The Company Stores
By Jim Ruppe
A Company Store has usually been associated with the development of a frontier industry by providing goods and necessities and other infrastructure needs of its workforce. This may have been considered a necessity in that most industries of the “move the mills to the cotton” movement were located just outside population centers or in a completely rural setting. In order to provide a stable and consistent labor force, many industries established a Company Store to help to meet the basic needs of its employees.
The Company Store was not envisioned as a profit center but was seen as an enterprise necessary to benefit the overall financial success of the manufacturing operations. Some goods were sold to their employees at cost or in some cases below cost with the expectation of recovery from manufacturing operation results. Some companies would provide basic necessities and dietary staples below cost and normal profit margins were added to items considered luxuries. The Company Store in the localized textile environment survived into the thirties and during the Depression years some companies paid its workers in tokens which could be redeemed at the store for supplies and commodities. At some point most of these operations were leased to private entrepreneurs or simply closed.
Although accusations have rumored that Company Stores were used to stabilize labor by the use of employee debt, the writing of the period does not bear out this premise.
In Mrs. Grover Haynes’ biography of R.R. Haynes, the Company Store she refers to is the main building downtown, with three satellite stores located within the mill village at sites that were convenient and accessible to its residents.
The management of Cliffside Mills established three branch stores in convenient locations, in addition to the main store. These stores handled practically everything there was to sell to meet the needs of the people, and provided a market for everything the farmer had to sell. The volume of business was large, indicated from the fact that eight trucks were used daily in delivering groceries and merchandise to the patrons of the different store. The stores sold their goods to the employees at unusually low prices.
I have heard references to two of these stores, but not the third location.
This structure was located near the limits of Cliffside near the Fairview section and has been referred to simply as the “Old Store Building”. It was located on the left hand side of Shelby Highway before you reached C. P. Hamrick’s residence and store building. This building was converted to multiple housing sometime in the thirties (I have spoken to persons who lived in the apartments in 1936). During my lifetime, I remember few if any tenants, as the building stood vacant and at one point the windows were boarded and it was used for storage.
River Street Store
Heading south on River Street, I remember a building on the right side of the street somewhere above the Island Ford Road intersection. There was a River Street level entrance and an entrance below the street level that was accessed by a driveway behind the building, and I remember it was divided into apartments. The House Listing of 1938 records a store building on River Street and I think this was one of satellite store buildings but I have no direct verification.
The Third Satellite Store?
I have never really known where the remaining store building was located, but from a logistical point of view, perhaps this building is shown in the Postcard Section in the view from the new school building looking south toward the town. Its construction and style is not unlike the other stores. My early memories was that the appearance was generally the same except a brick facade had been added and we called it the “Barney Davidson Store,” referring to its then current proprietor. This building later housed doctors’ offices and was razed with most of the village in the late sixties. The reason I think that the third store was in this building, is that it would nicely fit the location criteria listed in Mrs. Haynes’ book and that it continued to be used as a retail store into the 1950’s.