Lane’s General Store

Submitted Photo
Willie and Mary Lane standing in front of Lane’s General Store with its many services. Photo: prior to 1964.

By Christy Porter,
Managing Editor

  In times gone by, the central gathering place of most settlements was the local General Store, which oftentimes housed the local post office in addition to stocking the needs of the community.
  One such location was situated in Duke, Mo. and was known as Lane’s General Store, with long-time proprietor Mary Lane and her husband Willie. Mary Lane and the store were synonymous with each other, according to the locals.
  Duke is a community in the far southwest corner of Phelps County, approximately 13 miles northwest of Licking and five miles east of Fort Leonard Wood on Missouri Route K, and two miles east of a meander in the Big Piney River in the Mark Twain National Forest.
  According to the Phelps County Place Names 1928-1945, the community was named after Duke’s Mixture, a brand of pipe tobacco sold at the local country store. Of course Duke was named prior to the Lane’s opening their store in the ‘40’s, but perhaps they carried the Duke’s Mixture as well.
  The main part of the Lane’s General Store building was actually moved from the CCC camp located near Duke. The Lanes added on living quarters and a feed store to the rear and right. Over the years, the building has been remodeled, but while the Lane’s owned the store there were few changes to its appearance. It remained in the family until after the doors closed circa 1988. 
  Lane’s had hardwood floors throughout and Ronnie Lane, Mary and Willie’s grandson remembers the “red stuff” that was sprinkled on the floor to clean them; it was swept up with the dirt. The store was heated by wood with a potbelly stove. Benches were located by the stove and at the entrance in front of the candy case. “There were lots of stories told, true or not, on those benches at the store,” says Ronnie. The general store was the place to visit and socialize. Hunters, trail riders, fishermen and outdoorsmen on their way to the river would often stop by.
  For a time Mary also wrote a column for The Licking News reporting on Duke happenings, nature and weather. She very likely was the perfect person to write this column.
  Ronnie humorously recalls that his Grandpa Willie had two dogs, one was a fuzzy white dog-called Snowball, the other a small bulldog; they mostly stayed inside. The bulldog only had three legs, one front and two hind legs. The bulldog loved candy bars and would beg for them by dancing on his hind legs. Hunters stopping by would treat the bulldog with chocolate. Lane’s General Store supplied entertainment to many with the dancing dog and with the storytelling supplied by customers.
  Long ago, suppliers did not deliver to their customers, so Harry Lane, Ronnie’s father, picked up product for the store in his 1958 Chevy flatbed truck equipped with stock racks. He would go into Rolla for bread at the bakery, ice cream at Tucker’s Dairy, and soda pop and feed and deliver it to Lane’s General Store.
  The Lane store, as many general stores in its time, stocked general merchandise to meet the needs of its customers including groceries, meat, dairy, canned vegetables, dog food, chicken feed and corn. General supplies included fabric, thread, buttons, over the counter medicine and basic medicinal supplies. The stock was largely decided by the needs of the store customers and was likely the main place they shopped on a regular basis.
Submitted Photo
Mary Lane greeting customers from an 
NSTR Trail Ride in October 1987, 
shortly before the store closed.
  Don ‘Doc’ Hatch, local schoolteacher, remembered the Lane store from stopping by on the way to the river to fish. “It was typical of an old time grocery store. I associate it with the good feeling of being in the country, on a fishing trip and relaxing,” says Hatch. “I also remember the sandwiches that could be purchased and the antiques that were used as an everyday part of doing business, specifically the old-time cash register.”
  A “cranker” old-fashioned cash register was used to ring up sales during the stores long-term tenure. Mary was also known to extend credit to some of her customers. Many would walk the distance to the store, make their purchases and carry them home. Lane’s had two set of scales for weighing items.
  They also served sandwiches, the first fast-food. “Whatever was there was what you got,” says Ronnie. The sandwiches were made with sliced cold cut meat and cheese on white bread and wrapped in wax paper. Bologna or ham and cheese were remembered by many.
  David Hatch also had memories of Lane’s General Store. He recalls, “They had a pinball machine and an old-time soda cooler with the little glass bottles of soda.” It’s a memory he shares with his father, Doc Hatch.
  According to Ronnie, they sold small six ounce bottles of Orangette, Grapette and Lemonette from the cooler. “Brothers Everett and Tom Kohenskey could really put the soda pop away. They made a bet one time, who could drink the most,” says Ronnie, “Tom probably won, although I don’t remember who did win, I was too young at the time.”
  Located in front of the store were two gas pumps; gas was pumped for the customer, not by the customer. The Lanes also sold kerosene, which was pumped with a metal handle to release the fuel.
  Lane’s General Store was also a location to report fires, with a phone that would ring into the forestry. Willie and Harry at different times both worked with the forestry service. There was a Forestry Tower located on Highway J close by. Harry had a Dozer that was loaded onto a cattle truck and taken to help fight the fires.
Submitted Photo
April 18, 1953: Harry Lane used his Army 4-wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon to rescue a group of deer hunters who were stranded in the 1951 record snow when camping about a mile down the hill from the store. They slept a couple of nights on the floor at the store, until they could leave.
  With the many services offered by the store, Judy, Ronnie’s wife, started helping Mary in the store during the 1980’s until the store closed.
  The Duke Post Office, with Mary as Post Mistress, was tucked into a special corner at the store, measuring approximately 6’ x 8’, with a window for service. The post office was inclusive of a desk and the wooden mailboxes for the individuals. Initially there was no postal delivery, so recipients had to come to the post office to pick up their mail. When Mary retired in 1978 after approximately 30 years as Post Mistress, grandson Ronnie took over the postal service in the store for one year.
  Ronnie and Judy then moved it across the road into an extra room in their home. Judy continued its operation for another 30 years until her retirement in 2009, at which time the post office closed in Duke.
  Generations of the Lanes have had many enterprises in the community of Duke; their involvement was a way of life for the family. Mary primarily handled Lane’s General Store. Willie helped with the store, but was also a river guide, fisherman and trapper. He and Harry also did a short stint working in Chicago, Ill. After Willie’s passing at a relatively young age, Mary continued to operate the store.
  Harry was a mechanic and owned a garage across the road from the store, this in addition to helping with delivery to the store and doing river guide and forestry work. His wife, Georgia, raised their four boys.
  Ronnie has worn many caps in the area and in Licking. He helped at the store when young, worked in Fort Leonard Wood in many capacities and in Newburg, with the fire department, fishing, trapping for 21 years and doing forestry work. He even ran a pool hall in Licking after he graduated from high school. When asked what he liked doing best, Ronnie responded, “I always liked retail. I like to see people visiting with people.” It must run in the blood.



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