Charles Spurlock set up shop in Squires around 1901. “When my grandfather opened his trading post in the log cabin, there were two other established stores here,” says Randy Spurlock. “(Squires) was a thriving place because of the cattle drives…”
SQUIRES – When Charles Spurlock came to Squires at the turn of the 20th century, the village was a next-to-new, bustling place. It sprung up in the late 1800s as a key stop on the Arkansas-Springfield Road: The popular thoroughfare was used to drive cattle to Mansfield, after which they were shipped to Springfield and St. Louis.
Charles — known to his friends as Charlie — was impressed with the place. He’d been in the drygoods business down in Buckhart, where he’d started a store in 1898. That experience gave him the impression that Squires would be a good place to set up shop and set down new roots.
“His first store…was a log cabin,” says Randy Spurlock, one of Charlie’s grandsons. “He lived in half of it and had a trading post in the other half to see if business was going to be good here.”
Suffice it to say, business was good. Now more than a century later, however, Squires is a different place: The blacksmith, saloon, livery stable, grist mill, as well as canning and mattress factories, are all gone. They’ve been merely memories for years, in fact.
But 115 years after it began, Spurlock’s Store store is still there.
Then and now
Glass-bottled soda pop is one of many things the store sells.
Of course, things are different these days. Instead of Charlie, you’ll often find Randy behind the store’s counter. Even though the younger Spurlock wasn’t around the store in its earliest years, he has a lifetime filled with stories told and memories made.
“We’ve always tried to carry a little bit of everything,” he says. The store’s shelves prove his claim: Ice cream, candy and soda pop are stored just a few feet from pipes, nuts and bolts and paint by the can. There are keys, coveralls, bluejeans and greeting cards. A few other wares include garden tools, a pressure cooker, drill bits, poison ivy killer, oil lamps, hammer handles, and even full-size tires.
And outside you’ll find one of the store’s biggest sellers these days: burn barrels. “(We) sell a lot of those,” says Randy. “People can’t hardly find them anymore to burn their trash in and whatnot.”
Looking for something? They probably sell it at Spurlock’s.
These days, one can run by the store and pick up a gallon of milk, snacks or even some canned goods — but back then? Forget it. “They didn’t sell groceries like we know of today,” says Randy, noting that in the past, many families grew most of their own food.
That was especially true of foodstuffs like flour, “because people raised wheat and had it ground it at the mills,” says Randy. And the store didn’t sell meat at all, unless one counts bologna — which, in the days before electricity, was hung on the wall for people to purchase.
“When people would come in, they would say, ‘Well, I want a pretty good-sized thing of bologna,’ says Randy. Others would simply go over to the meat, uncover the brown-paper covered end — called a “poke” — and slice off however much they wanted with a pocket knife.
“Now today, we would die if we did anything like that,” Randy says. But back then, it was a perfectly acceptable practice, even when the meat turned a little green. “You’d just cut out the green and eat around it,” he notes. “And people survived.”
The same was true of the big wheel of cheddar. “It was never covered,” says Randy. “Never ever. It had its own knife, and you’d just go in and cut off how much you wanted and hand it to my grandpa and he’d weigh it, put it in a little brown bag and hand it back to you.”
It should be noted that Spurlock’s still sells bologna and cheese, but nowadays it’s stored safely in the store’s cooler. “It’s different than packaged stuff,” says Randy of the bologna, which is sliced and sold by the pound — or by the sandwich. “We have a lot of people who like to find a spot along the road for a picnic and they’ll come here for chips, and a sandwich maybe and a pop and away they go.”
Back in the day
Spurlock’s Store has been housed in various buildings over the years. A “frame” structure followed the log cabin, but was torched by an arsonist in 1933. A new building was built in 1935, but was also the victim of arson in 1936. It was rebuilt, and housed the business until the current store (pictured at right) was finished in 1966.
Meat and cheese aren’t the only things that have changed with the introduction of modern convenience. “Before they had electricity here, we did have an ice house,” recalls Randy, who notes that when it got cold, someone in the community would chop ice and haul it to the store. “Then in the summer…people would come and get ice for ice cream.”
You can still buy ice at the store (albeit in bags instead of blocks). One thing you won’t be able to buy, however, is a suit of clothes. This male wardrobe staple, which came in a long box, included a shirt, tie, jacket and pants — and “probably didn’t fit very well,” says Randy.
But that’s simply what Ozarks men wore back then for funerals and other special occasions. Besides a buryin,’ those duds were donned to make a good impression. “A young man, especially dating, wanted a suit of clothes,” says Randy. “They didn’t want to have to go on a date in overalls.”
No cash, no problem
Cash hasn’t always been the store’s primary method of payment. “Into the ‘30s, (the store) became a thriving place because my grandfather carried people on credit when they had no money,” says Randy, recalling stories of his grandfather accepting farm wares in lieu of cash. “A lot of their bills were paid in eggs and chickens, hogs and whatever.”
That system of trade, however, continued for decades. “When I was a kid, we had ‘bought’ eggs,” recalls Randy of eggs the store acquired from its customers, both in trade and for cash. After the Spurlocks candled the eggs — a process of making sure the eggs weren’t fertilized — they took them to the feed store in Ava and sold them. “And that went against our feed bill there,” he says.
Post office presence
Fred and Dorothy Spurlock stand in front of Squires’ post office — which is housed adjacent to Spurlock’s Store — in 1982.
There was a reason that kind of trading — especially during the Great Depression — was possible at Spurlock’s. “My grandfather was the third postmaster here and he was postmaster 36 years,” says Randy of the position that gave the family some crucial cash each month. “That allowed him to be able to use that to keep the store going and then he was able to trade.”
But the Spurlocks’ connection to the post office is greater than that 36 years. After Charlie quit being postmaster in 1943, the job was taken over by his daughter, Mary Elva (Spurlock) Turner.
It was a choice that shocked some folks. According to the Douglas County Herald in 1988, “even though this was 23 years after the Woman’s Sufferage Movement, she was sworn in before daylight and the Post Office Department (now the United States Postal Service) sent an armed guard to keep peace in case of an outbreak of riot.”
She held the job for four years, until Fred Spurlock — Randy’s father — took it over on Dec. 31, 1947. He held the position more than 45 years, and retired in 1993. Because of those connections, Squires’ post office moved to Spurlock’s Store when Charlie took over back in 1905. That’s where it’s located today, too.
The store today
Randy Spurlock assists some of the store’s Saturday-morning customers.
Fred and his wife, Dororthy Spurlock, jointly operated the store until his death in 2004. Today, 91-year-old Dorothy still owns the business, and spends a couple of hours there each day. But she’s greatly aided by Randy and his wife, Renee. “The store will remain open as long as she’s here,” says Randy of his mother. “After that, I don’t know what we’re going to do. But she wanted the store to remain open.”
And instead of the store carrying the farmers, these days it’s the other way around. “Our local farmers, our neighbors, are basically our only customers,” says Randy. “I mean, that’s who supports us today.”
Lowell Porter is a longtime customer of Spurlock’s Store. His bench backdrop is noteworthy: It’s been a fixture at the “new” store since it opened in 1966, and was constructed from the building’s leftover lumber.
One of those people is 88-year-old Lowell Porter, a retired dairy farmer who ambles into the store with his daughter who is visiting from California. “It’s a good old store,” he says. “I used to buy a lot of feed, and now I come in for milk, bread, butter, eggs and cookies.”
But the store offers Lowell more than just food: It’s also a local social scene. “Oh, I come by here two or three times a week,” says Lowell. “Usually there’s a bunch of us who drink coffee.”
While Randy isn’t certain about the store’s long-term future, he does have a theory on why it’s lasted as long as it has: his father’s and grandfather’s big heartedness. “They supported people in hard times,” says Randy. “We still have boxes and boxes of tickets that haven’t been paid…They never looked at it as a problem. They looked at it as a benefit to the community.”
Want to shop?
Spurlock’s Store (Hwy 5 and Hwy JJ; 417-683-2537) is open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and is closed on Sunday.