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February 18, 2020

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Once upon a time in Ada

Messick's dime store

By Leland Crouse
Small Town Sampler
Betty Miller
13 May 1992 - The Ada Herald

Depending on your age you called it the racket store, the five and ten, the dime store or the variety store. If you had a nickel or a dollar you could leave the store with two or three items.

In 1938 Harley Messick owned the variety store at 113 North Main Street in Ada. The block of buildings on the west side was a busy place. Ola Miller had her millinery shop next to the railroad track, A.C. Church sold jewelry and fitted glass in his store, and the Midway Café had food and beer. The Ada Building and Loan later became an insurance office for Kahler. Dana Welsh had a drugstore where the American Legion is now, and Cunningham’s had become Anderson’s Dry Goods and then Mertz Hardware. D.O. Betz had a store before Bud and Ann had a restaurant in his space, and on the corner the Cole and Dome Insurance office had replaced the old Liberty Bank. Other businesses had come and gone. Messick’s 5c to $1 store was between Mertz Hardware and Bud and Ann’s.

Harley came to Ada in 1935 from variety stores in Indiana to work for Marion Sales of Spencerville who owned the Ada store. In 1938 Harley bought the business and rented the room from Mabel Bowersmith. These were depression years and Harley remembers that getting money to buy a business was not easy. It took him only three years to pay off his debt, however. He had competition too, for Conn’s Ben Franklin store had opened earlier in the year next to the Odeon Theater.

Displays of seasonal goods in the windows attracted customers, and inside the store Harley sold stationary, notions, tinware, graniteware, dishes, iol cloth, linoleum rugs and throw rugs, men’s underware, ladies lingerie, cosmetics, jewelry, toys and candy. Harly says when he took over the store most of these items could be bought for a dollar or less.

If the younger generation thinks this last statement sounds unbelievable, Harley reinforces it with a personal experience. The Messick’s son  Robert, was born in Indiana but their daughter, Carolyn, was born in Ada. In 1939, Dr. Wilcox, whose office was across the street from the store, spent the day at the Messick’s home waiting for the birth. He told Harley his charge for a delivery was usually $20 but since the Messicks were newcomers he would charge them $15.

Holidays and Saturday nights were peak selling times for Ada merchants. At Christmas Harley added velocipedes, red wagons, wheelbarrows, Tonka trucks, electric trains, and dolls and stocked up on the games – checkers, dominoes, Flinch, Rook and Monopoly. When everyone came to town on Saturday for the weekly shopping, Messick’s stayed open until 10 or 11 p.m.

If you want to give your taste buds a real memory treat, read Harley’s list of some of the candies he had in the glass cases fifty years ago – gumdrops and jelly beans, iced jellies, maple nut goodies, chocolate nonpareils, burnt peanuts, orange slices, peanut brittle, fudge, marshmallow peanuts, wintergreen and peppermint lozenges, coconut bon bons, peppermint puffs, cinnamon imperials, spearmint leaves, sour cherries, lemon drops, starlight mints, licorice twists and whips.

A package of bubble gum with four or five baseball cards inside was 5 cents; a pound of Brach’s best chocolate cost 98 cents. One stick of Teaberry, Juicy Fruit, Black Jack or Beamon’s chewing gum could keep a kid busy for a few hours, and a jawbreaker or an all day sucker could keep him satisfied for half a day. Ofter with careful preservation the gum and the sucker could be enjoyed the following day. Inez Dodge Moe worked at Messick’s for 30 years so she probably sold a few hundred licorice sticks for a penny a piece.

In 1965, Harley decided to expand and bought the Kroger store building that Irvin Vandemark was using for his talent show enterprise. The new variety store flourished until 1976 when Harley retired and Peper Drugs bought the building. There was nothing cheap about the old five and dime stores except the price. You didn’t rush in and out of a ten cents store. It took a long time to look at everything before you made your choice, and you always got your money’s worth.