The Pioneer Merchant and General Store

The old west general store is a well worn article of the western genre.  Like the magic stores and weapons merchants in Dungeons & Dragons your characters will eventually visit a General Store with the purpose of outfitting your group for the next adventure/bank holdup.  General stores were not always called a “General Store”.  Various other names were used such as Mercantile, General Supply, Merchandise, Dry Goods, Emporium, Groceries, Exchange, Commissary (especially near an Army fort) and Trading Post or across the border you might encounter an almacén, provisión, tienda or bodega.  The proprietors were often influential members of the community and one of the wealthier townsmen (but never the wealthiest).  These stores were very dependent on the railroad and wagon trains in order to keep their shelves stocked so prices were a bit higher than what was found back east.  This also meant they were often out of stock on some items.  Merchandise ran the gambit of canned goods, dry staples (flour, oats, rice, corn meal, coffee, etc.), clothes, shoes and boots, tools, lanterns and oil, blankets, bolts of cloth, ammunition, cutlery, furniture, game traps, bottled medicine, simple jewelry, and local staples such as eggs, cheese, bread, beer, whiskey, dried beef (jerky), and that ubiquitous item found in every saddle bag–bacon.  There was often only one general store in most small towns but as populations grew so did competition and other general stores would open as well as specialty shops that sold just guns and ammunition, tools and hardware, furniture, farm implements, saddlery, and feed& forage.  The storekeeper often ran an informal post office and had several catalogs available for customers to order by mail from upstart businesses like Sears Roebuck (est. 1888) and Montgomery Ward (est. 1872).

General stores can be a big factor in an adventure that is set in a town and the proprietor can be an important NPC.  In many western novels and pulps the proprietor gets himself in too deep with the wrong side of the cattle range.  Sometimes he takes out a loan he has problems paying back or he is forced by the local thugs to sell supplies only to their ranch and nothing to the “nesters” that are encroaching on grazing land.  In some cases he is in so deep that the basement of his store serves as a meeting place for the bad guys, a storage area for stolen goods or guns and even a temporary prison.  Below is a short article from Arizona Highways magazine about the Garner store in Prescott.

Pioneer Merchant



About westerngames99

Retired Army.
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2 Responses to The Pioneer Merchant and General Store

  1. Matt says:

    Thanks for the article. I have been reading some Western novels and reference books and leading up to a Boot Hill campaign and your web site has some good information and ideas on it.

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