MEMORIES IN STORE: Tinsleys’ Store Open For ‘No’ Business
The seeds are in the seed bin, the 50-pound feed sacks are over by the window, the chicken feeder is near the front screen door and a 7 1/2-foot cotton pick sack is on the counter near the cash register.And, yes, Tinsley General Merchandise does have Prince Albert in cans.But getting Ed “Beaver” Tinsley to take your money won’t be easy — nothing in his store is for sale.”I’m open for no business,” Tinsley declared. “I just wanted people to see what an old general store looked like. It might be overkill — some of the old stores were real junky. They had stuff scattered everywhere, but this is the best I could do.”His “best” is a spanking new replica of an early 1900s general store, a place filled with treasures of days gone by. Yet, at the same time, Tinsley General Merchandise also serves as a reminder to today’s generations that such establishments once were about as much “city” as many of that era’s farmers ever saw. It’s a good lesson, one that Tinsley is eager to share as the nation nears yet another observance of National Farm-City Week on Nov. 16-22.Since he and his patient wife Sandra put the finishing touches to his three-year labor of love earlier this year, the store behind their home in the Alpine community has hosted senior citizen and school groups, antique car clubs and anyone else who may have happened upon it while traveling the scenic country roads of Talladega County.”I just wanted to bring a little of that history back,” said Tinsley, a retired Alabama Power hydro journeyman. “My great grandfather, Walt Gilbert, had a store in the early 1900s and 1920s. I never saw any pictures of it, but I’ve got one of the old ketchup boxes from out of that store.”In fact, it was that old ketchup box — later used by an aunt to hold kindling — that launched Tinsley’s lifelong quest at age 11. Now 62, he keeps his great grandfather’s box next to an old wood heater that’s as inviting as the checkerboard nearby.Looking much like a Cracker Barrel restaurant store, the store is a veritable time capsule, a place where you can find Pal and Star razor blades (a four-pack for 10 cents), ladies hats, an old RC Cola drink box, a washboard, water dipper, Shinola shoe polish, an old church bench, wind-up toys and an endless array of old signs advertising everything from soft drinks to smoking tobacco.Many of the items inside the store came from about 30 long-abandoned general stores, the kind the Tinsleys remember as children. “Beaver” recalls how general stores often served as a gathering place for the rural communities, the way a handful of farmers used to meet and solve the world’s problems from the front porch of the A.W. Hubbard General Store across from Jonesview School.The most memorable store, however, had to be Jerry Alford’s store, which opened in 1931 in Talladega, and sold just about anything imaginable.”He sold car parts, chickens, eggs, feed … he’d even sell one cigarette,” Tinsley said. “He had everything. He had shoes. He had candy. He had everything.”Sandra, on the other hand, remembers something else about Alford’s. “We’d go over there, and my dad would buy us a peach drink,” she said. “Those were the best peach drinks! You could almost taste the fuzz on them.”Still, memories tend to fade — sometimes more quickly than the bright orange Mercurochrome that many painted on scraped knees and mosquito bites as a child. Today, the 24 stoppered bottles of Laymon’s Mercuro Chrome inside Tinsley’s General Merchandise are sure to bring a smile to most baby boomers.Others, like the Tinsley’s daughter-in-law, never heard of the once-popular first aid treatment. “We had our Christmas in the store last year and had a scavenger hunt,” explained Sandra. “It was funny because several of them didn’t know what they were looking for. One of the things we had them look for was Mercurochrome, and my daughter-in-law didn’t know what it was — and she’s a nurse!”And Prince Albert? Well, he’s in the can, and he’s not getting out.
For more information, write Tinsley’s General Merchandise at 242 Branch Road, Alpine, AL 35014-5745. To schedule a tour or appointment, call the Tinsleys at (256) 268-2987.