "That is how we know they have not been in before."
Crane's has a "museum" on its ceiling. Suspended like stalactites in a cave is a variety of old-fashioned merchandise.
Included are large collections of old toys, tools, kitchen utensils, baby buggies, and old lanterns. Almost all are covered with a layer of dust.
More memorabilia – framed arrowheads, old calendars, and advertising posters – are hung on the walls. Display cases filled with antique dolls, pipes, and other collections are scattered among the merchandise for sale.
"My family was never good at throwing anything away," Crane says, adding that various family members have always collected different things. Beginning not long after the doors opened in 1926, the store became the place for members of every generation to display what each valued.
Visitors who want to explore the quirky store spend much of their time backing up since most aisles are wide enough for only one person. Crane acknowledges the tight quarters, but adds, "We don't waste space."
One reason the store is so crowded is that some items are displayed in more than one location. When a customer recently inquired about work gloves, he was taken to a selection and then told about two other locations where he should look.
"We scatter similar merchandise about the store so people can find what they need a little easier," Crane says.
A sizable portion of the store is devoted to work clothes, an important niche that has helped ensure the survival of Crane's while other small stores died as big- box stores began to proliferate.
In the 1970s, when a nuclear plant was being built in Callaway County, where Cranes is located, the workers discovered the tiny store and began to rely on it to order the boots and apparel they needed.
Crane's began stocking every size of work clothing they needed in all seasons, and when the plant was completed and the workers moved on, they continued to purchase via mail order.
Closer to home, word of mouth brings workers from several hours away, confident that the store will have whatever they need in their size.
But Crane hasn't ignored the modern age. A year ago he began selling on the Internet and has gained customers from around the world.
But for many loyal patrons, ordering from a website will never equal the pleasure of visiting the old store in person. They relish the idea of buying a dollar sandwich and then sitting out front on the old metal porch chairs and chatting with the locals.
Discussions might include the old car for sale in the field across the street or the fancy new farm tractor that just drove up. For many, it's the perfect place to reminisce about the "good old days" that still exist a few feet away.
Then visitors can mosey a few hundred feet down the block to the next building. When the Cranes ran out of ceiling and wall space to display the things they love, they opened Crane's Museum. Inside is the rest of the Crane collection of memorabilia and another trip down memory lane.