Inside an old general store: See Oregon’s old Pease & Mays store in 1898

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Vintage general store

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Here are some excerpts from a newspaper supplement — billed a “Souvenir Edition” — of The Dalles Times-Mountaineer newspaper in The Dalles, Oregon.

The souvenir featured advertorial-style information about several local businesses — like this general store — and also detailed their histories, types of stock, and otherwise explaining why those companies deserved local patronage.

A mere ninety or so years before this story appeared, in late October of 1805, explorers Lewis & Clark passed through the riverside area on their westward to the Pacific coast. For millennia before their arrival, though, the place just south of the bend in the Columbia River had been a significant Native American trading colony.

Here’s a peek into how The Dalles’ residents maintained the area’s commercial legacy just before the turn of the century.

Pease & Mays general store in The Dalles, Oregon

The foundation of this firm was laid in 1862, when DM, JW and JM French became associated with GB Gilman, and as French & Gilman opened a store on Main street, near Court. The year following they removed to the stone building, northeast corner of Second and Washington streets.

At this time, The Dalles was the commercial center of a vast scope of country, Western, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington, parts of British Columbia, all of Eastern Oregon, were tributary and The Dalles supplied the goods for this Inland Empire. The business of this firm grew rapidly, and in 1868 exceeded half a million dollars…

When Pease & Mays opened their doors, it was with the distinct idea that volume meant success; that they could no longer figure upon profits that existed in the past. The country had settled up, and business would be conducted more upon Eastern principles. Profits must necessarily be greatly reduced, and the firm would have to look to a gradual increasing business for adequate returns upon capital invested.

With this idea in view, they have ever been alive to the proposition of selling goods at figures that would enable them to handle more merchandise until, today they are recognized as being the heaviest buyers in Oregon outside of Portland.

Pease & Mays general store in The Dalles, Oregon

They resolved to have a modern store, conducted as far as practical upon the same general basis as the department stores in the larger cities. The store was divided into five departments each, having a responsible head, thus securing the same attention to each department as if it were a distinct store under different ownership with this difference in favor of Pease & Mays — their clientage of customers is larger and expense of doing business less.

Experience gained by many years in business, taught them the importance of having all goods designed to be hauled into the interior by wagon, most carefully packed.

Groceries at the old general store

They give special attention to their retail grocery trade, endeavoring to satisfy the wants of the most exacting of their city patrons, they have constantly added to the variety of brands carried until today on their shelves will be found an assortment of staple and fancy groceries rarely seen outside of a city store.

Groceries at the old general store

Old kitchen stoves from the late Victorian era

Old kitchen stoves from the late Victorian era

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Antique hardware & farm tools

They make no specialty of builders’ hardware, carrying a stock of shelf hardware sufficient for orders from the interior. In agricultural implements they confine themselves to Studebaker wagons and Oliver plows the best made… They job wire nails, and more than once have placed orders for a thousand kegs.

Antique hardware - agricultural implements

Vintage dry goods at the general store

This department is stocked with merchandise most carefully selected. Receiving his business education first in Scotland where application and thoroughness are prime requisites, and afterwards in the large stores of Eastern cities, the head of this department came here fully-equipped with a cultivated and discriminating taste plainly evinced in goods offered for sale. In this department, as in others, the business is of sufficient volume as to enable them to buy of specialty houses.

Vintage dry goods at the general store

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Inside an old general store: Men’s furnishings

In this department, they endeavor to carry a complete stock of men’s furnishing goods, clothing and hats so well assorted as to meet alike the requirements of fastidious dressers of the city, and the ranchman or stockman of the country. They expect to serve the same customers year after year, and goods offered for sale over their counters must possess genuine merit.

Inside an old general store Men's furnishings

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General store: Shoes

All shoes are purchased direct from manufacturers, and care has been exercised in selecting the different factories, so as to have shoes of established reputations as regards both style and wearing qualities.

The stock embraces all the new lasts and toes; it covers children’s, women’s and men’s heavy and fine shoes… Shoes are carefully fitted, and the customer does not leave until he has a shoe that fits his foot. If they cannot fit him, he is told so.

General store Shoes

They have been alive to the best interests of the large number of customers found among the wool growers, and have endeavored to see that the very best prices have been secured for their customer’s wools.

In 1896, during the trying times of the presidential campaign, they carried for their customers a million pounds of wool, refusing to sell until the market had strengthened and satisfactory prices could be obtained early in 1897.

Closing, we would state, that here is a strictly, modern “up to date” store, with ample capital to carry out the advanced ideas of the firm, which is composed of public spirited men, anxious to push The Dalles to the front, and willing to devote their time, ability and money to that end.

Are they not worthy of your patronage, we ask?

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