Nancy Badger’s eyes were glued to a glass soda bottle with a red label atop a white wooden shelf in the newly replicated Easley Store in Nifong Park. She read the faded letters on the bottle from behind a white pine counter, her eyes lighting up as she pointed at the bottle with such excitement the whole tour group turned toward her.
“Nehi soda pop,” said Badger, a volunteer at the store. “That’s exactly what I used to get at the old Easley Store. My favorite was strawberry.”
At first glance, the bottle looked no different than an old-fashioned Coca-Cola bottle. But the four white letters adorning the red backdrop on the bottle brought up decades-old memories.
“I used to go see Aunt Em and Uncle Bill in Easley,” Badger said. “It must have been the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. We would always stop into the old Easley Store. It’s just so nostalgic.”
This was Badger’s first visit into the new Easley Store. The store, a part of Nifong Park and run by the Boone County Historical Society, is a replication of a general store believed to have been built in 1890 in Easley, about 13 miles southwest of Columbia. After building his store, William Easley was granted a post office commission and turned his investment into a prosperous business near a busy rail line. On June 13, the store will be open for public tours for the first time.
The Columbia City Council approved the replication of the general store in 2005. Soon after, the historical society was ready to tear down the old store and build the new one.
“Between the approval and the buildup, we had over 1,000 volunteer hours,” said David Sapp, former historical society president and chair of the committee in charge of the building project. “Most of the outside building was done by a contractor. But the walls, windows, shelves, floors and counters were principally done by five of us.”
Sapp said the project will cost about $65,000. He said the society has raised about $59,000 already, including about $25,0000 from a matching grant from the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The rest came from private donations. He said he hopes the project will teach people how vital stores like the Easley Store were to rural areas in the past.
The store will now become a part of the Boone Junction tours, a historic village within Nifong Park that already boasts the historic 19th century Maplewood home and the Gordon-Collins Cabin, which formerly served as a slave quarters. The society has never given full tours of Boone Junction but has given private tours of the Maplewood home in the past. Sapp said Boone Junction also hopes to add a one-story Victorian house or a one-room county schoolhouse in the next year.
The outside of the store glistens with fresh coats of bright white paint. The shine is the characteristic of the store that has left Sapp the least satisfied in regards to the atmosphere the store creates, calling it a little too “crisp,” but he says he is confident this will change over time. This crispness does not carry over to the inside of the store.
The store’s spotted-yellow pine floor, taken from an old building, smells musty. While there are currently two light bulbs, the society plans to replace them with hanging oil light fixtures. And aside from the Sixlets and other candy for sale on the counter, nearly every item inside the store leads one to think they have just walked up a stairway and opened a door to the past. Photographs on a wall near the counter show that the original store and the replicated version are nearly identical.
Sapp has even gone so far as to find the son of the painter who created a Coca-Cola mural on a wall of the original store. He said he wants to have him duplicate it on the wall of the new store, even leaving a misspelling of the word, “registered.”
While Sapp said few of the items in the store are the originals, the replicas create a genuine feel to the general store.
“Floods in ’93 and ’95 damaged most of the items in the original store beyond repair,” Sapp said. “But we recovered a few things and everything else in the store are things that were sold at similar stores during this time period.”
Sapp said his favorite item in the store is a Dutch Oven, which he said is just like ovens sold in the Easley Store in the 1920s. The oven was donated by Francis Pike, a former Columbia Daily Tribune circulation manager. Sapp said Pike started a promotion in which he charged 69 cents for an oven and a year-long subscription to the Tribune.
But while the store has antique items like the Dutch Oven and a hundred-pound coffee mill on display, it no longer sells Nehi strawberry soda.